Honda near ad agency choices
Sources: Creative, buying may be split
Mike Accavitti: Changed course
LOS ANGELES -- American Honda has narrowed the list of advertising agencies competing for its $900 million account, and incumbent RPA is still in the hunt to retain both the creative and media-buying work.
Sources close to the review say Honda probably will award the accounts by the end of February.
Honda and industry insiders say lack of size and heft was one complaint about RPA. But all four finalists for the creative business are boutique agencies, not industry giants. Although the three boutique agencies competing with RPA are backed by large holding companies, Honda removed big-name agencies such as BBDO, DraftFCB and Euro RSCG during first- and second-round cuts, sources familiar with the review said.
On the creative side, sources say, RPA is being challenged by 72andSunny of Los Angeles; Mullen of Boston; and The Martin Agency of Richmond, Va. The media-buying challengers are PHD Worldwide of London; and Horizon Media and MediaVest, both of New York, the sources said.
If any agency has an inside track to end RPA's 26-year reign, it could be 72andSunny, a hot shop that last week was named Agency of the Year by Advertising Age, a sibling publication of Automotive News.
72andSunny has no auto clients. But it attracted attention recently with its Samsung Galaxy smartphone ads that poked fun at Apple iPhone fans.
Still, some industry insiders believe RPA has a real shot at retaining the creative side of the business because of improved work of late. Another scenario has RPA keeping Honda, but losing the Acura account, so that American Honda can have "some new blood" working one of the accounts, in the words of one source.
But RPA is almost certain to lose the media-buying side of the business, said one source. The source says RPA has shown it does not have the resources to construct creative media purchases that could leverage Honda's size in the market. The other three candidates have much stronger media-buying stories.
"It's not the sexy side, but it's where all the money is," the source said.
Mike Accavitti, Honda's chief marketing officer, declined to hint who might be leading the competition.
But he said that "RPA has to do the 'chemistry check' like everyone else. We have to treat everyone the same. We have to see how they work through things and where the opportunities are."
Even if another agency wins the account, Accavitti said RPA still would be in charge of this spring's launch of Acura's RLX flagship. The MDX crossover -- the luxury brand's volume leader -- arrives this summer, and that launch would be part of any transition between agencies.
As for the MDX creative, Accavitti said: "We are continuing to work as if nothing is going to change."
Roth Associates, which is managing the search for Honda, declined to comment.
Accavitti has brought a new style to Honda advertising since arriving in August 2011, after his career at Chrysler in Detroit and a stint at Cisco in Silicon Valley. One industry source described Accavitti as "star-struck" with Los Angeles -- evidenced by Honda's quick jump from its traditional just-show-the-car creative toward Super Bowl ads starring Matthew Broderick and Jerry Seinfeld.
Although Accavitti frequently denied that the RPA account would be placed under review, barely a year after his arrival Honda informed the agency that it would have to defend its work.
Honda has told competing agencies that its account will be worth about $900 million in the near future. Media-buying analyst Nielsen says Honda and Acura spent about $840 million in 2011, and nearly $780 million through the first three quarters of 2012.
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