Ford's ad review: Handicapping the contenders

Ad agency holding companies going after Ford Motor Co.’s massive global creative advertising business will have to navigate a thicket of potential auto account conflicts — and at least one company is not involved for that reason. Interpublic CEO Michael Roth said IPG, whose McCann network handles General Motors’ Chevrolet account, is not involved in the review, which formally kicked off last month and is expected to conclude in the fall.

“We are a General Motors holding company,” Roth said. “There are a few conflicts in this business now. It used to be there were a lot. Well, General Motors-Ford is about as big a conflict as you can get, so we are not participating.” Asked if IPG was invited to pitch Ford, he said: “I won’t answer that.” A person with knowledge of the process said IPG was not formally invited because of the GM conflict.

Publicis Groupe also has significant portions of GM’s advertising business in the U.S., which could complicate things. The agency holding company’s favored approach of late is to build so-called bespoke units meshing agency talent for big clients under its “Publicis One” model. But its Ford options might be limited because of its existing auto clients.

Its Rokkan agency handles GM’s Cadillac brand, while a special Publicis entity called EngageM-1 oversees GMC and Buick. Globally, Publicis also has a major portion of the Mercedes-Benz account spanning some 40 countries outside the U.S. Also, Saatchi & Saatchi handles Toyota in the U.S. Two high-ranking Publicis Groupe executives declined to comment about the Ford review this week when asked by Ad Age.

One likely Ford contenter is Omnicom Group, whose BBDO remains conflict-free in the U.S. auto industry. Omnicom’s DDB is in a good position to go after the Volkswagen account — which is also under review globally — because DDB handles VW in overseas markets. So that likely makes BBDO the lead horse on Ford by default. (Omnicom also handles Nissan in the U.S., with its Zimmerman agency taking a key role.)

An Omnicom spokeswoman declined to comment. Ford in a statement declined to go into detail about the review, only naming incumbent WPP as one of the participants.

“Ford is committed to driving greater marketing efficiency, effectiveness and customer insight, leveraging the latest tools and technology,” Ford said in a statement. “As part of this effort, Ford is re-evaluating its global marketing and advertising strategy and has invited WPP and other agencies to compete for portions of its advertising business.”

Flock Associates is the consultant on the review, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. Flock declined to comment.

WPP handles Ford via Global Team Blue, or GTB, which confirmed the review in late April. GTB handles creative and media advertising for Ford. The competitive review does not include media, instead focusing on creative, brand strategy and design. One priority for Ford is to drive greater creative consistency globally, according to a person familiar with the matter. While the tag line “Go Further” is used across the globe, along with the brand’s familiar blue oval, other creative tactics have been more localized. Finding more cohesion across markets could result in more cost-effective advertising.

While the size of the Ford account makes holding companies the most likely contenders, independent agency Wieden & Kennedy could be a wild card. Several people familiar with the review mentioned the agency as possibly getting a look by Ford. A Wieden & Kennedy spokeswoman declined to comment.

Ford spent $ 4.1 billion globally on advertising in 2017, according to its 10-K regulatory filing. In the U.S., the marketer shelled out $ 2.3 billion in 2016, ranking it as the nation’s ninth-largest advertiser, according to the Ad Age Datacenter.

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