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So. Calif. Honda Selects Secret Weapon

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LOS ANGELES Secret Weapon Marketing has won the review for the Southern California Honda Dealer Association's creative and media account, according to sources.

The Santa Monica, Calif., agency prevailed over The Cimarron Group here; and Ground Zero and Siltanen & Partners, both in Marina del Rey, Calif.

There was no incumbent, as hiring an agency represents a dramatic turn in what had been a 12-year ban on dealer advertising instituted by American Honda Motors in Torrance, Calif., as a way of controlling the brand's image.

The value of the business in play was not included in the materials returned by shops. Sources said the assignment could be worth as much as $50 million. (Ad spending by comparable regional dealer groups ranges from $20 million by Chevrolet to $40 million by Ford and $65 million by Toyota.)

Steve Jaros, Honda senior manager of marketing, supervised the review, with input from consultant Lane Bensko.

Agency and client officials either could not immediately be reached or declined comment.

A separate review is ongoing for Honda dealer business in Northern California. Four California independents are competing in that contest [Adweek Online, Aug. 15].

Sources said resulting ad efforts would be funded via dealer assessments based on vehicle sales; Honda's national and regional programs with RPA would not be affected. Honda spent $750 million on domestic ads in 2005 and $300 million through May 2006, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

A source said, "$300 on a $20,000 car could appear on the sticker as a 'dealer association advertising' fee," which gave some dealers pause, though unanimity was apparently achieved.

Honda sales were up 10 percent to 645,000 units through June compared to the same period last year, per Car Concepts, Thousand Oaks, Calif.