Toyota tipping point

So which part of the Toyota business has Johnny Hornbys agency not yet won?

For understandable, though entirely separate reasons, all parties to this hardly everyday event in advertising CHI, the client, Saatchi & Saatchi and indeed WPP are being coy about it.

So which part of the Toyota business has Johnny Hornby’s agency not yet won?

For understandable, though entirely separate reasons, all parties to this hardly everyday event in advertising – CHI, the client, Saatchi & Saatchi and indeed WPP – are being coy about it.

But that it is happening, and that it will have much profounder consequences than the average large-scale account move, should not be doubted.

CHI has been making steady inroads into Saatchi’s Toyota business (about £50m in the UK, £200m across Europe) for some time. In tactics reminiscent of DLKW’s relentless plundering of Lowe’s Vauxhall business, the small but agile agency has consistently outwitted its bigger, lumbering rival when competing for new model launches. Starting in 2004, it won the Aygo model launch across Europe to which it has since added the new Corolla (Toyota’s equivalent of the Mondeo), the mini-end Yaris and the pan-European luxury Lexus business.

Hardly what you might call good news for Saatchi, for whom Toyota is a foundation client second only to Procter & Gamble as a generator of revenue. Nevertheless, the situation left the main incumbent with a fig leaf of credibility, readily snatched up by Saatchi’s last UK group chief executive Lee Daley. It amounted to this. All right, there had been a few problems with the client. But these were just a temporary setback. CHI, the trendy, new(ish) kid on the block had been brought in to punish the network and bring its work back to scratch. Obviously, CHI lacked the organisational strength to do more. And, by way of evidence, he could point to the fact that all CHI had won in the UK was a bit of tactical advertising last year.

Daley’s successor, whoever that may be (of which more shortly), faces an altogether more daunting situation. The fig leaf has gone, the UK business will move. Toyota GB marketing director Mark Hall’s economical, carefully chosen words sum it up: “As of today, we are still working with both Saatchi & Saatchi and CHI. For the next few months there will not be any tangible change. Beyond that, we’ll see.” Sounds like a notice period, doesn’t it?

Awkward interregnum
What has brought about this tipping point and what are its ramifications? Saatchi, of course, will have done itself no favours by the awkward interregnum following Daley’s departure. It’s apparent not only that there are no obvious candidates as his successor, but that those few who have made it through to the shortlist (a fluctuating three) are not altogether to the liking of global ceo Kevin Roberts. Indeed, there are now rumours (no more than that) that three is two and that the other one is none other than Saatchi’s current chief executive EMEA, Asia and Latin America, Jim O’Mahony. Whether true or not (and we won’t know, apparently, until August 2), the rumour cannot do much for Saatchi’s management credibility. All the less will it be able to attract an outside candidate of calibre with Toyota vanishing from its client list.

The other shoe drops?
The other side of the equation is what has happened at CHI. It’s tempting to see in the Toyota move another, so far latent, strand to the recent WPP deal. At last, you may say, the other shoe has dropped. The 49% WPP stake gives CHI access to the network capability it would need if it were to handle a really big, international client – such as Toyota. Moreover, from Sir Martin Sorrell’s point of view, isn’t there also a media planning and buying angle here? At the moment, this element of the Toyota budget is handled by Saatchi-aligned Zenith Optimedia.

Such speculation is no doubt premature. If CHI were to start gobbling up other, larger chunks of Toyota’s £1.75bn global business (supposing it had the ability to do so), wouldn’t WPP-aligned Ford have something serious to say about that?

Another thing comes to mind. Johnny Hornby seems to have been spending an unconscionable amount of time in Korea recently – buttering up the Samsung connection so it is said. What an irony if, at some distant future point, Sir Martin were able to recoup some, or all, of that elusive global account he lost a few years back. Surely not?

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