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Cork or No Cork, Sammy Sells

Sammy Sosa's corked bat hasn't affected his marketability. According to new Web-based consumer research by Knowledge Networks, Sosa "has lost relatively little of his value as a product endorser." But a significant number of baseball fans remain undecided on the issue. The Chicago Cubs slugger—who currently appears in a Pepsi commercial with New York Yankees star Jason Giambi—was suspended by Major League Baseball last week for using an illegal bat.

Only 4% of respondents felt "strongly" that Sosa's endorsement of a product would now have less impact, said Knowledge Networks VP of Business Development Darren Marshall. About 50% said he is still a good role model despite the cheating incident, while 16% disagreed with that; 32% were undecided.

About 41% of respondents believed Sosa's questionable account of the incident (he insists that the illegal bat was one he uses during batting practice to impress fans that got mixed up with his game bats), vs. 39% who do not and 20% undecided, the research firm said.


America Online
has concluded a five-month review by giving its big corporate branding assignment to the Wieden + Kennedy
agency. The Portland, Ore.-based independent beat out New York-based Omnicom Group agencies BBDO Worldwide
and DDB Worldwide. The deal is said to be for a $100 million image assignment. BBDO, which already handles product advertising for AOL Broadband, will get additional products. Media duties, meanwhile, remain at Interpublic Group of Cos.'Initiative Media,
New York. …

Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group, Chicago, has formed Play, a division to help clients enter the videogame market. SMVG said it's the first marketing-services firm focused solely on "leveraging videogames and the gaming industry as consumer-contact channels." Earlier, Starcom client McDonald's
had infiltrated the videogame market with a virtual presence in The Sims. The videogame market already generates more revenue than the movie business, and it is outpacing movie-box-office growth "at three times the pace," SMVG CEO Jack Klues said in a statement. …

WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson Co., New York, has created thompsondesign, specializing in design, art direction and packaging. The formation of the four-person design boutique is a signal that JWT wants to offer clients one-stop shopping for various services. The new shop already is offering branding counsel and services to the Diamond Trading Co.
(formerly DeBeers). Thompsondesign also said it "has a mandate to reach out for a new … client base" beyond JWT. …

PepsiCo's Frito-Lay
is talking to agencies besides incumbent BBDO Worldwide
about its creative account. Some of those shops are, like BBDO, under the Omnicom Group umbrella. Others include GSD&M, Austin, Texas. Tostitos spent $20 million in measured media last year, by TNS/CMR
estimate. Omnicom's OMD USA, New York, continues on media chores for Tostitos.


McCarthy Mambro Bertino, Boston, has created a new Subway Restaurants
spot tailored to the African-American community—a first for the chain. It features identical twins from New Orleans telling their weight-loss story à la Subway's now-famous Jared. It's due for a summer run. Subway's switch to McCarthy Mambro Bertino for the spot may have prompted the incumbent, Havas' Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners, to suddenly bolt from Subway's creative-account review, now down to eight shops. Grey Global Group's MediaCom, New York, continues on media duties. …
Fast-food chain McDonald's
has set broadcast-network TV and other media support for McGriddles, its new breakfast sandwich made with two pancakes "with the sweet taste of maple syrup baked right in." The sandwich choices are bacon or sausage, with eggs and cheese. The campaign's tag line: "Weird. But a good kind of weird." Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, Chicago, handles the effort, which also will use print, radio and outdoor. Ethnic campaigns are planned as well. …

ABC Cable Networks Group
and Disney Consumer Products Worldwide
have slated major promotion plans for Disney Channel's Kim Possible series. Under an exclusive contract, Wal-Mart
will feature scores of tie-in Kim
products from back-to-school through Christmas. In addition, McDonald's plans broadcast-network support with Happy Meal premiums, to run Sept. 5-Oct. 2.


Automaker Subaru
has bought a major sponsorship in Animal Planet's "Croc Hunter Live," a weeklong stunt that started Monday, June 9. Infone
is a participating sponsor in the week, during which Crocodile Hunter's Steve Irwin
holds forth live from Australia at 9 p.m. nightly), as well as on Discovery Channel's Walking With Cavemen,
a prime time special due Monday, June 16.