Mazda’s UK marketing boss on why agencies will always give it the edge as it makes biggest ad investment to date

As it launches a its biggest pan-European campaign to date, Mazda has talked up the vital role its agencies play now and as it gazes towards a connected car future.

There has been much talk among brand marketers around the benefits of in-housing, and auto companies in particular have pushed forward models which favour keeping talent close. Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover and BMW, for example, have all championed hybrid structures that deliver agency talent dedicated solely to their needs but there is the inevitable temptation to bring some, if not all, elements completely in-house at some point.

Case and point with Nissan, which recently told The Drum of its plans to bring digital and programmatic under its own roof. Elsewhere, Hyundai has said that in a drive for efficiency it plans to cut out agencies altogether and have its own media team deal directly with giants like Google when it comes to its digital spend.

For Japanese car marque Mazda, working with agencies will always win out in the ‘in-housing’ debate. In the US it has Garage Team Mazda and in Europe Dusseldorf-based Team Cosmo, both of which sit within the WPP Group structure. So compelling is this offering that Mazda’s UK marketing boss is convinced that it will never fully in-house its advertising.

“The in-housing model is not something I aspire to, if I’m honest,” Claire Andrews told the Drum. “When you get that partnership that’s aligned with brand and commercial objectives then that’s a winning combination, which is what we’ve struck on now.”

She later added that media buying "would never" be brought in-house simply because of the scale you achieve through working with an agency: "It’s unrealistic to think otherwise."

Moreover, working with agencies on everything from media buys to creative conception ensures the brand doesn’t become complacent. And furthermore, as Mazda also begins to think about the arrival of connected cars and the data it will provide on drivers it will need to have a much broader point of view on how that information can be harnessed – agencies provide that.

“They have the benefit of [working with] other clients in areas like telecommunications, for example, that are at the forefront of this connectivity. So agencies enhance what we do and make sure we’re consumer centric.”

All of this will at some point raise questions over the right remuneration model for such services. Agencies, and brands, have been thinking for some time that as requirements move towards conceiving, building, and launching a service rather than an ad campaign that how the former are compensation will have to change.

That’s not to say Mazda isn’t doing some heavy lifting internally to make sure it’s ready for what the future holds. Andrews says it could falter by mistaking it for a classic chicken and egg situation, how can you make sure the right systems are in place when the potential of connected cars has yet to be fully understood?

And so the brand is on a what it expects will be a lengthy journey to “get our house in order”, something which has seen all of its global offices across three continents come together “to a get to a point where we’re absolutely ready for a customer view to make the most out of our communications.”

In the meantime, it has sought to breathe fresh life into its ATL marketing by bringing Tim Ashon – founder of WPP-owned creative agency Antidote, which is not part of the core ‘ Team Cosmo’– into the fold as its new creative director.

“It’s really refreshing to work with a creative agency that shares a passion for driving. That’s really come through in this work. They’ve been able to take our brand forward and build the equity.”

Ashton is behind the brand’s new campaign, ‘Drive Together’ – a new position that was honed after realising that its previous strapline around ‘Defying Convention’ wasn’t cutting through.

“We’ve looked at our research results and are trying to solve the challenge of familiarity. As an industry that spends a huge amount of money on media, for a 2% market share player [which Mazda is] to cut through isn’t easy, frankly,” said Andrews.

“Research told us that the defining convention message is interesting but it’s too far down the comms journey to be at the forefront of people’s minds and we needed something that was more emotionally and human centric.”

The idea of the pan-European campaign and new strapline is to position Mazda as the antidote to the rise of autonomous driving and celebrate the connection that people have to cars. Nodding to its Japanese heritage, the comms feature the phrase 'Jinba Ittai', which explains the unity between a mounted archer and their horse.

Mazda is not oblivious to the fact that it’s a small fish when its up against the auto giants of the world and its media plan has focused on improving one simple metric – awareness. To do that, two-thirds of the ad budget has gone on TV while the remaining third will be used to amplify its digital media whenever a spot runs on a big screen over the next three months.

It’s the most amount of money to date that Andrews has been given to play with but even so, achieving cut through with earned media is the goal for the second half of the year.

The brand has a bank of films destined for social channels starring Richard Meading, a contributor to car magazine Evo, testing its cars, while designers and engineers from its Japanese headquarters have fronted videos which go into more detail about its heritage and the features that make its cars unique.

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