Honda Casting a Wide Net in $700 Million Agency Review

Slew of Shops, From DraftFCB to 72andSunny and Horizon Are In Contention

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When American Honda Motor Co. put its media and creative accounts up for grabs in December, it ensured that it would be one the biggest pitches of 2013. What wasn't clear then, though, is just how far the carmaker is willing to step out of its comfort zone in its search for marketing partners.

Honda Accord Coupe
Honda Accord Coupe

The automaker is talking to shops big and small, with varied geographies, which is significant since even a minor change to its roster would constitute a big one. RPA took on the Honda brand business when it opened its doors in 1986; in 1999 Honda consolidated its Acura media and creative business there as well.

Few carmakers are so loyal to their agencies and changes often come with new management and changes in the marketing suite. For instance, VW moved its business in 2009 to Deutsch after a four-year run at CPB. Chrysler had for years worked with BBDO Detroit, but in 2010 it named a roster include Wieden & Kennedy, Richards Group, Fallon and Globalhue. GM has made a string of changes to its ad partners, and is continuing to do so: just a couple of weeks ago GM moved its Silverado truck advertising.

At the beginning of the Honda review last month, Michael Accavitti, VP-national marketing operations, told Ad Age that "In the face of a changing media landscape and a hyper-competitive marketplace, our challenge is to create dynamic marketing campaigns that connect and engage consumers with our products and our brands. The review we have initiated will lead to a strong, long-term strategic plan for our brands."

Since launching its pitch (Roth & Associates is serving as the consultant), Honda has been talking to wide range of players at several holding companies. A handful of shops were removed from contention last month, and now the list has been whittled to an interesting list that includes everything from West coast hotshops to large global agency networks.

Honda declined to comment on any contenders, but vowed to have a decision on its review by the end of the first-quarter. According to several industry executives, creative shops competing include: two MDC Partners' shops, 72andSunny and CP&B; and two Interpublic agencies, DraftFCB and Martin Agency. In addition, incumbent RPA, which had worked on both creative and U.S. media buying and planning is still in the running, people familiar with the pitch say.

In addition to being really different from one another, all have varied amounts of car cred. CP&B for years worked on BMW Mini and on Volkswagen , and the Martin Agency in the past has worked on more luxury brands such as Saab and Maserati.

Media agencies competing include independent Horizon, Publicis Groupe 's MediaVest and Omnicom's PHD.

The original media-agency list likely wasn't very long to start, given the plethora of automotive conflicts at most of the large, established agencies. For example, Interpublic's UM works with Chrysler and BMW in the U.S., while Initiative works with Hyundai's namesake and Kia brands in the U.S. and in various global markets, including Germany and Australia. Within WPP's Group M, Mediacom works with Volkswagen , and WPP's Team Detroit is the dedicated agency on the Ford brand. Within Omnicom Media Group agencies, auto clients include Nissan, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Mitsubishi. Aegis' Carat won the General Motors business last year.

Dentsu's McGarryBowen handles the carmaker's account in Europe but is not a part of this review.

Another reason for the varied shops in the mix could be the potential for more than a single winner for creative and media -- tier one and tier two work is also up for grabs, which means there is the possibility of multiple winners at the conclusion of the pitch -- and the possibility of RPA hanging onto a piece of the business.

As Ad Age has reported, Honda is reinvigorating its dealer advertising in major metropolitan markets with funding that could reach as high as $250 million.

According to the Ad Age DataCenter , the Honda brand spent $513.5 million on U.S. measured media in 2011, a 2.9% increase from 2010, while Acura spent $193 million, a 1.9% increase from 2010. Total U.S. marketing spending was $1.14 billion. Globally, the company reported ad expenses of $2.46 billion in the year ended March 2011. It was an improvement compared with the $2.12 billion it spent in 2010, but still less than the $3.01 billion it spent in 2009.

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