Power Players 2009

Honda's Steve Center Is Ad Age's No. 17 Power Player

Conservative Approach Leads to Rare Auto Profit

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Last Year
THE POWER: Honda stuck to its conservative approach to business in the economic maelstrom and managed to eke out a full-year global profit for the fiscal year ended March 31. That's no small feat as other major automakers' competitors, including Toyota, suffered through a sea of red ink. Steve Center, named VP-advertising and public affairs in mid-2008, inked a three-year deal for Honda to be the official vehicle of the NHL just months after getting his new job last year. He pulled out all the stops for the crucial launch of the second-generation Insight hybrid car in March with an integrated blitz. Honda's FCX Clarity hydrogen car bested 21 other contenders to win the 2009 World Green Car award at the New York auto show this spring. The Honda brand has been making bigger plays online and in social media with its recent "Everybody knows somebody who loves a Honda," also integrated in other mediums.

THE NUMBERS: The volume Honda brand is winning market share, which reached 10.3% at the end of September, up from 9.9% a year ago. Honda's CR-V outsold Toyota's RAV4 small SUV in the first nine months of 2009 with 142,906 units -- or 36,000 more. In measured-media terms, Honda spent $831 million in 2008. In the first half of 2009, measured spending was down 10.4% to $359 million.

THE KEY LIEUTENANTS: Tom Peyton, senior manager of national advertising at Honda brand, and his counterpart at Acura Susie Rossick; Jenny Howell, manager-interactive marketing of both brands.

THE CHALLENGE: Honda's biggest uphill battle is to sharply define the upmarket Acura brand and really differentiate it from Honda as well as outside competitors. Acura lost a tad of U.S. share to 1% from 1.1% since September of 2008, but its sales volume slid 34% -- greater than the industry average. The launch of the new Honda Accord Crosstour could prove tricky after a recent pre-launch Facebook flap -- some visitors to the car's page panned its design.

THE AGENCIES: Independent RPA, Santa Monica, does it all for both brands: creative, media and digital.

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