Doner gets its 1st major automaker account Mazda $240 million account will seek to bolster image, sales in U.S.; Agency might add 100 jobs; Advertising

W. B. Doner & Co., the Baltimore advertising agency, landed a $240 million account yesterday to help resuscitate Mazda Motor Corp.'s corporate image and U.S. car sales.

The deal is the first major car account landed by the company, whose roots were planted in the U.S. car capital of Detroit 60 years ago.


It's also another big-name account Doner has added to its book this year. The agency's other key accounts include British Petroleum, Arby's, Chiquita, Coca-Cola, La-Z-Boy and this newspaper.

"This is huge for us," said Alan Kalter, chief executive officer of privately held Doner, which still has offices in Detroit, where the deal was signed yesterday.


The $240 million account, which will begin next year, is equal to more than a third of Doner's estimated $600 million in billings this year.

Kalter estimates that the agency will hire about 100 employees to help handle the demands of the Mazda account, and he expects the company to open an office in Irvine, Calif., next year. Mazda North American Operations' headquarters is in Irvine.

The Detroit and Irvine offices are expected to handle the bulk of the Mazda work, Kalter said.

The Mazda account had been held for 27 years by Foote Cone & Belding in Los Angeles.

Foote, Mazda's sole U.S. ad agency since the company began marketing cars in the United States in 1970, resigned the lucrative account. Its parent, True North Communications, merged with Chrysler Corp.'s ad agency this summer.

In landing the account, Doner won a high-profile bidding war for Mazda's business. Two other firms -- GSD&M; of Austin, Texas, and Ogilvy & Mather of Los Angeles -- also pitched new campaigns to Mazda.

Ogilvy was thought by some in the industry to have an edge in the competition because of the advertising campaigns the agency's Detroit office has done for Ford Motor Co.

"It's incredible to beat Ogilvy. They are about 10 times bigger than us, and they've already done work for Ford and Jaguar," Kalter said.


Richard N. Beattie, president and chief executive officer of Mazda North American Operations, said Doner was chosen to take over the ad campaign because it had shown "the creative talent" to build on the recent launching of a new ad campaign and to create a new brand image.

The carmaker recently rolled out ads in the U.S. market for its 626 models and B-series trucks. Kalter said his agency will seek to build on those ads, but also has new ideas to get car buyers' attention.

"We're going to jump-start the corporate brand name and sell cars," Kalter said.

Under the agreement, Doner will be responsible for national ad campaigns in the United States and Canada, as well as regional efforts, on television and in print.

Kalter said he could not disclose specifically what ideas Doner presented to Mazda.

The account should present Doner with a creative challenge. Mazda has never managed to move beyond seventh place in the crowded battle to win American car buyers' interest.


Advertising and car industry people attribute Mazda's problems to failing to differentiate and distinguish its models and its corporate image from those of competitors.

Santa Ana, Calif.-based AutoPacific Group found in a recent survey that car buyers perceive Mazda as a "disappearing" brand.

But Kalter is optimistic about his client's prospects.

"This is a wonderful advertising situation because their products are just so darn good," he said. "The problem is people don't understand the product. We have every faith we can move them beyond seventh place. Way beyond."

Pub Date: 10/29/97