January 22, 2022

Digital Marketing Education

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2021 in Review: 12 notable agency breakups

Breakups aren’t always done cleanly. They can be completely one-sided or mutual. They can be obvious from a mile away or come as a complete surprise. In the ad industry, they are common—and seemed especially so this year as one agency’s ex-client became another agency’s honeymoon partner. Here are the 12 agency breakups that stood out in 2021.

Audi and Venables Bell + Partners

In September, Audi put its U.S creative account into review. A month later, Paul Venables, founder and chairman of Venables Bell & Partners, which held the automaker’s account for 14 years, announced during an Advertising Week panel that the agency was not going to participate in the pitch. 

Read more: Venables Bell & Partners offers to be your agency of record for $20

“Sometimes you have to look somebody in the eye and tell them ‘We don’t think this is the right fit,’” said Venables, who didn’t rule out the possibility of the agency working with the brand again. “​​The pendulum, in this case, has swung to centralization.” This was something the agency did not believe is “the right approach for that brand in this market at this time, and it’s not necessarily what we are good at,” Venables added.

See Ad Age’s 2021 Year in Review here.

Avocados from Mexico and Energy BBDO

The second entry on this list is a reunion as much as it is a breakup. Avocados From Mexico, which will be returning to the Super Bowl next year after skipping the big game this year, hired GSD&M as its agency of record without a competitive review. Energy BBDO, the creative agency behind the company’s last two Super Bowl spots, had been its agency of record since 2018.

GSD&M helped put Avocados From Mexico in people’s minds with four Big Game campaigns beginning in 2015. Each year, the brand used humor and celebrity appearances to promote the use of avocados.

“Avocados from Mexico has long focused on delivering fun, innovative creative while building a brand in a brandless category. We’re so proud to continue our partnership with GSD&M and we can’t wait to deliver more buzzworthy moments to come,” Kevin Hamilton, senior director of marketing, head of brand, media and PR at Avocados From Mexico, said in a February statement.

CPB and … (almost) everybody

Following a year in which the MDC (now Stagwell Group) agency lost its Domino’s account to WorkInProgress, a shop founded by ex-CPBers, the Denver-based agency experienced even more significant account losses.

In March, Nissan-owned Infiniti selected Publicis Groupe to handle global creative for the brand following an eight-month agency review. CPB previously held the account since 2014 although it was briefly demoted in 2017, when Infiniti turned to holding company sibling 72andSunny to handle several global vehicle launches. CPB regained its lead status in May 2018.

In June, after an eight-year run, Hotels.com left the agency, which created the iconic Captain Obvious spokesman character. While the brand hasn’t chosen a new lead agency, it released a campaign by Tombras in August that featured the spokesman. 

Fruit of the Loom also moved on from CPB after a nearly decade-long relationship, and hired Texas-based GSD&M as its creative and media agency of record. Notably, Marianne Malina, the former president of GSD&M, took on the role of global CEO of CPB in April.

Eli Lilly and OMD

In November, Eli Lilly moved its U.S media account to Publicis’ Zenith, which concluded the drug maker’s nearly 20-year relationship with Omnicom’s OMD Worldwide. OMD was a finalist in the pitch, which started in June, and WPP and Dentsu also participated in the review, Ad Age reported.

Read more: IFit chooses OMD to handle its U.S. media business

Eli Lilly is the maker of drugs like the antidepressants Prozac and Cymbalta and the diabetes drug Trulicity. The pharmaceutical giant had disclosed 2020 worldwide ad spending of $1.1 billion, primarily for TV, radio, print media, and internet advertising. Ad Age Datacenter estimates the U.S. portion of that spending to be $869 million. It’s said Eli Lilly will likely be looking to increase its ad spending moving forward.

Read more: TikTok sends global media buying business to Zenith

Read more: Ad industry forecasts predict unprecedented growth in 2022

Hershey and UM

In April, Hershey Co. picked Horizon Media as the media agency of record for its U.S. confectionery business, moving from Interpublic Group of Cos.’ UM, which won Hershey’s global media business in 2013. Dentsu’s Accordant Media, which had also handled certain digital duties, is no longer working on Hershey’s media business. 

The six-month review covered all paid media, including linear, digital, social, programmatic and retailer, for the company’s candy, mint and gum businesses in the U.S., including brands such as Hershey’s, Ice Breakers, Jolly Rancher, Reese’s and Twizzlers. It did not include media for Amplify Foods, home to Pirate’s Booty and SkinnyPop, protein bar unit One Brands or international markets. 

Read more: Horizon Media sells a minority stake, bringing on outside investors for the first time