Body blow to D’Arcy as Mars splits

£76m business review as food giant ends 50-year relationship with D’Arcy

Mars has sacked D’Arcy from its global advertising agency roster after nearly 50 years. The move wipes $110m (£76m) off the agency’s billings.

The split, which comes just weeks after Publicis Groupe announced its intention to buy the Bcom3 network, was not unexpected as the advertising agency had been losing Mars business over the past two years.

Late last year, the food giant moved the flagship Mars Bar brand to Grey Worldwide ahead of its relaunch (MW November 15, 2001), while in the US Grey picked up its Milky Way bar account. The £24m Uncle Ben’s European advertising account was handed to BBDO Worldwide (MW October 11, 2001) and two years ago Mars moved its £30m global Twix business to Grey Worldwide.

An internal D’Arcy memo leaked to Marketing Week says relations between Mars and D’Arcy had been “strained for years” and that Mars was unhappy with the closing of D’Arcy’s St Louis office.

Some industry insiders say Publicis’ acquisition of Bcom3 could be behind the split, because of potential conflicts with Publicis, which counts Nestlé as a client. Others claim the relationship had deteriorated long before the announcement of the acquisition in March. It is unclear how or if the takeover will be affected by the news.

Omnicom Group, through its TBWA network, has been tipped to pick up some of the business. This could create conflict with the agency’s Cadbury account. In the UK, Omnicom agency Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO would be well placed to gain some work, as it already works on the Whiskas account. Grey, which has successfully acquired Mars business defecting from D’Arcy in the past, is thought unlikely to pick up much work. There is growing speculation over the long-term independence of Grey, in the light of global agency network consolidation

The loss will be felt acutely by D’Arcy in the UK. It counted Mars as one of its foundation clients. Only recently it lost its Inland Revenue account. The agency handles Maltesers, Revels and Skittles, although the latter was led out of the US. Its food accounts include Dolmio pasta sauces and ready meals, organic range Seeds of Change and dog food such as Bounce, Cesar and Chappie. According to AC Nielsen the business was worth £16m in 2001. However, this does not include the relaunch of Revels and work on Maltesers ice-cream which broke this year.

D’Arcy says it is too early to say whether the agency will make any redundancies.

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