afaqs!

HLL-Coke deadlock kept Lintas out of Coke

Lintas lost the Coke business to McCann because Coca-Cola wanted Lintas to move Kissan to SSC&B and HLL won't agree.


As the dust gradually settles over the sensational movement of the Coca-Cola account to McCann-Erickson (from Lowe Lintas & Partners), the picture becomes a mite clearer. But, of course, more questions have cropped up.

But first, here is the official version on the movement that agencyfaqs! got from a Lowe Lintas spokesperson: "Both Coca-Cola India and Lowe Lintas were keen that the main brand, Coke, be handled by Lintas. Unfortunately, this was not possible for reasons of conflict of interest with Hindustan Lever (HLL) brands. As you are aware, we handle the Kissan range of squashes, juices, fruit and fruit-based drinks (Kissan is an HLL brand). These were in conflict with Coca-Cola, and hence, an agreement could not be reached between Coke and us."

What agencyfaqs! has subsequently gathered is as follows. Coca-Cola India - which, like its Atlanta-based parent, swears by the 'share-of-throat' theory - handed Lintas the Coke account on the condition that Lintas would shift the Kissan account to affiliate agency SSC&B. Incidentally, SSC&B is already an HLL roster agency, and services the Nihar coconut oil and Aim toothpaste accounts.

It is not clear what Lintas' reaction to this condition was. But considering the fact that Coke is a Rs 35-crore account and Kissan, in contrast, is estimated to be worth Rs 10-15 crore, it can be assumed that Lintas was keen to go with Coke. However, a Lintas executive, under conditions of anonymity, insisted that HLL dismissed the idea forthwith.

This executive also felt that the Lintas group has always kowtowed to HLL pressure, because of its lineage. For the record, Lintas started as an in-house agency for Unilever and once even shared the same office. Citing the example of Perfetti, he said, "Even SSC&B couldn't pitch for some Perfetti businesses because, presumably, it was given an assurance that it would lead HLL's foray into confectionery, whenever that happens."

A senior executive with Coca-Cola India gave his company's point of view. "We had a problem with Lintas. We are very sensitive about our product portfolio and our future direction. We have knowledge that HLL is planning a (mineral) water brand in India in the near future. And we already have Kinley in our portfolio. We did not want even a remote possibility of conflict in the future." He also indicated that HLL's water brand might be launched under the Kissan umbrella.

To all this, the HLL spokesperson said, "Over the next one year, our thrust areas would be water, consumer healthcare and confectionery." Although he refused to confirm whether the new water brand would be launched under the Kissan brandname, he indicated that, "Kissan may be a small account today, but who knows about the future." The spokesperson would not go on record about the fact that HLL put pressure on Lintas to keep off Coke. All he would say is, "Lintas was a Unilever agency - in fact, Lintas is short for Lever International Advertising Services - but it is ridiculous to suggest HLL continues to put pressure on Lintas in India simply because Unilever and Lintas shared the same office some 30 years back in another country."

Interestingly, another Lintas executive admits that Coke is very thorough in its selection of an agency. "They even interview the executives on the account at the agency," he said. "The work on Coke was supposed to start in April, we are in March already, but Lintas didn't even have a team on Coke in place." Maybe that's why McCann honcho Sorab Mistry announced his team on Coke the same day that the account came to the agency!

The point is, Coke's restlessness to get on with work - which can be explained given the imminent summer - and HLL's adamant stand on Kissan, have put Lintas in a thankless situation. As the old African proverb goes, 'When the elephants fight, the grass suffers.'

© 2001 agencyfaqs!