Automaker wants to accelerate Web innovation to attract younger buyers

Honda launches review of digital advertising, marketing work

Automaker wants to accelerate Web innovation to attract younger buyers

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NEW YORK -- 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 automaker sent out a request for information this week as it preps for a review.

A 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.

People familiar with the matter told Advertising Age, an affiliate of Automotive News, that Honda 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, people familiar with the matter said.

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

Honda 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 company retained RPA as its creative agency on the Honda business.

Boston-based Mullen was awarded Acura creative and Publicis Groupe's MediaVest was 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.

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 Advertising 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."

Honda division's U.S. sales rose 7.4 percent while sales for the Acura luxury division rose 5.9 percent, according to the Automotive News Data Center. During December, Honda division sales rose 2 percent, while Acura's dropped 2 percent. The U.S. market as a whole rose 8 percent last year while December sales remained flat.

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

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.

Mike McCarthy contributed to this report

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