Red Light for Automaker Search

Agencies, stop your engines. A letter from the procurement department at Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America that ap-peared to indicate the car maker’s $200 million media-buying bus-iness was about to go into review is a dead end. The self-described “love” the client has for its agency, Deutsch/LA, continues una-bated, and nothing is in review.

A flurry of excited rumors, at media shops and media departments here and on the East Coast, that the business might be up for grabs has circulated faster than a tricked-out Spyder on a straight stretch of empty highway. “There is a willingness to open their door,” exulted one media-agency source.

But there isn’t.

The genesis of the speculation was not any pending change in Deutsch’s agency-of-record status, but rather an ill-advised decision by a junior staffer in the Cypress, Calif.-based client’s procurement department.

Like most advertisers, Mitsubishi periodically reviews what it pays to vendors (last year, it reviewed print-production costs). The subject of media-buying costs came up, and the overzealous staffer sent out a letter to agencies—including some with existing car business—inquiring about their media-buying capabilities.

When the gaffe was discovered, Deutsch quickly received an apology from the client, said Steve Gough, Mitsubishi director of marketing.

“The person acted without direction, and it was an action that shouldn’t have been taken,” he said. “The person wasn’t supposed to do what they did. We’re not do-ing any type of media-buying review, and we’re achieving our brand-awareness goals.”

The idea seemed odd from the get-go, considering that Deutsch’s “brandtailing” approach has helped its client make a remarkable positioning turnaround in recent years, from third-tier, struggling import to one of the most robust sales machines in the car business.

While sales have slowed recently, Mitsubishi is still in positive territory and expects to surpass 300,000 unit sales this year for the first time. Its most recent campaign illustrated non-Mitsubishi owners’ “car envy.”