Y&R may be spoiler in Ford lux merge

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Ford Motor Co.'s move this month to merge North American operations of its three British luxury marques-Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover-could put Y&R Advertising in the driver's seat.

The agency won Jaguar's $125 million global account in February and last fall captured Land Rover's $75 million account outside the U.S.

Omnicom Group's GSD&M, Austin, Texas, won Land Rover North America's $30 million account in March 2000, before Ford bought the brand.

The ultra-lux Aston Martin, with sales of 250 cars last year, doesn't advertise.

For now, Ford isn't shifting gears. "I have a contract with GSD&M and nothing has changed" as a result of the consolidation, said Jon Williams, VP-marketing at Land Rover. The contract "has a defined period and we're in the middle of a launch," he added. "They're our agency of choice."

Tom Steadman, account director at GSD&M, declined to divulge the length of the contract or how the agency is dealing with its client on the Y&R encroachment. But he said he was confident recent events would work in GSD&M's favor.

`NEVER IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT'

"Considering all the changes we've gone through over the last 16 months with this account-from changing ownership to Ford, the changes in the marketing staff and the Discovery [sport utility model] reintroduction-we've now really reached our stride and are looking forward to good things moving into the [entry model] Freelander launch and Range Rover launch next spring," he said.

"You're never in the driver's seat with Ford," said David Murphy, CEO of WPP Group's Y&R Cos., Irvine, Calif. "The day we think we're in the driver's seat is the day we lose the business," he said, noting that the agency is only as good as the fax that comes in daily noting car sales.

"It's a little early to start talking about individual agencies," said Simon Sproule, VP-communications and marketing services for Ford's burgeoning British empire. But, he said, in some cases, it may make sense to combine the brands' different agencies, say, for customer relationship management. Consumers won't see ads with the three brands together, he said.

Mike O'Driscoll, president of the new Aston Martin Jaguar and Land Rover North America and former president of Jaguar North America, "is on vacation, so he's certainly not reviewing [ad] agencies," Mr. Sproule added.

The British lines are part of Ford's Irvine-based Premier Automotive Group, which also includes Lincoln, Mercury and Volvo.

Y&R Cos. in Irvine works on Lincoln and Mercury. Y&R's Irvine and London offices handle Jaguar. Volvo is at Havas Advertising's Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer /Euro RSCG, New York.

Other lux carmakers have had to stretch their product offerings across their lineups, but Jaguar won't offer a sport utility and Land Rover won't sell a sports car, Mr. Sproule said. He estimated 35% of Land Rover and Jaguar dealers already sell both brands on the same site. But the brands will keep separate showrooms if more dealers seek to dual the brands.

Jaguar and Land Rover share a common goal: growing volume by targeting affluent younger buyers. Jaguar is in the midst of launching X-Type, the $29,950 entry Jag. The marque expects to sell 50,000 X-Types in the U.S. in the first year vs. the 43,728 cars it sold last year.

Land Rover, meanwhile, Dec. 1 will begin selling Freelander, its under-$30,000 entry model. Land Rover expects to sell 20,000 Freelanders next year, vs. the 27,148 SUVs it sold last year.

CONFIGURING A DREAM CAR

Starting Aug. 31, Land Rover will send e-mails to hand-raisers with an offer to order the SUV early. Seneca Investments LLC-backed Agency.com is handling the effort, dubbed "IPO."

On freelander.com, buyers can configure their dream vehicle, get a price and order the vehicle. To ease buyers' anxiety over the wait and prevent cold feet, the site offers a tracking process where buyers can follow their Freelander from the assembly line to the port to the dealer.

"People are being asked to lay down money for a car they haven't seen or driven," said GSD&M's Mr. Steadman. "That's the biggest concern: `When is my car going to get here?"' The tracking feature "takes that question out of play," he added.

Online ads will appear on auto sites such as kbb.com. Then in late September, said Land Rover's Mr. Williams, "The Freelander Road to Adventure" kicks off, sending five teams with the SUV to visit dealerships for "really cool launch events." Jackson-Dawson Com-munications, Dearborn, Mich., is handling.

The marketer will also try guerilla marketing to get the SUV seen early, including appearances at hiking-trail heads and college football tailgate parties. Coyne Commu-nications, Morristown, N.J., will handle direct mail. GSD&M is handling traditional ads.

Said Freelander's Mr. Williams: "This is going to give us some attitude."

Contributing: Kate MacArthur and Alice Z. Cuneo.

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