Honda/Acura Advertising News
American Honda Motor Co., facing a challenging but growing U.S. light-vehicle market, is placing its $700 million U.S. creative and media accounts for the Honda and Acura brands under review.
The automaker has worked with Santa Monica, Calif.-based RPA on creative and U.S. media buying and planning for 26 years, and the agency will participate in the review process, Honda said today.
Honda told Advertising Age, a sister publication of Automotive News, the review is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2013.
"Both the Honda and Acura brands are rolling out incredibly strong new products. 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," Michael Accavitti, vice president for American Honda's national marketing operations, said in a statement.
"The review we have initiated will lead to a strong, long-term strategic plan for our brands," Accavitti said.
Best November ever
The review comes on the heels of Honda's best November ever in terms of U.S. sales.
American Honda's sales this year are up 24 percent through November, though the results are skewed due to last year's earthquake and tsunami in Japan that reduced Honda and Acura inventories.
The Honda and Acura brands should combine to finish the year with sales of around 1.4 million units in the United States.
But Honda has grander sales aspirations in the U.S. market.
Honda Motor CEO Takanobu Ito wants Honda's North American sales to increase to 2 million in the near term from 1.7 million units presently.
Former American Honda sales boss Dick Colliver had a similar goal for the U.S. sales arm in the early 2000s, and never came close -- sales peaked at 1.55 million units in 2007 before the recession sent industry sales tumbling to a 27-year low.
The Honda brand spent $513.5 million on U.S. measured media in 2011, a 2.9 percent increase from 2010, while Acura spent $193 million, a 1.9 percent increase from 2010, according to the Ad Age Data Center.
American Honda's total U.S. marketing spending was $1.14 billion, Ad Age says. Globally, the company reported ad expenses of $2.46 billion during the year ended March 2011, an increase from $2.12 billion in 2010, but still below the $3.01 billion it spent in 2009.
Part of the Honda family
When he joined Honda last year, Accavitti told Automotive News there was no need to put RPA's business up for review, saying an agency review would be, "completely unproductive and unnecessary."
"RPA is an extension of the Honda family," he said.
As recently as August, he praised RPA's Super Bowl work.
"I am not a fan of airing differences with agencies in the press," he told Automotive News at the time. "If I have an issue with ad agency, I will call them."
"RPA has very capable individuals," he added. "We just needed to have a common understanding of what the objectives were, and they've been able to come up with good creative. Continuous improvement is the name of the game."
RPA, whose roster is dominated by Honda -- its Web site lists only a few other clients, including Intuit, La-Z-Boy and Farmer's Insurance -- referred calls for comment to Honda.
The Honda review could mean a new opportunity for media and creative agencies eager to land the biggest automotive ad account since GM reviewed its multibillion-dollar business last year.
RPA was awarded the account in 1986 from Needham Harper after the "Big Bang" merger with Omnicom's DDB -- Volkswagen's agency at the time -- as part of a rollup with BBDO, the ad agency for Chrysler at the time.
The review does not include Honda's multicultural ad accounts, which are handled by Muse Communications and Orci.
American Honda picked incumbent RPA to remain its advertising agency of record for the Honda brand after a 3-month review while giving Acura's creative business to Boston-based Mullen.
The decision announced Tuesday changes a 26-year relationship between RPA and Honda. RPA has carried the Honda brand since the agency was formed in 1986. It landed the account for Honda's luxury Acura brand in 1999.
MediaVest of New York has won the media-buying account for both brands from RPA, which used to be known as Rubin Postaer and Associates.
As a result, Honda's advertising and marketing relationship moves to more of a hub-and-spoke model with different suppliers for media buying, and for the Honda, Acura, Hispanic and African-American campaigns.
The 4 finalists for the $850 million account were RPA; Mullen; 72andSunny, of Los Angeles; and The Martin Agency of Richmond, Va. The media-buying challengers were PHD Worldwide of London; and Horizon Media of New York.
The Honda brand represents about 70% of American Honda's overall marketing outlays, according to 2011 figures from Advertising Age, a sister publication to Automotive News.
"We are confident that our new team of agencies will create dynamic marketing campaigns that connect and engage consumers with our products and our brands, while achieving an even higher level of efficiency and effectiveness," said Mike Accavitti, American Honda's chief marketing officer.
MediaVest's role as a separate media agency is expected to result in more sophisticated targeting of American Honda's media mix, with a significant improvement in media buying efficiency, the company said.
"Getting smarter about how we communicate was a critical goal of this process and even with the same level of investment we expect to realize more efficient and targeted media plans, which will increase the amount of money we spend on reaching our customers," Accavitti said in a statement.
Honda is in a strong position, product-wise, with recent changes to its 3 top volume nameplates: redesigns of the entire Accord lineup and CR-V crossover occurred last year, as did a 2013 freshening of the Civic compact.
But this also means the Honda brand is entering a fallow period with few major product launches; the agency will have to work to keep retail interest churning.
A strong December helped American Honda's full-year 2012 sales rise by 24% to 1.42 million vehicles -- with the caveat that most of summer 2011 sales were impacted by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. U.S. sales through February are up 4%.
Honda has grander volume aspirations. The Honda and Acura brands are aiming at their combined 2007 sales record of 1.55 million sales for this year. And Honda Motor CEO Takanobu Ito also has said he wants American Honda to reach 2 million sales in the near term. That is part of Honda's global growth strategy of moving from 4 million to 6 million sales by the 2017 fiscal year.
"This is a really good chance for our business," Honda Motor CEO Takanobu Ito said at a roundtable at the Detroit auto show in January. "We have a lot of momentum. We are at full production for the U.S. market."
Although the 2012 Civic was a flop among automotive journalists, it was a sales smash with dealers as Honda pushed lease deals. Even though Consumer Reports removed the Civic from its "recommended" list, the Civic outsold the Toyota Corolla for the 1st time in recent memory.
But pushing incentives is a rare occurrence for the Honda brand; the 2013 Civic has no deals, and consumers and salesmen will have to return to the old ways.
Honda's next growth spurt should happen in 2014, when a redesigned Fit and a new Fit-based crossover will arrive.
They will be produced at Honda's new Celaya, Mexico, plant. That plant will have a capacity of 200,000 units, which will be split between the U.S., Mexican and Canadian markets.
On the Acura side, the flagship RLX sedan is just reaching market, and RPA will still be in charge of that launch, Accavitti said in a January interview.
However, the MDX crossover -- which is Acura's volume leader -- arrives this summer, and that launch will be part of the transition between RPA and Mullen, Accavitti said.
Honda chose Pittsburgh-based Ketchum Advertising to launch Acura in 1986. Ketchum lost the Acura account to Suissa Miller in 1996, and then it went to RPA in 1999.
Acura's New Ad Agency Targets Buyers from Rivals
Alex Leikikh, the son of Russian immigrants to Minnesota, had key posts at agencies Leo Burnett and Fallon -- working at Fallon on the BMW account -- before being named president of Mullen's headquarters office in Boston.
This year, his team made an emotion-filled pitch to win the Acura business. Leikikh (LAY'-kee), 40, spoke with Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin about life with the new client.
Q: What won the Acura account for you?
A: We wanted to find a way to show the synergy of man and machine that is a driving force within Acura engineering and design, but in a fresh way and with some emotion to it.
What was the "wandering road" theme to your pitch?
The wandering road theme came in respect to Acura's sales for the past 10 years. We were asking to see if we could stop this wandering road of sales ebbs and flows. The product pipeline is coming with great, advanced, high-tech luxurious products that deserve really strong communications support. We should see hockey stick growth.
American Honda also had the Honda brand under review. Did you have a shot at winning the Honda account as well?
We clearly got the sense that both were in play. Somewhere along the way, one of the other agencies asked whether they could pitch just one brand or the other, and Honda's answer was, "No, pitch both." When we did the chemistry-credentials sessions, we had separate conference rooms for Honda and for Acura, with separate teams. We treated them very differently. We obviously swung for both.
What are Acura's strengths?
Wow, this takes me back to Leo Burnett days. I would say great quality, precisely built products, high-tech innovation, luxurious products. People don't know enough about how luxurious they are. Acuras are efficient, really advanced machines. There's a strong product pipeline.
Inconsistent marketing. The product is greater than the marketing created to support it.
To attract people from conquest brands to consider Acura. Right now, Acura does a lot of business trading up from Accord or Pilot. But there is an opportunity in going after BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Infiniti.
Aggressive, smart targeting and spending on the part of the competition. They have a lot of great products. We have to fight for every eyeball and lean on creativity. We have to embrace the concept of creativity as an economic multiplier.
Is Acura a luxury or a premium brand?
Everyone at Acura believes it's luxury. It just hasn't been pitched that way. It's not so much about performance characteristics. If you look at the kind of people we're trying to attract, it's more about substance than showmanship. If you think about what our competitors are creating, they are creating machines for driving or for status and prestige based on the badge, while some are striving for perfection. We are trying to attract intellectual, grounded, normal people. They don't define themselves by the badge in the driveway. They have more substance than that.
Why hasn't Acura caught on?
You have to give people an emotional trigger or a reason to consider this thing. You have to have a love factor with these vehicles. We have to create a company that society wants to exist. We are going to pull an emotional trigger with the MDX in June and see it evolve over the course of time.
But most Acura buyers come from Honda, Toyota and Nissan, not from other luxury brands. How do you get that conquest buyer?
The good news is that there are a lot of Honda consumers who understand the value the Acura brand provides that will step up into an Acura. But we really need to elevate the luxuriousness and prestige factor to get people who drive Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Lexus to take a look at Acura. The new MDX is an awesome, luxurious, high-tech machine. If you are looking at a Q5 or X5, you are crazy not to look at an MDX.
Whose automotive ad work do you admire?
There isn't a lot of really amazing automotive work right now. I thought the prom spot for Audi was interesting. I admire what they are doing from an advertising perspective in using works like "bravery." I think that's a good word for them. I thought [Toyota's] "swagger wagon" campaign [for the Sienna] was a bold way to talk about a minivan.
I wish we would see more of the BMW Films type of work. It's still the standard for auto advertising and marketing.
There are so many creative minds and financial resources available. I want to see that era of marketing come back to the automotive space.
Acura Signs on as Sponsor for "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee"
Jerry Seinfeld’s Internet-only 2012 comedy sensation, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, was born from a rather simple thought. Seinfeld merged the things he likes (cars, coffee and relationships with fellow comedians) into a variable-length series, designed for easy viewing on tablet or smartphone.
The show proved a hit, with the inaugural 10-episode season drawing around 10 million unique viewers. A 2nd season has since been announced and will commence this summer, but this time around there’s sponsorship dollars at hand.
Acura has signed on as the sole sponsor of the show, which will spawn at least 24 more episodes spread over the remainder of this year and into 2014. Acura and Seinfeld, of course, are quite familiar with each other, having worked together on a Super Bowl ad in 2012.
As part of the new deal, Seinfeld will incorporate several Acura models into the show, including the new 2014 Acura MDX that also launches this summer.
"We at Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee are so glad a company we already admire has stepped forward to support us," Seinfeld said in a statement. "Not everyone understood what we were doing.”
You can watch the new season on Sony’s Crackle online channel or the show’s dedicated website. Some of Seinfeld’s fellow comedians set to appear include David Letterman, Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock and Don Rickles.
Hoping that the best years are not in the rear-view mirror for its Acura luxury line, American Honda Motor Co. is shifting into high gear for the introduction of its redesigned 2014 MDX sport utility vehicle.
The U.S. sales arm of the Japanese automaker typically has kept a low advertising profile for Acura. But that's about to change.
This week, American Honda in Torrance plans to roll out its largest-ever national advertising campaign for an Acura model, a marketing push that also is being closely watched in the Los Angeles advertising industry.
American Honda this year dumped Acura's longtime ad agency and called in reinforcements from Boston and New York. The 2 newly hired firms had to quickly add staff and engineer a campaign that would improve consumers' impressions of Acura.
"This is huge for us," said Gary Robinson, manager of Acura's national advertising and brand. "We want to get this launch right, and we are going to do what it takes to do that. This is a must-succeed."
Acura in recent years has fallen behind such high-end rivals as BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. Last year, Acura sold 156,216 vehicles, according to Autodata Corp., a 25% decline from its peak of nearly 210,000 units sold in 2005.
The Honda brand remains strong: Sales increased 9.7% in June, from a year earlier, but the Acura line suffered a 10.4% decline.
Much is riding on Acura's new "Made for Mankind" ad campaign because the 7-passenger MDX is Acura's highest-volume vehicle, and the brand's best chance to regain traction in the market.
Last year, American Honda decided to open up its account handling more than $860 million a year in advertising spending for both the Honda and Acura lines.
The move ultimately reordered the Los Angeles advertising landscape as the incumbent firm, Rubin Postaer & Associates of Santa Monica, lost two substantial pieces of Honda's business.
Mullen, a Boston advertising firm, picked up the Acura account, and MediaVest of New York took responsibility for media buying for both Acura and Honda. RPA, which formed in 1986 to manage the American Honda account, retained the Honda creative account.
Still, the firm shed about 200 employees because of the reduction in business.
After winning the account March 18, Mullen executives had just 90 days to find office space in the Los Angeles area, hire workers and refine the advertising campaign in time to tout the MDX's arrival in dealerships.
Mullen, which now boasts nearly 750 employees nationwide, intends to eventually employ about 80 people in its newly opened office in El Segundo to work on the Acura account. The company also creates advertising for JetBlue Airways Corp., Zappos.com Inc. and Google Inc.
"This is the most exciting opportunity to come to L.A. ad agencies in the last decade," said Julie Warford, director of creative services and operations for Mullen in L.A.
The native of New Zealand joined Mullen 2 months ago after leaving another advertising agency in El Segundo. Mullen opened its offices next door to her old firm in 13,000 square feet of office space in a glass tower that overlooks the south runway of LAX.
MediaVest expects to add about 100 people to plan media strategy for Honda and Acura. MediaVest already had a presence in L.A. because it handles advertising for Disney Channel, Mattel Inc. and other companies in the area.
Acura's Robinson said the MDX advertising campaign was the largest ever for Acura, although he declined to divulge how much the company will be spending. According to advertising consultant Kantar Media, Acura spent nearly $167 million on ads in 2012, down 15% from 2011.
The company plans to make 5 television commercials featuring the MDX, an increase over its usual practice of producing two national TV commercials and 1 region spot for a car model. It recently unveiled the Mullen 60-second spot in theaters and has ordered print ads, billboards, Internet ads.
"It's been crazy. I can't remember the last day that I worked that wasn't 16 hours, but that's fine," said Peter Rosch, executive creative director at Mullen who recently relocated from Boston.
During the pitch process, Mullen asked for extended sessions with Acura engineers and designers, who discussed how they were focused on tapping into technological innovations to create a "synergy between man and machine."
"Our approach was to look right in front of our eyes. We tried to try to find the magic within the words of their chief engineer and then express it in our words," said Mark Wenneker, Mullen's chief creative officer, who also plans to relocate from Boston to Los Angeles or San Francisco.
Rosch came up with the line "Made for Mankind," to compete with BMW's slogan of "the ultimate driving machine" and Lexus' "the pursuit of perfection."
Acura executives acknowledge their vehicles face "challenges of perception" among buyers of luxury vehicles.
Honda launched Acura in 1986 to become a step-up vehicle for Honda owners who wanted to graduate to the next class. The strategy worked. Still, some Honda owners kept buying Hondas, while others migrated to brands that offered more pizazz. To attract new buyers, Acura must drive out from Honda's shadow.
The 60-second version of Mullen's first TV commercial is cinematic in scope and begins with a man scaling a tall tree. It includes an underwater scene, an astronaut floating in space and a scientist interacting with a robot. It is different from most because, these days, car commercials tend to feature voice-overs by famous male actors. On the new Acura ad, the announcer is a woman, who was selected after auditions by more than 100 actors. Acura's usual spokesman, actor James Spader, wasn't enlisted for the campaign.
The ad is meant to convey that as humans have evolved, so has Acura.
The company also intends to make a bigger push in social media. MediaVest brought research into the pitch to show Honda how to better exploit social channels to identify potential car buyers and persuade them that Acura matches their personalities.
"People who are purchasing a car are sending social media signals all over the place," said Chris Harder, executive vice president and managing director of MediaVest's L.A. office. "What social media allows us to do is reach consumers in real time."
The goal is to highlight Acura's relationship with consumers — before, during and after the car purchase, she said.
"We know there is huge power in a brand, and we need a stronger brand to be able to sell more vehicles," Acura's Robinson said. "It's a critical element that we are focused on. It's our goal to make MDX part of the conversation."
Seinfeld Pledges to Help Make Acura Master of Its Domain
What’s the deal with auto commercials showing cars driving through the desert? Who does that? Not Acura, if Jerry Seinfeld has anything to say about it.
“For the most part, car advertising is a total turnoff to the consumer; I think it needs a complete reboot,” Seinfeld said in a phone interview. “It’s too commercial-y and fear-based. Stop showing us the cars driving through the desert.”
Seinfeld, the comedian whose show about nothing featured a Soup Nazi and “yada, yada, yada,” is in a budding alliance with Honda Motor Co. to inject some fun into Acura and give it a sportier luster. Acura is sole sponsor of Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” Web series, the result of a bond formed with Honda’s U.S. marketing chief, Senior Vice President Mike Accavitti.
Seinfeld tie-ins are part of a strategy by Accavitti to enhance emotional ties to the Acura brand that has had a meandering image since its 1986 debut. New models and more memorable ads are key to Tokyo-based Honda’s goal to rejuvenate its premium line, eclipsed by German competitors and Toyota Motor Corp. (7203)’s Lexus.
The online-only series joins other Internet-based efforts to promote cars. The automotive industry also is responding to consumers’ increasing inclination to research potential purchases online, said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at Horizon Media in New York.
Mobile phones and tablets in April accounted for about 13 percent of all video-viewing, up from less than 3 percent in August 2011, according to a study by Ooyala Inc., an analytics firm that measures Web viewing habits for advertisers and other customers. Because of larger screens and faster wireless networks, advertisers can target people at specific times, on specific devices, the company found, and those people tend to watch live video almost twice as long as video on demand in the home.
Car companies “want to be in the mindset of the consumer when they go online to look up a car,” Adgate said. “They want to try things out and see what works and doesn’t work, and because of the size of their marketing budget, they more than other industries are open to experimenting.”
Acura’s U.S. sales shrank 25 percent from the brand’s 2005 peak of 209,610 to 156,216 last year. While sales are up 4.4 percent in 2013’s 1st 9 months, competitors had even bigger gains. Lexus rose 12 percent, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW)’s BMW is up 14 percent and Daimler AG (DAI)’s Mercedes-Benz had a 12 percent gain. Audi is also catching up to Acura in the U.S., trailing by about 6,000 units this year as the Volkswagen AG (VOW) unit’s sales rose 14 percent.
Honda is retooling the line, releasing the new RLX premium sedan this year to replace the slow-selling RL and revamping the stalwart MDX sport-utility vehicle, the brand’s consistent star since its release in 2000. A replacement for the TL sport sedan is in the works, and Acura is bringing back the NSX supercar in 2015 to give the line a halo.
In Seinfeld’s initial Acura commercial, he and fellow car collector Jay Leno, the “Tonight Show” host, competed to get the 1st NSX. The spot ran during the 2012 Super Bowl, 3 years ahead of the car’s release, to “get people talking about Acura again,” Accavitti said in an interview last month.
“It was such a cool car and they thought it would be fun to do it on the Super Bowl,” Seinfeld said. “They needed somebody who people associate with cars.”
He was given a free hand to work with the director to script the commercial.
“There is nothing better for a guy like me, obviously, than when you connect with a client that understands humor is the ultimate weapon in advertising when used properly,” he said.
“Don’t sell me your product, sell me you,” said Seinfeld, 59. “You’re trying to make people like you. You don’t have to sell them your product. You have to make them like you.”
Accavitti, a 55-year-old Michigan native who spent much of his career at Chrysler, arrived at Honda in 2011 as the Tokyo-based carmaker was reeling from a string of unfavorable product reviews and stalled production because of natural disasters in Japan and Thailand. The Seinfeld Super Bowl commercial, and 1 with actor Matthew Broderick behaving like his character in 1986’s “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to promote the CR-V crossover, were two of his first projects.
“We continue to see this unmet need for new Seinfeld material,” Accavitti said. “That was the genesis of the Super Bowl ad we did with him a couple of years back.”
Accavitti and Seinfeld began talking about working together again with “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” because the show needed a sponsor and Acura was seeking alternative channels to promote itself.
“The 1st season, Jerry didn’t have any sponsors. We reached out and said, ‘What we’re after as a company is we want to own things,’” Accavitti said. “We don’t want to be 1 of 40 sponsors.”
A typical episode of the program, available on a website set up by Seinfeld and the Crackle video streaming service, features him calling fellow comedians to meet for coffee. Seinfeld picks up guests in vintage cars he has selected to fit the personality of entertainers, including David Letterman, Chris Rock, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.
An Acura ad appears at the start of an episode and vintage Honda and Acura commercials from the 1960s and 1980s have run at the end of episodes that typically average 15 minutes.
Since Honda’s involvement began, “viewership is up 40 percent from year one to year 2,” Accavitti said. “We’re seeing a steady growth. It’s gone viral. Over 3.5 million people have viewed it.”
The arrangement runs through next year. Both Seinfeld and Accavitti declined to discuss how much Acura is spending for it.
Compared with cost of airing ads on traditional television or cable channels, “it’s a very, very fair price,” Accavitti said. “It’s very efficient.”
“He’s always generating ideas for us, to help him add greater value to our partnership,” Accavitti said. “I can’t go into greater detail, but you’re going to see some stuff this next season.”
Neither he nor Seinfeld would say whether he’ll appear in future Acura commercials separate from the web series.
Seinfeld, who says he regularly calls and messages Accavitti to share ideas for “Comedians,” said the sponsorship is an ideal fit.
Acura said, “We’re not going to interfere with the show,” Seinfeld said. “Other people did not say that.”
In the 1st Acura-backed episode, Seinfeld and comic Sarah Silverman walk through the Silver Lake neighborhood in Los Angeles on their way to a coffee shop, when they see a 2013 RLX sedan parked on the street. Seinfeld points out the car and mentions Acura’s support for the show. Silverman simply says it looks like a nice car, and joins Seinfeld in mocking the overt product placement.
Acuras haven’t reappeared as part of the show.
“From a traditional viewpoint, a lot of car companies or marketers would have dismissed this opportunity because he has other cars in it,” Accavitti said. “I appreciate the old Porsche that he wants to show or the big Rolls-Royce that he wants to go pick up someone up in, the old Beetle he uses to get Larry David.”
David, co-creator of the “Seinfeld” situation comedy, was featured in the initial episode of the web series. In a diner reminiscent of the 1 on television show, Seinfeld explains that his concept for the web series is nothing more than comedians going for a ride and talking over coffee.
“You have finally done the show about nothing,” David said.
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