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Old 11-12-2002, 10:43   #1 (permalink)
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Mazda puts money on 6; backed by $138 million push, sports sedan will drive brand

By JEAN HALLIDAY | Advertising Age/AutoMotive news

The new Mazda6 is so crucial to Mazda North American Operations that the marketer is giving the car the biggest media send-off for any of its nameplates - an estimated $138 million blitz.

The automaker's last major push was for its Tribute sport-utility in June 2000, and Kristen Simmons, Mazda marketing vice president, said the car will get twice the media push of the Tribute. Mazda spent $69 million in measured media on the Tribute from June through December 2000, according to Competitive Media Reporting in New York.

"We know we need this car to drive our overall business," Simmons said of the 2003 Mazda6, which goes on sale in late November.

The Mazda6, with a base price of $18,530 including destination, will replace the 626 and Millenia sedans. Mazda is projecting the car will tally sales of between 75,000 and 80,000 units in its first 12 months in North America.

Wes Brown, an analyst for Nextrend, an automotive consulting firm in Thousand Oaks, Calif., said Mazda, in which Ford Motor Co. has a controlling interest, lost ground in recent years due to unclear positioning and older, uncompetitive products. But he said Mazda is on the right path with new models, body styles, performance and driving dynamics different from its key competitors Toyota and Honda.

"They clearly are trying to find themselves a niche," Brown said. "It looks like they finally have the products to meet the claims in their brand image campaign."

Brown is referring to "Zoom zoom," the line in every Mazda TV commercial since mid-2000. It's also used in one of the 15-second teaser TV spots for the Mazda6 that began this month. One spot features a tachometer and revving engine sound rather than a shot of the car.

The Mazda6 ad launch hits national TV in early January with at least a trio of 30-second commercials. The buy is heavily weighted to football, since the Mazda6's core target is men in their 30s. Mazda has an integrated marketing deal with ESPN and is the presenting sponsor of the network's NFL Pigskin Pick'em game. Since the start of the NFL season, the car gets a mention during ESPN's TV and radio broadcasts as well as on espn.com.

Print ads for the Mazda6 are appearing in auto enthusiast publications. The automaker also kicked off a series of direct mailers in October that will reach 5 million consumers. The final wave, offering test drives, is to be mailed in December.

"We are taking it to the next level with the Mazda6," Simmons said, adding that the brand has been "cranking up performance" in its products since the Protege5 was introduced last year.

Events also are part of the Mazda strategy. The automaker is the national sponsor of Hot Import Nights, which attract auto enthusiasts who have modified their cars. The events started in California with Hispanic and Asian male youths but have expanded to Texas, New Jersey and Florida. Mazda sponsors music acts at the events.

Mazda could use some help. Through October, the brand's sales have slumped 2.5 percent to 225,404 from 231,163 in the year-ago period.

The next product on the horizon will be its new RX-8 sports car, due in mid-2003. The marketer said the car will appear in 20th Century Fox's X-Men sequel to premiere May 2.

Susan Jacobs, president of Jacobs & Associates in Rutherford, N.J., sees no problem with Mazda's product direction but is concerned whether the brand can maintain its momentum.

Said Jacobs: "They need to be able to communicate (performance) in this kind of climate where all the marketing channels are overflowing with incentive messages and new-product messages."
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