MAZDA DRIVES AHEAD WITH FCB;BUT $200 MIL ACCOUNT IS DO-OR-DIE WITH INCENTIVE COMPENSATION PLAN

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Even as its top ad executive prepares to leave, Mazda Motor of America today launches its biggest campaign ever-one that's do-or-die for Foote, Cone & Belding.

Ed Kjaer, manager of corporate advertising, is resigning to pursue other interests.

"There's a lot of rumors about Mazda and a lot of rumors about people at Mazda, and I prefer not to comment on any of them," Mr. Kjaer said.

Various rumors on Mazda include everything from switching agencies to pulling out of the U.S. market. The Japanese car marketer says it is not switching agencies and steadfastly affirms its commitment to the U.S. market.

SALES SLUMP 40%

FCB's Santa Ana, Calif., office saved the $175 million-to-$200 million Mazda account late last summer with the "Passion for the road" campaign. That advertising began running Oct. 15, and Mazda sales in November and December plummeted by about 40% from the same period last year.

Under an incentive compensation plan that took effect Jan. 1, FCB can't make money unless Mazda retail sales increase. Not enough ads ran in the fourth quarter to have a significant effect on sales, said Jay Amestoy, Mazda VP-corporate affairs and communications, and Welton Mansfield, FCB exec VP-managing director.

The new incarnation of the "Passion" campaign is for the luxury Millenia. It's the first volley of a TV and newspaper campaign in the top 50 markets. If Mazda sales don't rebound, a review is likely.

Mr. Amestoy said Mazda will judge the FCB effort based on sales in the first two quarters.

HONDA ACCOUNT SECURE

Mazda's not the only Japanese car brand involved in ad agency speculation. Numerous reports indicate something might be up with American Honda Motor Co. and its shops-Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif., and Ketchum Advertising, Los Angeles.

RUBIN EYEING ACCURA

Gerrold Rubin, president of Rubin Postaer, denies he will sell to Japan's Dentsu or Omnicom Group, New York. But he makes it clear he's eyeing Honda's sister Acura account, in which Dentsu and Omnicom have a stake.

Dentsu handles Honda in Japan and wants a global car account. Omnicom is buying Ketchum Communications, whose $120 million Acura account is long rumored to be in trouble.

Dentsu's recent landing of an Acura project raised speculation about the Acura business despite denials from American Honda.

Mr. Rubin said that he hasn't spoken with Dentsu since dismissing its inquiries about six months ago, nor Omnicom since the holding company-which spun off his shop in the mid-1980s-approached him in late 1994.

Mr. Rubin said there is a "99 and 44/100s%" chance Rubin Postaer will be independently owned with the same management a year from now. "We have spurned all overtures," he said. "Clients aren't for sale."

Omnicom Chairman Bruce Crawford said Omnicom is not talking to Rubin Postaer.

Contributing to this story: Alice Z. Cuneo, Mark Gleason, Jack Russell, Pat Sloan and Automotive News' Mark Rechtin.

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