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Apple, L.A. Ad Firm End Their Stormy Marriage

Advertising: Computer firm puts account up for grabs and BBDO won't compete for it.


Apple Computer Inc. has placed its $100-million-plus advertising account into review, ending its tumultuous 11-year relationship with BBDO West of Los Angeles.

Advertising Age reported on its World Wide Web site Wednesday that Cupertino-based Apple had put its account up for grabs and that BBDO had decided not to compete.

David Lubars, head of BBDO West, couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

Rumors of a breakup between Apple and BBDO have been among the most persistent in the Los Angeles ad community. As the architect of Apple's populist image, BBDO managed to retain the business through continuous management turnover at Apple, prompted by the computer firm's declining fortunes.

BBDO produced some of the most memorable computer advertising ever for Apple. The slogan that won the account for BBDO in 1986--"The Power to Be Your Best"--became a rallying cry inside the company. It received a standing ovation from Apple's sales force when introduced at a meeting that year.

People in the advertising industry say that Apple's ads haven't been as focused in recent years, as Apple itself has shifted its emphasis among consumers, the business market, education and the Internet.

One of the most demanding clients in the advertising business, Apple took a toll on BBDO, eventually driving out experienced talent. Apple's egalitarian atmosphere allowed almost any employee to comment on its advertising.

One former BBDO employee recalled how Apple nearly pulled an ad featuring a black waitress several years ago after an Apple employee sent an e-mail complaining about stereotypes.

Apple's corporate structure also made it difficult to achieve consensus. Another former BBDO employee recalled shepherding advertising concepts through 44 meetings with Apple executives without getting a definitive response.

Adding to the pressure on BBDO was Apple's continual financial crises. The company has 3.3% of the personal computer market, down from more than twice that five years ago. Former BBDO executives said they regularly put in 12-hour days. Said one: "When you're scared, it is always too early to go home."

Meanwhile, Apple looked for ways to save money on its advertising. Two years ago, it took the unusual step of hiring an outside consultant to review its contract with its longtime agency, and imposed such changes as requiring three bids on commercial shoots.

According to Advertising Age, some layoffs are expected at BBDO due to the loss of Apple.

Agencies that might be contenders for the Apple business, according to Advertising Age, include TBWA Chiat/Day of Venice, which lost the business to BBDO in 1986.

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