ACURA GEARS UP FOR REGIONAL MARKETING

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Seeking to make Acura more of a household name, American Honda Motor Corp.'s Acura division will begin a regional marketing campaign orchestrated by national agency Suissa Miller, Los Angeles.

"Acura's regional marketing presence had been small and had little weight; awareness levels had been low. If we can get awareness levels up, we can get incentive levels down," said Dick Colliver, exec VP of the Acura and Honda divisions.

The regional advertising will be brand-driven but with local geographic and demographic spins. It's the first step in Mr. Colliver's quest to take Acura beyond its status as a near-luxury label and put it more firmly among the likes of rival Lexus from Toyota Motor Sales USA and German luxury marques.

"We took our eye off the product and marketing sides," Mr. Colliver said. "We were not focused on the product and what the customers were saying."

LIKE HONDA'S EFFORT

The executive wants to pattern the execution of Acura's regional push after a plan he implemented for Honda five years ago. This time around, Mr. Colliver likely will have better luck convincing dealers of the benefits of letting a national agency control the regional message.

Most other carmakers have adopted such a plan, including most recently General Motors Corp.

When Mr. Colliver started his plan at Honda, he was confronted with lawsuits from dealers peeved over losing local control of the marketing message. Five years later, sales are up 50% and dealer profits are up 100% -- thanks in no small part to regional marketing, Mr. Colliver said.

Currently, GM is facing dealer unrest over its switchover.

"The dealers are involved, but it is our program," Mr. Colliver said of Acura. "It is designed to respond to local markets, but it will support the brand and drive traffic."

The first ads will be broadcast in the second quarter.

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