Mitsubishi Cruises Back Into Network TV Advertising

Automaker Plans $170 Million Push Beginning With New Outlander to 'Reinvigorate' Brand in U.S.

By Published on .

Mitsubishi's ad campaign to launch its redesigned 2014 Outlander crossover -- built around the tag line "Find your own lane" -- also will have to help the brand find a route back to relevance in the U.S.

Backed by a marketing budget that's been doubled for the current fiscal year, the campaign includes national cable TV, a return to network prime time for the first time since 2005, and the brand's largest digital ad outlay, said Francine Harsini, director-advertising, Mitsubishi Motors North America.

Mitsubishi's Outlander ad from 180 LA
Mitsubishi's Outlander ad from 180 LA 

She wouldn't reveal this year's budget. But based on comments from a person close to the company about last year's figure, Mitsubishi will spend about $170 million in the fiscal year that ends next March.

The campaign's signature spot shows a family in the Outlander escaping a wet Manhattan street to the scenic Mountain West and ending up on a picturesque beachfront drive in Key West, Fla.

The plan, Ms. Harsini said, is to give Mitsubishi a consistent presence on national TV rather than going dark for months as it has after launches in past years. "We're not going to just launch and leave," she said. "We're going to have a sustained plan." That's because the campaign has to pull double-duty: launch the Outlander, Mitsubishi's first major product update in two years, and "reinvigorate the entire brand."

Mitsubishi is a marginal player in the U.S. Sales plummeted to 57,790 in 2012 from a peak of 345,111 in 2002, and have slipped another 8% through May, leaving Mitsubishi with just a 0.4% U.S. market share, the same as Mini, Volvo and Scion. "They're practically nonexistent in the U.S. market at the moment," said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

One reason is lack of product. As recently as a decade ago, Mitsubishi had a broad lineup of competitive SUVs and crossovers such as the Montero; moderately priced sedans, including the midsize Galant; and sporty cars such as the Eclipse.

But since 2011 its lineup has shrunk by half as production of the Galant, Endeavor crossover, Eclipse coupe and Spyder roadster wound down in North America, the only markets in which the vehicles were sold.

Killing them off was part of a 2011 midterm business plan to dump regional models in favor of vehicles that could be sold globally. Mitsubishi also had plans for eight plug-in hybrid or electric vehicles by 2015.

That strategy has yielded vehicles such as the Outlander Sport compact crossover; the redesigned Outlander, which arrives in the U.S. this month; the Mirage subcompact, arriving this fall; and a plug-in hybrid Outlander coming next year.

But it also made the U.S. something of an albatross for Mitsubishi, whose sales had begun declining during the 2008-09 recession. The cancellation of the U.S.-market vehicles chopped in half the variety of vehicles dealers could stock, making it tough to compete against formerly second-tier brands such as Hyundai, Kia and Volkswagen, which gobbled up share with fresh products.

Dave Cantin, VP of Brad Benson Mitsubishi and Brad Benson Hyundai in South Brunswick, N.J., sees what Mitsubishi is up against every day. The Hyundai dealership he runs sells 500 to 600 new Hyundais every month, while his Mitsubishi store sells closer to 50.

"There's just fewer customers coming through the door," Mr. Cantin said of his Mitsubishi store. "There's less awareness of the cars, there's fewer models to choose from, there's less marketing, incentives, advertising -- all around, it's just less."

A brand audit conducted last year by Mitsubishi's agency, 180 LA, found awareness was low. But among consumers who did know the brand, it was associated with vehicles that were well-built and fun to drive. "There's no negative baggage," Ms. Harsini said.

And yet Mitsubishi had at one time begun stripping its brand name from some vehicles, leaving only the model name and the company's triple-diamond logo. Now the badge is back on the Outlander; voice-overs say "Mitsubishi Outlander" in the launch ads.

Ryan Beene is a reporter with Automotive News

Most Popular