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Mazda Targets Hispanics … in Japanese?

By Published on .

Mazda is tripling its investment in Hispanic marketing, but the automaker is speaking as much Japanese as Spanish as it kicks off the effort targeting the key demographic.

Digital ads that recently began airing are filled with Japanese language and imagery, including at Univision.com, where this week an ad briefly converted the navigation section to Japanese. As an accompanying Spanish language message stated, this was not an error. Mazda wants to play up its roots with U.S. Hispanics after its research revealed that consumers knew Mazda was an Asian brand, but didn't identify it as Japanese in particular. And Mazda execs say linking the brand to its home country is a good message to send to Hispanics.

"If we get people to know that Mazda is a Japanese brand that is our first hurdle," said Russell Wager, VP of Mazda's North American operations. "Because the Hispanic community has a great affinity and trust for Japanese brands, equaling craftsmanship and quality."

The so-called "disruption" phase of the campaign includes a video (at top) highlighting a baseball player, a sushi chef and a designer backed by a Japanese voiceover who says "who we are is defined by the generations that came before us. We are from Japan. We are from Hiroshima. We put the passion of a city into everything we do." The word "passion" displays in Kanji. In the the coming weeks Mazda will transition to more traditional Spanish-language spots. But Kanji characters will still appear and the ads will include nods to Mazda's Japanese heritage, Wager said.

The campaign was created by WPP's dedicated Mazda agency, Garage Team Mazda in partnership with multicultural shop The Bravo Group.

Mazda has some ground to make up with Hispanics. The brand, which captured 2% market share in the general market in the first four months of 2017, had 1.9% share in the Hispanic market, according to Marc Bland, VP of diversity and inclusion covering the auto market for IHS Markit. Toyota, by contrast, has 18% Hispanic market share, outperforming its 13% general market share, according to IHS Markit.

Mazda has previously run Hispanic ads on a market-by-market basis, typically simply translated from general market campaigns, Wagner said. The new campaign was conceived and produced specifically for the Hispanic audience. Last year, Mazda spent a mere $1.2 million on Hispanic measured media, according to Kantar Media. Toyota spent $81.5 million. Wager declined to confirm last year's spending but said Mazda would be tripling its investment in Hispanic marketing.

Mazda has also recently been playing up its Japanese roots in its general market ads, including the one below.

The move comes as other brands in the past year have tried to emphasize their U.S. ties in the face of rising nationalism, led in part by President Trump's "America first" mantra. The president in tweets has attacked some brands for manufacturing in Mexico. Mazda makes its vehicles in Mexico and Japan.

Wager noted that the rush to "Americanize" has been underway for years, and until recently Mazda did not emphasize its Japanese heritage. But "what we have found is that we lost a little bit of our identity," he added, and consumers lost sight of the brand's history.

"So we've gone the other way to fully embrace our Japanese culture," he said. "There are some [brands] that are going the other way, that don't want [consumers] to know they've come from outside the borders of the U.S. That's not us. We pride ourselves on that."

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