NEW YORK -- The automotive advertising business used to be known for its stability, owing to accounts with long learning curves that placed a premium on experience and scale that made it tough to shift quickly.
But the tumult that's rocked the auto industry in recent years has changed all that, as evidenced by three iconic automotive brands representing a collective $600 million in measured media spending swapping ad agencies or going into play just last week.
“It is unprecedented,” said veteran agency-search consultant David Beals. “But I guess that's what happens when you get a category in crisis.”
The catalyst in two of the latest moves was Joel Ewanick, General Motors Co.'s new head of U.S. marketing. Ewanick, who -- only weeks after abruptly dumping Chevrolet ad agency Publicis for Omnicom's Goodby Silverstein & Partners -- struck again, this time on the $270 million Cadillac business.
Chevrolet and Cadillac are the cornerstones of GM's turnaround efforts.
Under Chairman Ed Whitacre, GM executives at all levels face renewed pressure to drive sales and revenues higher as industry demand slowly recovers. Whitacre has tapped several outsiders, Ewanick included, to accelerate that growth.
Ewanick abruptly fired Publicis-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which had only handled the business for five months, and is said to be in the process of shifting the account elsewhere within Publicis Groupe. The destination was originally thought to be Minneapolis-based Fallon, but executives familiar with the matter said it wasn't yet certain whether Caddy would end up parked at Fallon, another Publicis agency or some combination of shops within Publicis.
One major reason for the uncertainty is the agency fate of the Chrysler brand, which has been handled by Fallon since late last year. Publicis executives are reportedly scrambling to find a way to keep Chrysler and Cadillac within the holding company, an outcome that would have been unthinkable as recently as 2008, when Chrysler and GM held enormous sway over Omnicom Group and Publicis, respectively. Chrysler spent more than $150 million on measured media in 2009.
The swiftness of the changes surprised BBH, which read about its firing in Advertising Age, an affiliate of Automotive News, last week.
“We were extremely surprised to learn via the press yesterday that Cadillac has decided to move its advertising business elsewhere,” CEO Greg Anderson said in a statement June 24. It closely echoed one by Publicis CEO Susan Gianinno on May 20 after her agency learned of its Chevy ouster through the press before its first meeting with Ewanick.
In another sign the industry is in transition, Mazda last week parted ways with longtime North American agency of record Doner, a Michigan-based independent ad agency, in favor of a hybrid team from WPP.
Mazda spent $152 million on measured media in 2009, although, like Chrysler, it typically shells out more than $200 million annually.
Those shifts followed agency shifts earlier this year by Volkswagen -- from MDC's Crispin Porter & Bogusky unit to Interpublic's Deutsch -- and Mitsubishi, from Cimarron Group's Traffic to Omnicom's 180 in Los Angeles.