Mazda North America's decision to put its estimated $150 million advertising account in review threatens the biggest piece of business for its independent agency, Doner.
The automaker on Friday confirmed the review, and a spokesman told Ad Age the duties up for grabs encompass "basically all the work Doner handles."
Mazda, with the help of Boston-based Pile & Co., is currently in the process of reaching out to agencies to handle creative work, as well as some media and digital duties. According to the Mazda spokesman, the automaker decided it was time for a review because the company "wants to be sure we're getting the best work and the best price."
He added that Doner is "absolutely" invited to defend the account if it wishes.
A Doner spokeswoman said the agency, which has had the account for 13 years, intends to "vigorously fight for our business" and that it believes "our best work is in front of us."
Mazda says it intends to keep Doner's "zoom-zoom" tagline regardless of whether the agency retains the account.
The review comes amid a wave of car marketers changing agency partners on the back of the toughest year for U.S. auto sales in almost three decades.
In recent months Chrysler Group has revamped its roster of shops, breaking ties with Omnicom Group agencies. General Motors Co.'s Chevrolet tapped Publicis for work, and Publicis-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty was picked as the new agency for Cadillac.
Volkswagen moved its account from Crispin Porter & Bogusky to Deutsch, Los Angeles. Mitsubishi Motors' ad account is also in review.
Mazda's U.S. sales have gained 3 percent this year through February in a market that's up 10 percent. Last year, Mazda and the U.S. industry each fell 21 percent.
The automaker's North American CEO, Jim O'Sullivan, earlier this year said he expects 2010 sales to be on par with, or even slightly better than, the overall U.S. industry with the help of the Mazda 2 small car.
Doner has counted Mazda as its largest and highest-profile account since 1997.
Doner suffered a tumultuous 2009.The agency's longtime creative force and vice chairman, John DeCerchio, departed and then sued it in a dispute over the size of the payout related to his 32 percent equity stake in the shop.
Another partner and 30-plus-year executive, H. Barry Levine, quit after then-CEO Alan Kalter admitted that the agency's pension fund was not in compliance with federal disclosure rules.
In December, Kalter sold his stake in Doner to COO David DeMuth, Chief Creative Officer Rob Strasberg and President Tim Blett, saying that "the next chapter is ready to be written."