There’s No Place Like Homes for Ad Agencies

The top three brands in real estate—Re/Max, Coldwell Banker and Century 21—are becoming more aggressive marketers in a battle for shares of a vibrant sector of the economy.

A record number of homes were sold in the U.S. last year, according to the National Association of Realtors (6.5 million, up 7 percent from 2001). While the number is expected to drop slightly this year, according to Jody Lane, president of Dallas trade journal Realty Times, spending by the three franchise real-estate operations will continue to rise, executives said.

“Right now real estate occupies an unprecedented share of the American mind,” said Kris Washington, partner at Boston consultancy Psynchronous Communications. “Real-estate companies have proved to be smart marketers, and the messaging activity we’re seeing reflects their attempt to harvest what remains of the windfall while building [their] brands to mine the harbors against a less certain future.”

Re/Max, the Greenwood Village, Colo.-based market leader, last month revamped its agency roster, naming Los Angeles independent davidandgoliath to handle its estimated $30 million TV creative account and Omnicom’s Fleishman-Hillard for public relations duties. Its media spending was up more than 10 percent last year to nearly $60 million, according to CMR.

Re/Max, which operates 4,400 offices worldwide, is aiming to raise brand awareness among both consumers and the business press, said David Liniger, chairman and co-founder of the company.

Ads from davidandgoliath will break in 2004. Fleishman-Hillard has been asked to help publicize the brand’s 30th anniversary this year.

“It couldn’t be a better time to have a client in the real-estate business,” said Claire Behar, svp and partner at Fleishman-Hillard, New York. “People are looking at [their] shrinking 401(k)s, but real estate holds value.”

Century 21 svp of marketing John Greenleaf said the booming market helped to spur spending by more than 60 percent over the past year. CMR recorded $25 million in media in 2002. “There are more people active in the real-estate market than ever,” Greenleaf said.

Century 21, which has 6,500 offices worldwide, last month broke five cable spots from Lowe that bear a new tagline: “Real estate for your world.” A print execution for its Fine Homes and Estates division broke this month. Weber Shandwick in Cambridge, Mass., handles PR for the Parsippany, N.J., client.

Coldwell Banker, with 3,200 offices, broke an estimated $14 million national TV campaign from The Kaplan Thaler Group in New York in February. Spots tout the Concierge program, which helps new homeowners find plumbers, painters and other service providers. In the ads, a worker dances with a ladder, and a jingle highlights the company’s commitment to help make customers’ homes “their own.”

The Parsippany, N.J.-based company spent $20 million on media last year, compared with $10 million in 2001, according to CMR. Coldwell Banker works with public relations firm Publicis Dialog in New York on an ongoing PR effort, according to a company representative.

“The franchises are spread across the country, so they want to brand themselves as the Wal-Mart of the real-estate business. … It’s essential brand building,” said Sue Parenio, associate professor of mass communications at Boston University.