CHICAGO -- Mazda, after narrowing its search for a new advertising agency, said today it is in contract talks with English advertising giant WPP Group plc.
The move severs Mazda North American Operations from Doner, the suburban Detroit agency Mazda retained in 1997 that developed the “Zoom-Zoom” tagline.
Don Romano, Mazda North America's chief marketing officer, said in a statement Doner was cut because “we felt that a new marketing communications partner would assist us in achieving our short- and long-term North American sales goals.”
WPP has Mazda Motor Europe's agency for more than 12 years. If negotiations are finalized, it would handle Mazda's marketing in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Mazda said it will continue to use WPP-owned Hill & Knowlton as its public relations agency.
"I'm extremely confident that WPP can take Mazda to the next level.” Jim O'Sullivan, CEO of Mazda North America, said in a statement.
Mazda spent $152 million on measured media in the U.S. last year, according to Kantar Media, though its spending has typically exceeded $200 million in the past.
WPP, which handles Mazda's business in much of the world outside of North America, had been regarded as a favorite in the review, which began in early March. At the time, a Mazda executive said the company wanted to be sure it was getting "the best work and the best price."
‘Zoom-Zoom' lives on
For Doner, the lost account occurs even though its former client intends to continue using Doner's "Zoom-Zoom" tagline with the new agency.
"It's with a heavy heart and great disappointment that we must share the news that Mazda has decided to go in a new direction," Doner said in a memo circulated to staff this morning. "While we fought valiantly throughout the process and laid it all on the line, Mazda has decided to move on. And so must we."
Winning Mazda in 1997 in a pitch that also included GSD&M and Ogilvy & Mather was the exclamation point on the independent's transformation from a strong, regional independent into a national force. It also greatly increased the agency's footprint, as Doner opened an Irvine, Calif., branch to work on Mazda.
In the memo this morning, Doner touted the results from its work for Mazda:
"Together, with many supportive partners at Mazda North America, we generated outstanding results: we invented 'Zoom-Zoom,' an emotional, differentiating and remarkably memorable brand platform that will remain the foundation for Mazda's global marketing vision into the next decade,” the memo said.
‘Loss is painful'
Today, Mazda is the agency's largest account, accounting for about 20 percent of revenue, according to Doner executives.
The loss leaves Doner without a significant automotive account and the agency plans to bid on other automotive business.
The Mazda account won't be easily replaced, although the agency has won a series of smaller accounts of late. Doner was sold by former CEO Alan Kalter late last year to former Chief Operating Officer David DeMuth, Chief Creative Officer Rob Strasberg and President Tim Blett, has also been in the process of attempting to change its perception as a TV-centric to a shop more synonymous with digital and nontraditional campaigns under the guidance of Strasberg, a Crispin Porter alum.
Executives point to an alternate-reality game for Mazda Canada. And they've also changed the agency's Web site and logo.
"While the sting of this loss is painful it's one that will pass quickly," the Doner executives wrote. "Our sights are already set on the future and our new business initiative is focused on winning a new automotive account as well as other exciting opportunities in the pipeline."
Diana Kurylko contributed to this report.