It's enough to make ever-silent Ed Jaymes talk. The ad agency that invented this ultraquiet wine cooler pitchman--along with his good-ol'-boy partner Frank Bartles--has resigned the $78-million E&J Gallo Winery account.
The decision by the Hal Riney & Partners agency could spell the end of the Bartles & Jaymes duo made famous by their oft-repeated commercial line, "Thank you for your support."
Gallo, however, remains a winery with plenty of support. In fact, it is by far the world's largest winery, with sales exceeding $1.4 billion. It also ranks as one of the West Coast's largest advertisers.
The unexpected move is certain to set off a flurry of agencies jockeying for the Modesto winery's lucrative business. And, by dumping the Gallo account, Riney, which built a national reputation from its much-praised Gallo advertisements, has suddenly cast aside more than one-third of its $200 million in ad billings.
Executives from both Gallo and Riney refused to explain the reasons behind the abrupt parting, which ends an often stormy seven-year relationship.
"Hal Riney has made the announcement. I can't discuss it at all," said Sue McClelland, vice president of media at Gallo.
"We can't discuss the reasons, but I can assure you this is not the worst day of my life," said John Yost, general manager of Riney's headquarters in San Francisco. "Gallo is notoriously a very difficult client."
Yost said Hal Riney was on vacation and "unavailable" for comment. Yost also refused to speculate on expected layoffs at the agency's San Francisco office, which employs 130.
Several ad executives whose agencies formerly handled the Gallo account said they were surprised that the relationship had lasted this long. Over the past three decades, Gallo has hired and fired more than a dozen ad firms.
"Gallo is so demanding that, when you have the account, they don't let you get on with your other business," said one senior ad executive whose company formerly handled the Gallo business. "Gallo became a giant black cloud over the agency," said another executive, who asked not to be named.
Despite Gallo's reputation, however, an executive vice president of one Los Angeles ad firm said: "It's just too big an account to turn down."
Advertising industry experts generally credited Riney's agency--which also creates ads for Perrier, Revlon and Sterling Motors Ltd.--for building national recognition for Gallo's wine coolers. Riney not only created the famous Bartles & Jaymes characters but developed a series of stylized ads for Gallo wines and dramatically lifted the brand's image--and its sales.
But industry observers speculated that the real source of the rift stemmed from a flattening of the entire $1.5-billion wine cooler market--and declining sales of Bartles & Jaymes. Although it still ranks as the top-selling brand, it is now running just 3 percentage points ahead of Seagram's Wine Cooler, said Tom Pirko, president of Bevmark Inc., a beverage research firm in Los Angeles.
Although Seagram's has tapped actor Bruce Willis as its commercial spokesman, Pirko said the Bartles & Jaymes characters have much longer lasting appeal. "The Seagram's brand will fade because it is tied to a TV star who will also fade," Pirko said.
It was not immediately known whether Gallo intends to continue using the Bartles & Jaymes characters in its advertising, but ad executives said the twosome may be dumped once Gallo names a new agency.
Getting rid of the popular duo, however, might be a mistake, according to two experts whose firms track television advertising. The Bartles & Jaymes ads currently rank among the 10 most memorable campaigns and have remained in that high echelon for more than two years, said Dave Vadehra, president of Video Storyboard Tests Inc., a New York firm that monitors advertisements. "In my head," said Vadehra, "Hal Riney's national reputation is purely based on this campaign."
In a research test, the most recent Bartles & Jaymes ad, which ran during the World Series, was recalled by 73% of the TV viewers interviewed by an Alameda research firm, Bruzzone Research Co. "That's an astounding figure," said President Donald F. Bruzzone, "especially considering the fact that it aired for such a short period."