COMPARATIVE ADS IRK CAR MARKETERS

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[tokyo] Ford Motor Co. (Japan) ended its controversial comparison-ad campaign, saying the series boosted sales, showroom traffic and dealers' morale.

"It worked. I'm very happy with the results," Ford (Japan) President Konen Suzuki said.

Momentum generated by the campaign should help the Feb. 27 introduction of the Taurus, he added. The campaign broke in January.

In the ads, Ford compared the price of its European-built Mondeo with the Volkswagen Golf, and asked why the Golf costs more in Japan than it does in Germany.

The strong message: Unlike other European imports, Ford's vehicles aren't priced higher in Japan than in Europe.

Comparative advertising is rare in Japan's auto market, and several European marketers objected to the Ford ads.

Kenji Hara, a spokesman for importer-distributor Volkswagen-Audi Nippon, criticized the ads' price comparisons as "tricky."

Golf's higher price in Japan relative to Germany reflects its air conditioning and anti-lock brakes-standards in Japan, he said, but options in Germany.

Rover Japan President Peter Woods complained to Japan's Fair Trade Commission and to dailies carrying the ads about "inaccuracies" in Ford's claims. Ford was wrong to say it was first to sell cars in Japan at prices equaling those in the home market, he said: Rover in 1993 cut its prices below its U.K. prices.

And a Tokyo association of European-based manufacturers is investigating possible violations of the Fair Trade Commission guidelines on comparative ads.

The guidelines require objectivity. "We'll have to look carefully over the next couple of weeks as to whether that objectivity has been met," Mr. Woods said.

Mr. Suzuki didn't comment on those complaints, but said the perception that Japanese consumers dislike comparative advertising is dated. "Japanese consumers have changed a lot in the last five or six years," he said. "Since the [economic] bubble burst, they are very skeptical. They're looking for facts."

Mr. Treece is Asia editor in Japan for Advertising Age International's sister publication Automotive News.

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