All recently ran highly effective communications campaigns and in each case either the work or the agency responsible is facing, or has been given, the chop.
The timing seems harsh, as three of the campaigns picked up awards. Last month, Direct Line won a silver at the IPA Effectiveness Awards. The entry form claimed the red phone on wheels, devised by Mortimer Whittaker O'Sullivan (MWO), achieved recognition of more than 95% and increased profits from £26m to £355m in seven years.
Just a week later, but after a painfully protracted review, the £35m account was handed to Clemmow Hornby Inge. Direct Line has said the phone icon will not be axed.
The IPA awards also saw Weetabix scoop a bronze for an advertising strategy by FCB that moved the breakfast brand into top spot in the UK's ready-to-eat cereal market for the first time in its 70-year history. Despite this, Weetabix is reviewing its £5.5m ad business.
Even more recently, Williams Murray Hamm's (WMH) rebranded Jaffa Cakes won in two categories at the Marketing Design Awards. Since the packaging redesign, which featured a smaller logo and on-pack lines such as 'I never share', sales have risen 14%. But WMH, which created the packaging on a project basis, has ceased working on the account and Jaffa Cakes is reverting to its old look.
Publicis' ads for Muller, meanwhile, helped the brand achieve a 42% share of the dairy products market - its highest ever. But this did not prevent the £14m account being switched to TBWA\London in October.
Speculation has been rife about the reasons for the switches. Interestingly, three of the brand owners have recently undergone changes in senior management.
In February David Fish became non-executive chairman of Jaffa Cakes owner United Biscuits (UB). The press linked his arrival with the decision to axe the revised packaging, as the brand name was not prominent. UB denied Fish was involved. In September Ken Wood became chief executive of Weetabix, while at Muller Dairy, Andrew Harrison took over as chief executive this year.
'These people come into a company with significant targets to meet and need a positioning that will achieve them,' says Suki Thompson, managing director at The Haystack Group, which managed the Muller and Weetabix reviews.
Reviews are not always motivated by a new director's desire to make their mark, adds Thompson. Although a brand may have performed well, that success may be attributable to market conditions. 'Muller, Weetabix and Direct Line's work could have been more effective,' says Thompson.
The situation at Direct Line was not a case of a new broom. Marketing director Jim Wallace had been with the company for almost six years, although MWO's relationship with Direct Line predated even that. A spokeswoman for Direct Line says Wallace decided to review the business as the last such process took place five years ago.
MWO chairman John O'Sullivan agrees that the decision was 'process-driven', but believes the thinking is confused. 'Direct Line is a lot bigger, due in no small part to the work of MWO. They didn't go into the review with a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve, which is why it took so long. There's not much we can do about other people's mistakes.'
When a change in personnel results in an agency review, it is tempting to blame a personality clash. But Thompson says it is rare for clients to base these decisions on personal likes and dislikes.
However, there is often an element of a new client not having personal buy-in to a strategy initiated by someone else. As WMH director Richard Murray says: 'The Jaffa Cakes redesign was pushing the envelope. Unless you'd been on that journey it was difficult to appreciate.'
Publicis managing director Grant Duncan maintains that agencies can be victims of their own success. 'The textbooks say make the changes when a brand is doing well, because it's a lot tougher to do so when you're on the back foot.' In the case of Muller, its success in growing the yoghurt market has contributed to the sector's competitiveness.
A successful ad strategy by one agency may give clients the courage to change tack. 'When you've had a successful campaign, you want to extend it to other audiences,' says Phil Soanes, associate at brand strategy agency Circus.
He cites Ogilvy's 1998 Guinness campaign 'Not everything in black and white makes sense'. The client wanted to move from a niche to mass market, and switched to Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, which created the 'Surfer' and 'Swimmer' ads.
Effective pack designs can also backfire. Brandsmiths consultant Kate Waddell talks of 'counter pressure' from the grocery retail trade, citing a high-profile cooking ingredient brand, whose packaging was deemed too strong compared with a particular retailer's own-label. A request was made to 'water it down'.
Pressure from retailers, shareholders and rivals means brands cannot afford to relax when they win awards or reach a sales peak, even if, when viewed from outside, a change of direction appears to make little sense.