Ad agencies think they hear Mr. Opportunity knocking on Honda's $640 million account.
American Honda Motor Co. insists its longtime shop, RPA, is secure on the national account.
But agencies, straining to hear sounds of discontent with the agency of record, are encouraged that new regional Honda dealer ad associations - each with budgets additional to the national spending - are looking outside RPA, also known as Rubin Postaer and Associates.
"It's a much-needed shot across the bow" of RPA, says a former Honda insider who asked not to be identified.
Also, there is a perception that John Mendel, senior vice president of automobile operations at American Honda, will loosen ties to RPA, which had a close relationship with Mendel's predecessor, Tom Elliott.
The renewed interest in dealer marketing was sparked by Honda's decision to revive its dealer ad associations.
So far, 30 dealer associations have sprung up for Honda and 11 for Acura, a spokesman says. Although the current dealers collectively spent $35 million in measured media last year, their outlay is growing rapidly as they multiply.
Honda's Southern California dealer association is close to naming a shop from among finalists Ground Zero, of Los Angeles; Cimarron, of Hollywood; Secret Weapon, of Santa Monica; and Siltanen & Partners, of Marina del Rey.
A northern California dealer group has begun a search, and others have been formed covering part of New York City, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh.
Eric Conn, assistant vice president of national advertising at American Honda, pooh-poohed the notion that RPA is losing its grip on the automaker's account: "RPA has been here for 32 years. I don't think they're going anywhere."