Wal-Mart Drops Longtime Agency Bernstein-Rein

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. served a cruel blow to longtime agency Bernstein-Rein Advertising, Kansas City, MO, by yanking it out of consideration in an agency review that began earlier this year with the arrival of new marketing executives.

The agency handled Wal-Mart advertising for 32 years, sharing 19 of them with creative incumbent GSD&M, Austin, TX, which is still in the running for the estimated $570 million account. The ties sever Jan. 31.

Wal-Mart expects its new marketing agency to better position the retailer against competitors like Target Corp. and Sears. A new agency or agencies may be named next month.

Four other agencies were dropped from the Wal-Mart review: WPP Group PLC’s JWT, New York; MDC Partners’ Kirshenbaum bond + partners, New York; and Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett, Chicago, and Publicis Worldwide, New York.

Besides Omnicom Group Inc.’s GSD&M, other agencies still in the review are WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York; Publicis’ Saatchi & Saatchi, New York; and Interpublic Group of Companies Inc.’s Draft FCB combination in Chicago and The Martin Agency, Richmond, VA.

Bernstein-Rein ads played a critical role in shaping Wal-Mart’s public image as it morphed from a small-time retailer in Bentonville, AR, to the nation’s No. 1 mass merchandiser. It created the smiley face character and also the low-prices tag line on Wal-Mart ads in print and elsewhere.

The agency is reported to have clocked gross income last year of $59.3 million, though Wal-Mart’s contribution to that is not disclosed.

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