AutoTrader Is in the Market for a New Creative Agency After 16 Years With Doner

By Patrick Coffee 

Online car marketplace AutoTrader, which has been working with MDC Partners’ Doner for more than 16 years, issued an RFP seeking a new creative agency this month.

A company spokesperson tells us that it isn’t looking for an AOR, simply a partner for an upcoming campaign. From the client:

“We have had a valuable 16+ year relationship with Doner- a true and meaningful business partnership that we greatly appreciate. As we continue to grow and develop our brand, while staying on top of the industry, we are constantly reevaluating partnerships for new perspectives and fresh thinking.”

This would be in keeping with recent work as AutoTrader turned to L.A.’s Zambezi for fall campaigns like this one and this one. The client also says that it will continue working with Doner.

Our sources tell a slightly different story. Despite the success of 2014’s Confederate flag-free Dukes of Hazzard ads, we hear that Doner has chosen not to participate in the review or otherwise attempt to defend the account and that it will not create future campaigns for AutoTrader.

This wouldn’t come as a complete surprise: the client’s co-founder and CMO Clark Wood left in May to accept the same role at real estate marketplace RentPath, which amazingly describes itself as “a leading digital media company” in the press release.

AutoTrader also faces increasing pressure from a growing list of competitors in the “like Kayak, but for cars” industry. Case in point: this April New York Times article, which mentions awkwardly-named startup rivals like Beepi, Carlypso and Carvana.

The client tells us that it signed Zambezi on a project basis in order to vary its marketing mix after the Dukes campaign ended, adding that “we use a variety of partners” but declining to elaborate on whether the agency would continue to be one of those partners.