Acura Puts $78M Behind Its Maiden Mullen Campaign

Futuristic TV Pitch for MDX Aims at 'the Enlightened With 'Made for Mankind' Tagline

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Acura is about to unleash the priciest campaign in the brand's history -- and its first from agency Mullen -- with the lofty premise that it's "Made for mankind."

Gary Robinson, manager-Acura national advertising and brand, called it "the biggest launch in Acura history in terms of scope and dollars ... double what we spent on the RDX." Acura spent $39 million on the national launch of the RDX in 2012, according to Kantar Media.

MDX ads intend to elevate brand image on par with Mercedes and BMW.
MDX ads intend to elevate brand image on par with Mercedes and BMW.

But it's not just the budget that's eye-popping. The opening 60-second TV commercial, which breaks July 7, may give pause to viewers who remember Infiniti's "Rocks and Trees" campaign from Hill Holliday nearly a quarter-century ago. Seeking to highlight the "synergy between man and machine," the first 60-second TV spot features dreamlike images of people climbing large trees, scuba-diving in underwater caves and an astronaut gazing at light from a nearby galaxy. The MDX isn't shown until the last 20 seconds.

Backed by an ambient piano track, a voice-over says: "Man is a determined creature. No matter the circumstance, opposition or even understanding, there is an inherent calling to seek, push, improve, transcend. It's a perpetual process, a necessity of the human spirit, that inspired our own evolution. Because if your quest is to build the world's smartest luxury SUV for mankind, you must hold yourself to the standard of mankind." The tagline: "Made for mankind."

"I suppose maybe some of the things we're doing seem far-out, but it's really based very much on a pretty simple idea," said Peter Rosch, Mullen's Los Angeles-based exec creative director. "This core belief Acura's had from the beginning about bringing together man and machine, creating a synergy and the belief that no automobile is really doing its job if it's not making the most out of mankind."

Mr. Rosch conceded that some of the "fantastic reality" depicted might cause a "couple of head scratches." But he said Acura and Mullen are taking aim at consumers they call "the enlightened" -- tech-savvy risk-takers who play by their own rules, such as Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.

Both the creative strategy and "Made for mankind" tag were part of Mullen's presentation to Acura in March, when it won the account from incumbent RPA.

The goal is to shake the American Honda brand's perception as an in-betweener on a par with Volvo, Buick and Lincoln and elevate it to the level of Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. "We know there will be people who think that the MDX isn't luxury enough," Mr. Robinson said. "We need to create a new feeling around it, to create an aspiration, to compare it to the [BMW] X5."

According to the Automotive News Data Center, Acura ranked fourth in luxury-auto sales in 2012, behind Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus.

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