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[New York] Forget Black Friday. Online, the holiday season officially began the week ending Nov. 14, when shopping visits to e-tailers increased 60% from the week before, according to the Nielsen/Net- Ratings holiday index released last week. The category that led the growth was home and garden, which had a weekly jump in traffic of 88%. Home Depot soared 159% and Pottery Barn 97%. The books/music/videos sector was the second-biggest growth area with and BeMusic surging 233% and 67% respectively. The toys/games category leapt 85%, apparel went up 75%, and shopping comparison and portals also experienced a growth surge of 73%.

Importer beats Mercedes to punch on Smart in U.S.

[Montvale, N.J.] Mercedes-Benz USA's Smart Cars USA isn't too happy about California importer ZAP clearing the first federal hurdle to import and sell Smart cars here in 2005. David Schembri, the VP heading Smart USA, said buyers should beware since there's no authorized U.S. dealers for service and those cars will have no warranties. Smart, part of DaimlerChrysler, doesn't plan to start selling the brand here until 2006. Mr. Schembri said ZAP is legally allowed to buy the cars overseas and import them.

HP looks set to boost product advertising

[San Francisco] Hewlett-Packard Co., which had spent a significant portion of its advertising budget on corporate-image work, is considering a shift to more product and action-oriented messaging, executives familiar with the situation said. The move would mean Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, which handles HP's corporate-branding efforts as well as other assignments, may find a larger portion of HP's budget shifted to Publicis Groupe's Publicis & Hal Riney, also San Francisco, which shares the account. Last year, HP spent $154.5 million of its $427 million overall budget on corporate advertising, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. An HP spokesman said in an email statement: "As always, HP is looking at all of our advertising to ensure it meets our objectives to sell products and services while also building the HP brand. The agency assignments have not changed." Agency executives declined comment.

Honda to launch truck with Super Bowl spots

[Torrance, Calif.] American Honda Motor Co. Inc. will use the Super Bowl to launch its mid-sized pickup, Automotive News reports today. The Ridgeline is Honda's first pickup and is scheduled to arrive in dealerships in early March. Honda has not revealed pricing. Honda bought two 30-second spots on Fox. Tom Peyton, Honda's senior manager of national advertising declined to say how much the automaker is paying for commercial time. An executive close to Fox said the average price for a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl is $2.4 million. Mr. Peyton called the game "the perfect platform to really launch that truck and get it exposed for the first time."

Freston promotes Frank, builds team at Viacom

[New York] Viacom Co-President and co-Chief Operating Officer Tom Freston upped another member of his senior executive team last week, naming Betsy Frank exec VP-research and planning for Viacom cable networks, film and publishing. It is a newly created position. Ms. Frank will report both to Mr. Freston and to Judy McGrath, chairman-CEO MTV Networks. Ms. Frank joined MTV Networks in 1997 as exec VP-research and planning and now adds publishing house Simon & Schuster and Paramount to her purview. The changes follow Mr. Freston's expansion of power within the company. Mr. Freston was appointed to his present position in June.

Buick sought ideas from non-roster shops

[Detroit] To develop the new "Big Idea" umbrella brand campaign for Buick (See related story, P. 4), the General Motors Corp. unit asked other unnamed roster agencies to pitch ideas, a Buick spokesman confirmed. Still the marketer ended up using one from its agency of record, Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson, Troy, Mich. The spokesman called the move "just a normal course of business" at GM now.

McEntire taps Arnell to launch clothes line

[Nashville] Omnicom Group's Arnell Group has been chosen by singer and actress Reba McEntire to launch her new clothing line, called Reba, that's to be sold in Dillard's department stores beginning next spring. The launch campaign will include print advertising and in-store video, brochure and point-of-purchase efforts. Chairman-Chief Creative Office Peter Arnell, whose agency created DKNY and Rbk, will photograph the campaign in the offices of Starstruck Entertainment, Ms. McEntire's company.

Kia delays presentation on $240M account

[Irvine, Calif.] Kia Motors America is again delaying the presentations for the creative part of its $240 million account. A spokesman for the automaker said the final pitches were moved back a week, to the week of Dec. 6, due to "scheduling issues." Independent David & Goliath, Los Angeles, is defending the account against independent Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago; Omnicom Group's GSD&M, Austin, Texas; and MDC Partners' Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York.

FYI ...

Royal Caribbean International has named Omnicom Group's Spike DDB its agency of record for the cruise line's African-American integrated marketing communications. Spike DDB, which will handle creative, media, interactive, public relations and research responsibilities, won the account following a review. The other two finalists were not disclosed. A new campaign is expected to launch in spring 2005 as part of Royal Caribbean's "Get Out There" theme. ... Publicis Groupe's Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis, earlier this month laid off 20 employees in its flagship office, or 6% of its total North American workforce, a spokeswoman confirmed. The cuts were made because the agency didn't win enough new business to offset the loss earlier this year of Subway. Pepperidge Farm has looked outside its agency of record, WPP Group's Y&R Advertising for creative ideas for its Goldfish snack line. Independent BrightHouse Live, Atlanta, will present ideas for a line that's been aimed at both teenagers and adults, but Y&R remains AOR for both the Goldfish brand and other Pepperidge Farm products.

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