Alex Leikikh, the son of Russian immigrants to Minnesota, had key posts at agencies Leo Burnett and Fallon -- working at Fallon on the BMW account -- before being named president of Mullen's headquarters office in Boston.
This year, his team made an emotion-filled pitch to win the Acura business. Leikikh (LAY'-kee), 40, spoke with Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin about life with the new client.
Q: What won the Acura account for you?
A: We wanted to find a way to show the synergy of man and machine that is a driving force within Acura engineering and design, but in a fresh way and with some emotion to it.
What was the "wandering road" theme to your pitch?
The wandering road theme came in respect to Acura's sales for the past 10 years. We were asking to see if we could stop this wandering road of sales ebbs and flows. The product pipeline is coming with great, advanced, high-tech luxurious products that deserve really strong communications support. We should see hockey stick growth.
American Honda also had the Honda brand under review. Did you have a shot at winning the Honda account as well?
We clearly got the sense that both were in play. Somewhere along the way, one of the other agencies asked whether they could pitch just one brand or the other, and Honda's answer was, "No, pitch both." When we did the chemistry-credentials sessions, we had separate conference rooms for Honda and for Acura, with separate teams. We treated them very differently. We obviously swung for both.
What are Acura's strengths?
Wow, this takes me back to Leo Burnett days. I would say great quality, precisely built products, high-tech innovation, luxurious products. People don't know enough about how luxurious they are. Acuras are efficient, really advanced machines. There's a strong product pipeline.
Inconsistent marketing. The product is greater than the marketing created to support it.
To attract people from conquest brands to consider Acura. Right now, Acura does a lot of business trading up from Accord or Pilot. But there is an opportunity in going after BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Infiniti.
Aggressive, smart targeting and spending on the part of the competition. They have a lot of great products. We have to fight for every eyeball and lean on creativity. We have to embrace the concept of creativity as an economic multiplier.
Is Acura a luxury or a premium brand?
Everyone at Acura believes it's luxury. It just hasn't been pitched that way. It's not so much about performance characteristics. If you look at the kind of people we're trying to attract, it's more about substance than showmanship. If you think about what our competitors are creating, they are creating machines for driving or for status and prestige based on the badge, while some are striving for perfection. We are trying to attract intellectual, grounded, normal people. They don't define themselves by the badge in the driveway. They have more substance than that.
Why hasn't Acura caught on?
You have to give people an emotional trigger or a reason to consider this thing. You have to have a love factor with these vehicles. We have to create a company that society wants to exist. We are going to pull an emotional trigger with the MDX in June and see it evolve over the course of time.
But most Acura buyers come from Honda, Toyota and Nissan, not from other luxury brands. How do you get that conquest buyer?
The good news is that there are a lot of Honda consumers who understand the value the Acura brand provides that will step up into an Acura. But we really need to elevate the luxuriousness and prestige factor to get people who drive Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Lexus to take a look at Acura. The new MDX is an awesome, luxurious, high-tech machine. If you are looking at a Q5 or X5, you are crazy not to look at an MDX.
Whose automotive ad work do you admire?
There isn't a lot of really amazing automotive work right now. I thought the prom spot for Audi was interesting. I admire what they are doing from an advertising perspective in using works like "bravery." I think that's a good word for them. I thought [Toyota's] "swagger wagon" campaign [for the Sienna] was a bold way to talk about a minivan.
I wish we would see more of the BMW Films type of work. It's still the standard for auto advertising and marketing.
There are so many creative minds and financial resources available. I want to see that era of marketing come back to the automotive space.