Exclusive interviews: ASB says winning pitch ‘came out of blue’; global agency moves into NZ.
One of the world’s most renowned media agencies is moving into New Zealand after winning one of the biggest marketing contracts on offer – the multi-million-dollar ASB account.
Initiative – which looks after the likes of Amazon, Nike and Lego across most parts of the world – has been announced the winner of the highly sought-after ASB account, dealing with tens of millions of dollars of marketing and advertising spend.
Initiative will establish itself in New Zealand as Initiative Aotearoa.
“We are absolutely thrilled,” Initiative Australia-New Zealand chief executive Melissa Fein told Media Insider.
ASB chief marketing officer Helen Fitzsimons said ASB was “incredibly excited – we’re here talking to you [about it], this makes it real”.
She says the winning pitch “came out of the blue” early on in the process.
Initiative is owned by Interpublic Group (IPG), an umbrella agency that also includes New Zealand’s FCB.
FCB’s Blair Alexander will run the ASB account in Auckland, backed by a team of Initiative staff based in Auckland and Australia.
Modern-day couple ‘Ben and Amy’ will continue to be the faces of ASB’s advertising campaign, with a new chapter of their story launching next week under the eye of creative agency The Monkeys.
The new Initiative deal involves the distribution of that campaign, and leading the strategy for others as the bank consolidates all its media services – strategy, planning, buying, analysis and reporting – into one contract, dealing with tens of millions of dollars of advertising and marketing spend.
At least five agencies were initially shortlisted following a call for expressions of interest: incumbent Dentsu; Together; Dynamo; Group M; and Initiative. This was then whittled down to three in recent weeks – Dentsu, Dynamo and Initiative.
As Media Insider reported earlier, the contract is a massive deal: the successful bidder will likely need to bring in dozens of new staff.
On the other hand, the decision will be a big disappointment for Dentsu and OMG, which is connected to Dynamo.
“Everyone wants a bank,” says one media insider. “They spend so much, and it’s stable money, even in an economic downturn.”
Fein said Initiative had been looking to open a New Zealand office and waiting for the “perfect partner”.
“We’re a very large global media agency network,” she said.
“We were looking for the right opportunity to launch into the New Zealand market when we heard that this tender was live.
“We absolutely heard about the fantastic marketers and the work that the team was doing, and it very much aligned to some of the Initiative values of big, brave work.
“We thought, ‘If ever there’s going to be a time to launch and enter into the market, this is it’. We thought, ‘Even if [it’s] a long shot, we’re going to give it a go’.”
Fein said strategists and planners based in Australia would help with the contract, “but effectively, all the implementation and account management will be based in Auckland”.
“It’s going to be a true partnership between our Australian office and New Zealand office.”
Fitzsimons said ASB was “incredibly excited”.
“I will be honest and say Initiative came out of the blue,” said Fitzsimons. “We didn’t know anything about their intention until they showed up in the first phase of the process.”
She said ASB was buying the Initiative philosophy, which had worked so well for the likes of Amazon and Nike. “It felt too good to miss out on.”
“They talk about fame and flow. That’s all about uniting brands and culture – that’s the fame piece. And then acknowledging the unique journeys of individuals, and that’s the flow piece.
“And for us, we’re on a bit of a journey to really join up our marketing system. We’re wanting to be end-to-end full-service, thinking right through the funnel, which is really best-in-class marketing practice.”
Initiative’s global technology and data tools, combined with the local understanding from the likes of Alexander and the team being created in New Zealand, were fantastic, said Fitzsimons.
She would not reveal the full value of the contract.
“We didn’t want to put too many agencies through what is a rigorous process,” said Fitzsimons.
“I’m an ex-agency person myself, so I’m very aware of the investment that agencies make in pitching and that it’s not an ideal process for all, right, talking about this as an industry.
“Effectively, we very quickly moved through the chemistry and creds phase and reduced that list as much as we could, down to three.
“We worked in a real-life kind of scenario, where we worked on a couple of briefs with those agencies throughout a six-week process.
“The commercial aspect took longer than we would liked, but we are a bank and there is a due diligence process that we have to follow because this is a high-value negotiation and contract, and of course, working with a media agency means we’re very entrenched in each other’s businesses.”
She said all three agencies were brilliant, and no decisions were made lightly.
Dentsu, the incumbent agency, had “delivered an incredible amount of service over the last 25 to 30 years for ASB”.
Asked what the changes would mean for everyday ASB customers, Fitzsimons said for best practice marketing, the industry was “moving from advertising to experiences”.
“That is a really clear focus for us. That’s something Initiative talked about. We’re also moving from mass to getting closer to one-to-one.
“ASB is on a transformational trajectory as a business [as] we are improving our data and our tech capability right across the bank, which just means that as a marketing practice, we can become far more mature and sophisticated in driving more personalised communications. That’s the flow aspect of the [Initiative] philosophy.
“We wanted to consolidate our business from an efficiency and effectiveness perspective, but also bring in an agency that’s already doing that and proven to be doing that type of work - in Initiative’s case, around the world.”
Fein said Initiative came in with “some big bold ambitious concepts” that wouldn’t necessarily land with every marketer.
She was heartened by ASB’s energy and appetite with regard to ideas that “diffuse through culture” – making sure they were relevant to age, demographics and location.
“We were really impressed because ... traditionally, this category probably wouldn’t engage in those types of concepts.
“Also hitting at different demographics, we wanted to make sure that we brought ideas to the table that probably hadn’t been seen or done before. That’s always challenging in a market where everyone wants to be a first-mover.”
Some of the agencies would have had to walk a careful path during the pitching process, especially any that already have links with banks. They wouldn’t have wanted to risk fallout with existing clients.
Until now, ASB had been reluctant to comment on the selection process and the criteria. It did confirm Ben and Amy would remain at the centre of its creative execution.
In a statement before the pitch process started, Fitzsimons said strong agency support and expertise would be key as the bank met changing customer needs.
“It’s an exciting time at ASB, with a transformational agenda unlike ever before in our history. As part of this transformation, we want to mature our marketing capability through people, data and technology to be best-in-class and deliver end-to-end marketing solutions for our customers and future customers.
“In support of these ambitions, we’re looking to consolidate our agency roster and appoint a single media agency partner. With full view of our marketing funnel, we’re looking for a partnership that will challenge and support ASB to continually improve its capability, efficiency and performance, ensuring ASB and its customers stay one step ahead, now and in the future.”
The new deal is effective from this Friday, September 1.
- Editor-at-Large Shayne Currie is one of New Zealand’s most experienced senior journalists and media leaders. He has held executive and senior editorial roles at NZME including Managing Editor, NZ Herald Editor and Herald on Sunday Editor and has a small shareholding in NZME.