NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The past year has been one of big change for Mazda North America. The automaker hired a new chief marketing officer as well as a new creative agency, and it introduced new vehicles such as the 2011 Mazda2, a sporty subcompact car. Yet in the midst of all that change, one mainstay has been its 10-year-old "Zoom-Zoom," a slogan that has done more to define the brand than the brand itself.
Don Romano, Mazda's North American CMO, told Ad Age at the recent L.A. Auto Show that its trademark slogan, created by its former agency of 13 years, Doner, will continue to be a big part of the automaker's marketing, even as the brand's story evolves.
"'Zoom-Zoom' was never up for renewal. We'll be taking 'Zoom-Zoom' to the next level," Mr. Romano said. "Through the jingle we've gotten more recognition than what the brand stands for, so that will be a priority for us in the next 12 to 18 months."
In the meantime, Mr. Romano and his global counterparts, such as Masahiro Moro, Mazda Motor Corp.'s head of global marketing, and John Abel, Mazda North America's marketing director, will be working with their new partners at WPP's newly formed Team Mazda to create an integrated communications strategy that uses "Zoom-Zoom" to showcase competitive features such as the Mazda2's Skyactive engine and fuel efficiency as a competitive advantage for the company vs. a car-specific push.
"Part of the difficulties we've had in the past is trying to support too many models at the expense of supporting the brand," Mr. Romano said. "Before, we had different companies involved in different aspects of our media plan, and different channels. The goal with Team Mazda is to put that under one brand umbrella, with better integration between digital print, out-of-home, TV and experiential."
To that end, Mr. Romano cited resources as another key part of why the company decided to part ways with longtime agency Doner in June. Team Mazda is already 80% to 85% staffed up after just five weeks, with more than 120 executives in key markets including Detroit, St. Louis, San Antonio and Kansas City, Missouri.
Mr. Romano, who was president of Mazda Canada before being named CMO earlier this year, would also like to create U.S. events similar to "33 Keys," a Montreal-based event for the 2010 Mazda3, with an alternate-reality game that generated 500% more impressions than the company's most bullish projections. Such stunts would make Mazda's media budget -- $152 million in 2009, according to Kantar Media -- work even harder and rely more on PR and social-media buzz to do the heavy lifting.
"One of the reasons we went with Team Mazda is because they have very strong local-event teams we can leverage," Mr. Romano said. "We're going to put more resources with those teams at a local level to try and pull off scale for these events at a global level."
Mazda is having a strong 2010, with year-to-date sales through Oct. 31 up 10% compared to 2009, and October sales alone up 19.5% year-over-year. Mazda's crossover SUVs CX-7 and CX-9 have led the charge with year-to-date sales up 47% and 42.2%, respectively, while the Mazda3 and Mazda5 are also experiencing double-digit increases. Mr. Romano credits the recent sales momentum to Mazda's success in positioning themselves as more than just a small-car company. "We're beginning to see a crossover sales mix compared to where we were. The next step is to continue on that same line and continue to grow the pie and make it bigger. To achieve that, the volume growth has to get bigger, and to do that the brand has to bigger and broader."
After spending decades closely aligned with Ford Motor Co., Mazda now is very much running its own show. Ford this month reduced its stake in Mazda to 3.5% from 11%, meaning the company for the first time since 1979 is no longer Mazda's largest shareholder. As recently as 2008, Ford had a 33.4% interest in Mazda. Mr. Romano noted that the reduced stake had no impact on its marketing strategy.
Mr. Romano, along with Mr. Moro and Mr. Abel, shared more of their plans for Mazda's new marketing and media strategy -- including why we might see the brand going Hollywood again sooner rather than later.
Ad Age: You left Doner after "Zoom-Zoom" put Mazda on the map. Why WPP, and in what creative direction are you taking your strategy next year?
Mr. Romano: What it wasn't was a creative problem. We enjoyed 10 years of a great relationship that took us from an unknown to a leading brand. In context, it couldn't have been any better.
This was about the changes in the media landscape. The complexities we're faced with are demonstrably different than 10 years ago. We're also impeded by having one of the youngest target demos. Their media consumption is even more fickle than the average consumer. So we needed a company with greater resources in multichannel marketing with the ability to integrate into a strong brand campaign that makes the brand even more aspirational to those consumers.
They also have global capabilities in territories like Europe, Canada and Mexico, so we'll be able to leverage ideas in other countries that will be more applicable today than they were 10 years ago. I'm very much aligned with Masahiro on every decision point, so this wasn't going to be a local decision only.
Ad Age: Masahiro, what are some global priorities you've identified for Mazda heading into 2011?
Mr. Moro: We're putting the focus on primary brands to articulate what Mazda stands for, like how it's a great opportunity to have the world's best engine. We're still embracing "Zoom-Zoom" and it still has a lot of recognition. In fact, I'm very amazed that every time I get to the United States and I'm passing through customs and they ask me what company I work for, they always point at me and say, "Zoom-Zoom." So we want to give more to the "Zoom-Zoom." It's a great value proposition to the customer, but the challenge is to communicate those primary brands.
Ad Age: What might that story look like from a marketing standpoint?
Mr. Romano: We're more focused on driving dynamics and what we stand for. With all the pieces together, it's a strong story. We're confident in the full package, but the challenge is to broaden our appeal beyond small cars. We have crossover vehicles where the demand continues to outpace the supply, and more drivers coming down the road. So the Mazda2 and the Mazda3 can't be all you think of when you when you think of Mazda.
Ad Age: Having integrated communications is another top priority. How will that affect your media plan?
Mr. Romano: There is no one media outlet out there that works the best for us. We have to be multimedia and that requires immense calibration. If you're buying 30 seconds on TV, you're not going to get that consumer for 30 seconds. You'll get five to seven seconds if you're lucky. We can't rely on telling our story in five to seven seconds. That doesn't mean we'll abandon TV -- it's still a very emotional, resonant medium. But we will increase our investment in other media that will help us communicate our brand attributes.
Mr. Abel: Engaging this audience online is a priority overall. But our commitment to digital is less about display and more about participation.
Mr. Romano: This experience of high emotion and showing you who we are, we're not going to get that on a banner ad. Our current media plan has a lot of competitors surprised by how much digital is on our budget [more than 20%]. We're industry-leading in that regard. As you know, we're bringing out new technology next year [with the SkyActive engines], and with the new technology it's kind of hard to explain what that represents in any type of advertising. I don't care what channel you leverage -- it's one thing to say it, another to demonstrate it.
Ad Age: In recent years, we've seen a lot of your foreign and domestic competitors stepping up their investment in Hollywood movies and TV shows, a race you've largely sat out. Could an integrated entertainment strategy help you tell this next phase of the Mazda story?
Mr. Romano: The car has to be involved [in the film or TV show]. You have to get the butt in the seat but you also have to see it in context. It has to be the right setup. Our last global campaign was "X-Men," and while that worked well for us, it wasn't "The Italian Job" or "Transformers." Over the last two years, a lot of resources at a lot of companies have gone to keeping heads above water. There's more optimism now about our future, and we're refocusing our efforts. You'll see a lot of tactics in the next few years. We'll do placements where it makes sense, but you're not going to see "The Mazda Job" either.