JOE ISUZU RESORTS TO MUD SLINGING

New Campaign Skewers Competitors With Humor

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- American Isuzu Motor Corp. ups the ante in the motor vehicle deal wars and transforms
Slathered in mud, Joe Isuzu takes a jab at competitors' ad imagry.
liar Joe Isuzu into an ad hype debunker in a new round of spots breaking this month.

Longest warranty
The humorous spots tout a new standard for America's longest warranty, 120,000 miles vs. 100,000 for Hyundai Motor America. The spots also break an offer for zero-percent financing for five years.

At the same time, the campaign repositions the fictitious Mr. Isuzu, played by actor David Leisure, as a debunker of car advertising. In one spot, a Rodeo rides through mud amid blaring music and the usual cautions about a professional driver and a closed course. Mr. Isuzu enters the set with a giant boom box in hand, turns it off and explains ads for Toyota Motor Sales USA's 4-Runner and Nissan North America's Xterra use loud rock music

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and mud to sell their cars, while Isuzu is interested in horsepower.

'If you want more mud'
"If you want more mud, we can give you more mud," Joe Isuzu says, as a wave of mud envelops him.

The spots are from Isuzu's longtime agency, Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. The shop earlier this year won the $300 million General Motors Corp. Saturn Corp. account.

A second spot for the new Axiom sport utility vehicle uses a black set and sultry jazz to parody Nissan's use of designer Jerry Hirshberg in its ad campaigns. Mr. Isuzu touches the "supple" leather seats and "America's longest and sexiest warranty." He ends with the line, "You want one, don't you?"

$30 million budget
Slated to start running on cable, during some NCAA championship games and in top markets this month, the campaign is expected to be backed with a budget as high as $30 million, according to an executive close to the situation. Another push is scheduled this summer with the release of the sequel to the movie Spy Kids. Isuzu vehicles are involved in both films.

The latest effort comes at a time when American Isuzu Motors is struggling with profits and lost market share. Isuzu, which sells only trucks, didn't participate in surging sales in the segment in recent years. Axiom, which launched last year, has been a major sales disappointment.

$6,000 per vehicle
An ad executive at a competitor, who asked not to be named, alleged that Isuzu's generous five-year, zero financing is costing it an estimated $6,000 per vehicle over the term of each loan. Isuzu financed the cost of other generous incentives in recent years from its ad budget, the executive said.

However, Rick Balsiger, vice president of marketing and product planning at Isuzu, said the cost of the financing incentive "is significantly less" than $6,000 per vehicle. He declined to give specifics.

Mr. Balsiger, who joined Isuzu in his current post in February 2001, said, "From my knowledge, most of the sales and marketing resources" before his arrival went to consumer incentives, but mostly to dealers to spur sales. "There was no real national advertising to speak of."

But he said management began separate budgets for advertising and incentives last year, which has continued this year.

Increased ad spending
Isuzu's ad spending has been on a seesaw in recent years. In 2001, the brand spent $59.9 million vs. a mere $38 million in 2000 and $81 million in 1999, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. Isuzu told AdAge.com earlier this year it plans to increase its ad budget this year.

General Motors Corp. owns 49% of Isuzu's Japanese parent, Isuzu Motors Ltd. In the U.S., Isuzu's sales skidded 43% to 6,479 units sold in the first two months of 2002 vs. 11,397 for the same period a year ago, says Advertising Age sibling Automotive News. In calendar 2001, Isuzu sold 82,380 units, a 16% drop from the 98,066 vehicles it sales in the prior year.

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