Honda Launches Digital Agency Review

Automaker Wants To Accelerate Web Innovation to Attract Younger Buyers

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After selecting new creative and media agencies last March, American Honda Motor Co. is turning its attention to digital strategy and web development for its brands in North America. The Japanese automotive giant sent out an request for information this week as it preps for a review.

Scene from Acura online campaign created in conjunction with Jerry Seinfeld.
Scene from Acura online campaign created in conjunction with Jerry Seinfeld.

Honda spokesman said the move is an extension of last year's strategy to review creative and media agencies. "We're investigating opportunities that exist," he said. "We want to make sure the portfolio of agencies we have is consistent with our marketing goals."

A shift could consolidate the company's digital business which currently is spread among a handful of agencies. Longtime creative shop RPA supports digital marketing and creative for the Honda brand, while Los Angeles-based Genex handles a portion of the digital work, largely for the Acura brand. Meredith Xcelerated Marketing has also handled some digital marketing for the company.

According to people familiar with the matter, the marketer is looking for a digital agency that can help it become more innovative and target a younger consumer. The scope will likely incorporate everything from digital creative to front- and back-end web development.

Roth Observatory International, the search consultancy that worked on the media and creative agency process, is supporting the digital-agency search, according to people familiar with the matter.

Honda's current agencies and Roth either declined to comment or couldn't be reached for comment.

Honda marketer spent $1.25 billion on U.S. advertising in 2012, according to the Ad Age DataCenter. It spent $54.3 million on digital display advertising. In March, the marketer retained RPA as its creative agency on the Honda business. Boston-based Mullen was awarded Acura creative and Publicis Groupe's MediaVest tapped as the automaker's new media agency. RPA, which was the 27-year incumbent on all creative and media buying and planning for both brands, has relied heavily on its Honda account over the years, so the loss of more Honda business would likely leave a dent.

Big plans for digital
But display is only one part of the digital marketing mix, and Mike Accavitti, Honda America's Chief Marketing Officer said last year that the company was on track to boost overall digital spending. "The step now is to redirect any savings associated with this agency structure back into the marketplace," he told Ad Age following the review. "We have been shifting the mix, since my arrival, away from traditional broadcast media TV. There was a heavily TV-centric marketing focus in this place when I got here. So we started to increase the amount of funds spent in digital. That will continue."

Last year was a relatively good one for American Honda Motor Co. Honda division's sales rose 7.4% while sales for the Acura luxury division rose 5.9%, according to the Automotive News Data Center. During December, Honda division sales rose 2%, while Acura's dropped 2%.

And with its updated agency roster, the previously conservative Honda is taking more marketing chances, especially when it comes to social media.

Tech and autos
Acura will continue to be the presenting sponsor of Jerry Seinfeld's hit web series, "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee." Acura persuaded the stand-up comic to write eight of his own mock ads with Mullen. Honda and RPA, meanwhile, created a series of web-specific videos for its "Start Something Special" ad campaign.

The timing for the latest agency review is fitting as automotive companies generate buzz at the Consumer Electronics Show, which began this week. The first day, Clear Channel announced that it added automotive brands, including Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo and Kia, to the roster of companies committed to implementing iHeartRadio in their cars. Google also announced a new alliance with Audi, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai and technology company Nvidia to bring its Android platform to more cars this year. As part of the deal it created the Open Automotive Alliance.

Contributing: Mike McCarthy

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