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Mazda will change its ad strategy with its new ad agency for the U.S. and Canada, W.B. Doner & Co., Southfield, Mich.

For the past couple of years, the troubled Mazda North American Operations employed the same price-oriented national advertising for its retailers' use on spot TV. That will change, according to executives close to Mazda who requested anonymity.


Mazda's next round of national ads is expected to be a blend of branding and product, while regional dealer commercials will be retail oriented. Doner's first work will probably be to launch the new Miata, due next spring.

"Doner demonstrated to us in a competitive review that it had the ideas and firepower to get Mazda the share of voice that we want and need to succeed in the highly competitive North American market," said President-CEO Richard Beattie in a statement last week after the surprise selection.

Doner topped Ogilvy & Mather, Los Angeles, and GSD&M, Austin, Texas, to win Mazda's $240 million national and regional dealer group account.

Mr. Beattie and the rest of the 12-member agency review panel voted before he left for Japan Oct. 19, executives said.

Mr. Beattie showed the agency proposals to his boss, Henry Wallace, president of Mazda Motor Corp. in Japan.

Mr. Beattie wasn't available for comment at press time.


Ad industry watchers believed early in the review process that O&M would be the heavy favorite due to its current work for Ford Motor Co. and Ford subsidiary Jaguar. Ford owns a third of Mazda.

But Mr. Beattie earlier denied O&M would have an edge (AA, Aug. 11).

O&M executives said its presentation to Mazda was brand oriented and included a recommendation to use the pricey Millenia sedan for what the industry calls a "halo car"-to spill Millenia's luster over the rest of the brand and lift the other models' images.

But the review panel didn't agree with that strategy, according to the executives close to Mazda. O&M got an undisclosed number of votes from the review panel, and "it was very close between Doner and GSD&M," one executive said.

What put Doner over the top was its current experience on six large regional Ford Division dealer accounts and its network of offices, the executive said.


Doner will open an office in Irvine, Calif., near Mazda's North American base, said Alan Kalter, Doner CEO. He said he's not sure how many other offices Doner will need to service the regional dealer groups.

In addition to suburban Detroit, Doner also has a dual headquarters in Baltimore and offices in Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, London, Montreal, Tampa and Toronto.

The agency estimated its 1997 billings before the Mazda win at $575 million.

"We made a decision we were not going to do any show-business" gimmicks for the presentation, Mr. Kalter said. "We opted for a very serious business meeting.

About 100 staffers in Doner's Detroit-area office worked on the presentation, and other offices kicked in, too. The shop called every Mazda dealer in North America-just over 1,000-to get their point of view and to understand the brand and its buyers, he added.

"I guess it paid off," he said.


Incumbent Foote, Cone & Belding, Santa Ana and San Francisco, Calif., handled Mazda's new fall corporate branding campaign and the launch ads for its 626 sedan and B-Series truck.

The new branding commercials position Mazda as different and not for everyone. There may not be any radical changes in the branding strategy because that was developed from within.

"Doner has the creative talent to build on this excellent launch advertising," Mr. Beattie said.

Mazda has been trying to clarify its muddy image and halt sliding sales.

Sales started slipping in 1995, the year after annual U.S. sales reached a near-record 375,416 vehicles.

Sales were just 238,285 in 1996 and were off 8% through September this year to

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