Instead, Thompson produced failed campaigns like "Herb," the nerdy spokesman who had little consumer appeal, and even the current campaign--"Fast Food For Fast Times"--which experts say has failed to give a clear image to the Miami-based chain, owned by Pillsbury. "Burger King's image used to be based on the Whopper," said one advertising executive, "but nobody knows what it is now."
Burger King--which last week laid off 15% of its corporate staff after two years of flat sales--said it wants to focus on promotional advertising at both regional and national levels. "That is not a strength of J. Walter Thompson," said a Burger King spokeswoman. "We have to do more than advertise on TV to bring in customers."
The loss of the Burger King account--Thompson's second-largest client--is the latest problem for an agency in turmoil. Seeking to put an end to six months of upheaval among its senior executives, Thompson on Monday established an office of the chairman and several management committees.
Until the Burger King announcement, one of J. Walter Thompson's biggest problems had been that "it wasn't picking up new business," said Victoria Butcher, analyst at the New York securities firm Eberstadt Fleming. But now, one of its biggest clients is on the prowl, and there are rumors that others might start looking around. Although Thompson's largest account, Ford Motor Co., denies it is looking for a new agency, "I wouldn't be at all surprised if they put out some feelers," Butcher said.
Small Local Agencies Courting Sea World
The odds of a San Diego ad agency landing the Sea World account have long been about as likely as Shamu running a marathon. Most San Diego agencies are small shops and have had little hope of pulling the Sea World business away from the much larger Los Angeles-based DDB Needham West.
Well, Shamu isn't lacing up yet. But up to six San Diego ad firms are suddenly in the running for Sea World of California's $4-million account. That's because Harcourt Brace Jovanovich--which owns the San Diego theme park and five others--recently decided to bust the combined $15-million ad budget into regional pieces.
For its part, Sea World of California says it is looking for an agency that specializes in promotional advertising. "We don't need to establish an image," said Ron Yeakley, vice president of marketing. "We need to give people reasons to come to the park."
The announcement has caused a real commotion at San Diego ad firms. "Lots of agencies would like to get that account, including us," said Ken Smith, chairman of Kenneth C. Smith & Associates, which, with $25 million in billings is San Diego's second-largest agency.
But San Diego's biggest--and best-know--ad agency, Phillips-Ramsey Inc., isn't even in the running. Why not? One elephant-sized conflict: It handles advertising for the San Diego Zoo.