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DETROIT -- American Honda Motor Co. will increase the marketing budget for its Acura division by 50 percent in 2010 vs. year-ago spending, says Steven Center, the company's vice president of advertising and public relations.

Most of Acura's marketing budget will be spent on advertising that emphasizes new products.

"Our messaging for years has been too ill-focused and not about the product," Center said last month at the Detroit auto show. "The ads weren't making the point and the point is: What is it about Acura that makes it better?"

Acura spent $264.1 million on measured media in the first 11 months of 2009, up 16.5 percent from the year-ago period, according to Advertising Age via Kantar Media, formerly TNS Media Intelligence. Advertising Age is a sister publication of Automotive News.

Much of the budget increase will be directed at the ongoing launch of the ZDX five-door hatchback and new, front-wheel-drive versions of the RDX crossover and the TSX wagon. The TSX goes on sale this fall. Center said Acura still will use its "Advance" tag line but put more emphasis on exclusive features, such as the brand's patented body structure system, high residual values and a surround-sound audio system.

Center said Acura's awareness levels have been consistently high, but consumers didn't perceive it being as prestigious as other luxury brands.

Center said the awareness/opinion gap is closing, albeit slowly.

In a study conducted from June to August 2009, GfK Custom Research North America found that 78 percent of respondents were aware of the Acura brand, but only 28 percent rated the brand as "excellent." That was up from six months earlier, when Acura's awareness was 74 percent and 26 percent of respondents rated it excellent.

In comparison, 86 percent of respondents in the same study were aware of BMW, and 54 percent rated the German carmaker excellent. And 80 percent were aware of Lexus, and 48 percent gave it an excellent rating.

"We want to have the emotion of BMW without the hardware,"
Center said.

Acura sold 105,723 new vehicles in the United States in 2009, down 27 percent from 2008. Last month, the brand sold 7,132 vehicles, down 9 percent from January 2009.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Tech

Acura Ads Focus on Technology "Beneath the Surface"


An image from a new commercial touting what Acura calls active sound control, which is available on the TSX.

LOS ANGELES -- The marketing message for Honda's technology-driven Acura division has wandered somewhat since the brand's 1986 launch. But for its 2010 advertising campaign, Acura is reconnecting with its technical roots.

Of course, creating ads that focus on technology can be a challenge.

"What's in the car, beneath the surface, is difficult to get across in a TV spot," said Steve Center, American Honda Motor Co. vice president of advertising and public relations.

"We didn't want to do the typical feature-benefit ads. Acura's positioning is 'smart luxury.' We wanted to demonstrate that through technology."

The commercials, entitled "Beautiful Science," could be seen as a tip of the hat to Honda Europe's innovative "Cog" commercial, which has gotten millions of online views.

One of the U.S. spots shows a schematically exploded view of an Acura engine, noting that noise-canceling technology is used for all those moving parts.

Another shows an Acura MDX body-in-white crashing into a wall, displaying the collapsible front structure of the car and the safety cage for occupants.

"This is not technology in a commoditized sense, like entry-link and navigation systems, but from a viewpoint of how we go about solving transportation problems," Center said.

The commercials will roll out over the course of the year, highlighting the vehicles' construction materials, adaptive suspension and all-wheel drive.

The spots also mention Acura's resale value, and dealers and regional ad groups can affix deal kickers to the end.

Acura needs the retail kick. U.S. sales fell from 201,223 units in 2006 to just 105,723 last year. And some dealers are still miffed that Honda Motor Co. canceled Acura's rear-drive and V-8 engine programs, keeping the brand out of the top-tier luxury fight.

"With a lot of that lofty brand messaging, the esoteric won't work in this economic environment," Center said. "We have to be more direct and to the point about why people should consider the products and the brand."
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Ad Campaign


The scene opens with a stark white room, reminiscent of an art gallery, arranged with engine components perched atop tall spindles: crank shafts, piston blocks, belt assemblies.

With all the motors running, the room is a deafening caterwaul. “Most automobiles use only insulation to reduce noise,” announces the narrator, “but we take a different approach. We use microphones to detect unwanted engine sounds, then transmit opposition frequencies to eliminate them.” Like magic, the room falls silent—enough for the viewer to hear a warbling canary inside a bamboo cage. “Active sound control,” the narrator intones, “available only on the Acura.”

The :30 (called “Engine Parts”) is one of nine new TV spots that broke earlier this year by the Honda-owned nameplate. Bearing the tagline, “The most innovative thinking you’ll find, you’ll find in an Acura,” the campaign is an ambitious grab for sales at a time when luxury brands are wheezing under a lingering recession and competitors like BMW and Mercedes keep a firm lock on the performance car segment.

“What we’re trying to do with this campaign, and in this economy, is to show consumers that they can still have a luxury vehicle, but when you make this choice, you can make a smart decision,”
said Susie Rossick, Acura’s manager of national advertising. “With this theme, you can see we do things differently.”

Acura’s chosen point of differentiation is engineering. While other top nameplates stick with messages of performance, fuel economy and posh interiors, a strict focus on literal nuts-and-bolts components such as Acura’s side-to-side rear-wheel energy transfer and an Active Damper System for its motor oil represents a new tack. “Without going out and screaming ‘value,’ we’re trying to show consumers that this is a smarter choice—an innovative approach to luxury,” Rossick added.

Christopher Cedergren
, senior partner with Los Angeles-based automotive consultancy Iceology, said Acura’s approach is well advised. “Acura is too closely associated with Honda; they don’t have an identity in the marketplace. So the technology [theme in the commercials] makes a lot of sense,” he said. “They need to hang their hat on something they have—and engineering is all they have.”

Considering that—thanks to Toyota’s current ills—Americans are suddenly all-too conscious of the importance of automotive technology that works, Acura’s timing—if only by coincidence—could be good.

While Rossick is quick to distance Acura from both Toyota as a competitor and its current braking and acceleration issues (“We’re not looking at [Toyota’s problems] as an advantage,” she said), Cedergren thinks it might give Acura a boost. “The mere fact that they claim they have great experience in technology hints at the fact that you’re not going to have [Toyota’s] problems,” he said.

Not that Acura hasn’t had its own troubles. Unit sales fell 26.8 percent in 2009 compared to the year before. For the first month of 2010, sales improved but was still off by 1.7 percent, according to company data. Acura cut its ad spend by 45 percent last year, dropping $139 million compared to $225 million in 2008, per Nielsen. Cedergren said that the new campaign—recession or no recession—comes at the right time. “The luxury market has been hit hard, but the issue with [Acura] is that they have to move the metal. They have to keep the cash flowing,” he said.

Perhaps the new spots (created by rp&, a division of RPA) will do that. “The technologies we’re describing in this campaign are quite beautiful,” said Joan Egan, group account director for rp&. “We aimed to make each spot feel as if the viewer was stepping into an art installation in a gallery space, with the technologies as the works of art.”

Now, all the spots have to do is get people to step into an Acura showroom.
 

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AutoNews


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.

Weaknesses?

Inconsistent marketing. The product is greater than the marketing created to support it.

Opportunities?

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.

Threats?

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.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
MotorAuthority


Jerry Seinfeld’s Internet-only 2012 comedy sensation, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, was born from a rather simple thought. Seinfeld merged the things he likes (cars, coffee and relationships with fellow comedians) into a variable-length series, designed for easy viewing on tablet or smartphone.

The show proved a hit, with the inaugural 10-episode season drawing around 10 million unique viewers. A 2nd season has since been announced and will commence this summer, but this time around there’s sponsorship dollars at hand.

Acura has signed on as the sole sponsor of the show, which will spawn at least 24 more episodes spread over the remainder of this year and into 2014. Acura and Seinfeld, of course, are quite familiar with each other, having worked together on a Super Bowl ad in 2012.

As part of the new deal, Seinfeld will incorporate several Acura models into the show, including the new 2014 Acura MDX that also launches this summer.

"We at Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee are so glad a company we already admire has stepped forward to support us," Seinfeld said in a statement. "Not everyone understood what we were doing.”

You can watch the new season on Sony’s Crackle online channel or the show’s dedicated website. Some of Seinfeld’s fellow comedians set to appear include David Letterman, Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock and Don Rickles.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
AdAge


After selecting new creative and media agencies last March, American Honda Motor Co. is turning its attention to digital strategy and web development for its brands in North America. The Japanese automotive giant sent out an request for information this week as it preps for a review.

Honda spokesman said the move is an extension of last year's strategy to review creative and media agencies. "We're investigating opportunities that exist," he said. "We want to make sure the portfolio of agencies we have is consistent with our marketing goals."

A shift could consolidate the company's digital business which currently is spread among a handful of agencies. Longtime creative shop RPA supports digital marketing and creative for the Honda brand, while Los Angeles-based Genex handles a portion of the digital work, largely for the Acura brand. Meredith Xcelerated Marketing has also handled some digital marketing for the company.

According to people familiar with the matter, the marketer is looking for a digital agency that can help it become more innovative and target a younger consumer. The scope will likely incorporate everything from digital creative to front- and back-end web development.

Roth Observatory International, the search consultancy that worked on the media and creative agency process, is supporting the digital-agency search, according to people familiar with the matter.

Honda's current agencies and Roth either declined to comment or couldn't be reached for comment.

Honda marketer spent $1.25 billion on U.S. advertising in 2012, according to the Ad Age DataCenter. It spent $54.3 million on digital display advertising. In March, the marketer retained RPA as its creative agency on the Honda business. Boston-based Mullen was awarded Acura creative and Publicis Groupe's MediaVest tapped as the automaker's new media agency. RPA, which was the 27-year incumbent on all creative and media buying and planning for both brands, has relied heavily on its Honda account over the years, so the loss of more Honda business would likely leave a dent.

Big plans for digital
But display is only 1 part of the digital marketing mix, and Mike Accavitti, Honda America's Chief Marketing Officer said last year that the company was on track to boost overall digital spending. "The step now is to redirect any savings associated with this agency structure back into the marketplace," he told Ad Age following the review. "We have been shifting the mix, since my arrival, away from traditional broadcast media TV. There was a heavily TV-centric marketing focus in this place when I got here. So we started to increase the amount of funds spent in digital. That will continue."

Last year was a relatively good one for American Honda Motor Co. Honda division's sales rose 7.4% while sales for the Acura luxury division rose 5.9%, according to the Automotive News Data Center. During December, Honda division sales rose 2%, while Acura's dropped 2%.

And with its updated agency roster, the previously conservative Honda is taking more marketing chances, especially when it comes to social media.

Tech and autos
Acura will continue to be the presenting sponsor of Jerry Seinfeld's hit web series, "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee." Acura persuaded the stand-up comic to write 8 of his own mock ads with Mullen. Honda and RPA, meanwhile, created a series of web-specific videos for its "Start Something Special" ad campaign.

The timing for the latest agency review is fitting as automotive companies generate buzz at the Consumer Electronics Show, which began this week. The 1st day, Clear Channel announced that it added automotive brands, including Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo and Kia, to the roster of companies committed to implementing iHeartRadio in their cars. Google also announced a new alliance with Audi, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai and technology company Nvidia to bring its Android platform to more cars this year. As part of the deal it created the Open Automotive Alliance.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Seinfeld


For the 2nd season in a row, Jerry Seinfeld has taken a stab at writing Acura ads that will appear before and after episodes of "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee."


This time around, instead of spoofing 1960's car ads, Mr. Seinfeld said he's going after the idea that a car is "going to completely remake your life."


And thus was born Dan Granite, a fictional car salesman who sprinkles practical (if odd) life advice as he touts the Acura TLX to a prospective buyer. "I sell cars, you sell you," he says, obscurely.


According to Mr. Seinfeld, he and Acura have cut 10 separate spots, 2 for each of this run of episodes.


Acura recently signed on to be the exclusive sponsor of 24 new episodes (seasons 6, 7, 8 and 9) that will run on Sony Pictures Television's Crackle.com. And it's sponsoring this season and as well as another set to run online in the fall.


"We think we've really stumbled onto something special," said Mike Accavitti, general manager of American Honda's Acura Division.


In fact, the Acura sponsorship is the main reason the show goes on. When asked how much longer the show will continue, Mr. Seinfeld said, "I don't think I'd be doing the show at this point if it weren't for Acura," adding that he feels the company is a good fit.


Unlike other celebrities who've signed on to work with brands, Mr. Seinfeld isn't interested in a marketing title to affix to his name. "I don't like titles. I don't like credits. I just like doing the gig."


While agency Mullen provided support to the effort, Mr. Accavitti said Mr. Seinfeld did "all the heavy lifting" in part to ensure that they were contextually relevant, something that comes into play in the ads and in the product-placement within the episodes.

Contextually relevant, though, doesn't necessarily mean subtle. In a recent episode featuring actress Sarah Jessica Parker, Mr. Seinfeld and his guest are stopped by a police officer outside of a diner.

"Excuse me," he asks. "Is this your product placement?" The camera then cuts to an Acura MDX.

Explained Mr. Seinfeld: "Our product-placement philosophy is to make it as intrusive as possible."
 

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Discussion Starter #9
AdAge


Acura is launching its new luxury sedan -- embarking on the biggest marketing campaign in its history -- without the help of broadcast prime time TV.

The American Honda division will promote the TLX with a robust campaign that includes a significant investment in digital video. Mike Accavitti, who in the spring took on the role of senior VP and general manager of the new Acura Division, said more than 1/3 of the campaign's overall budget is dedicated to digital, with Facebook being a big piece of the equation.

While Acura has already been beefing up its digital and social media marketing, for the TLX launch it's investing more in content creation, generating bite-sized videos designed to target different types of consumers. On Facebook, Acura will run a massive "road block," with TLX videos reaching 100% of users, Mr. Accavitti said. It will also do a takeover on major web portals like Yahoo and MSN.

Mr. Accavitti declined to provide details on how much Acura is spending on the campaign or on specific platforms other than to say it is the biggest campaign in the company's history. Last year, the brand spent $170 million on measured media, according to the Ad Age DataCenter.

Of course, TV is still a significant part of Acura's marketing plan, with more than half of the campaign's budget dedicated to the traditional screen. It's important to note that some of what Acura considers "TV," includes long-form, high-quality content on platforms like Hulu and Crackle. The brand's TV buys also include spots airing within the NFL, some late-night and top cable networks, including ESPN's "SportsCenter."

"It's still too early to launch a car without TV," said Ed Beadle, senior marketing manager of the Acura Division.

Still, it decided to stay away from broadcast prime time. Mr. Beadle said there has been a meaningful change in media consumption behavior. As the brand evaluated who is actually buying its cars, execs saw it is those customers who are highly engaged in mobile.

For that reason, Acura has been the exclusive sponsor of Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" on Crackle. Acura signed on for 4 more seasons of the show in May. Mr. Seinfeld has created custom content for Acura to run before and during the web series.

The TLX campaign will kick off on Aug. 17 with the TV spot, "My Way," featuring a Sid Vicious rendition of the iconic song, as well as eight additional 15-second spots. The spot was designed to capture the passion of Acura's design, development and manufacturing engineers as they built a car they wanted to drive, Mr. Accavitti said. The campaign carries the theme, "it's that kind of thrill."

Acura worked with Mullen LA on the creative, while MediaVest is its media agency.

The company has also teamed up with the New Yorker for what it is calling "Thrillustrations," which will run in the magazine and are shareable on social media.

This is the 1st major campaign from the auto maker since it was split into its own division. Previously, American Honda separated roles by function, rather than brand, with Mr. Accavitti overseeing product planning and national marketing for both Honda and Acura.
 
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