Mitsubishi's $200 Million Advertising Account Up for Grabs

Incumbent Traffic Not Expected to Defend

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NEW YORK ( -- Mitsubishi Motors North America is inviting agencies to pitch its nearly $200 million advertising account, executives familiar with the matter said. The incumbent shop, independent agency Traffic, is not expected to defend the business.

Mitsubishi surprised adland in the summer of 2008 when it shifted national creative responsibilities from Omnicom Group's BBDO West to El Segundo, Calif.-based Traffic, at the time a brand-new shop backed by Cimarron Group. The carmaker entrusted the account there largely due to the creative leadership of Tom Cordner, who's known in auto circles for the successful launch of Lexus automobiles while he was at Team One.

Representatives for Traffic and Mitsubishi did not return calls for comment by press time. The ad agency review is being managed by Select Resources International of Santa Monica, Calif., which also handled the review in 2008.

It has been a tough couple of years for Mitsubishi's U.S. operations, which, like many automakers, struggled to move metal during the down economy.

For full year 2008, the company sold 119,000 vehicles in North America, a 26% fall over the previous year. In 2009, sales were on a roller-coaster, with Mitsubishi at times seeing double-digit sales decreases and increases from month to month.

The company reported 2009 sales of 53,986, well below the estimate it earlier said it hoped to hit of 92,000. August was its best month, due to the government-backed Cash for Clunkers program, but even then it never hit above 7,000 vehicles sold in any month.

Moving into 2010, Mitsubishi is showing some positive signs. All models, including the Lancer, Outlander, Galant and Endeavor, showed an increase in sales for December compared with the prior month. The company announced December 2009 sales of 4,355, a jump of nearly 50% over November.

"The improvement in December sales validates our renewed strategies and tactics," said Shinichi Kurihara, president-CEO of Mitsubishi Motors North America, in a statement. "The input provided by our dealers' National Advisory Board has been instrumental in guiding our revised sales plans and actions, and will continue to do so as we collaborate to extend this sales momentum."

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UPDATE: A Mitsubishi Motors North America spokesman dubbed the split with Traffic a "mutual agreement" to part ways and told Ad Age the company plans to select a new advertising partner by March. The review doesn't affect Mitsubishi's domestic media buying and planning shop, nor its customer relationship management agency, which are Omnicom Group's PHD and Meredith Integrated Marketing, respectively.

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