Mazda adds zip to Tribute SUV ads

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Mazda North American Operations will pitch its new Tribute as "the SUV with the soul of a sports car" in 15-second pre-launch TV spots arriving in early August.

The advertising theme will continue Mazda's new ad direction, which arrived June 12 in a full-line national TV and cable branding push. Doner, Southfield, Mich., taps into Mazda's sports car heritage with a "Zoom zoom" theme in the branding campaign. One of two brand :30s ends with a quick shot of the Tribute with the words "This summer, the story continues."

The 2001 model sport-utility will get the bulk of Mazda's advertising budget this year, said Steve Odell, VP-sales and marketing at Mazda. Although he declined to be specific, he said Tribute will get double the ad spending of the MPV minivan launch last year.

The MPV got $42 million of Mazda's $184 million in measured media last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. That would indicate Tribute will get an $84 million blitz.

Mr. Odell said Mazda has made the "pretty conservative estimate" of predicting sales of 20,000 Tributes this year, with the volume rising to 40,000 units annually in 2001.

STRUGGLING

Mazda has been struggling. Last month, it sold 24,766 units, or 102 fewer than a year ago, Automotive News says. During the first five months of 2000, it sold 99,425, up 1.9% from 97,548 for the same period in 1999.

Wes Brown, an analyst with market researcher Nextrend, said Mazda's image isn't as much of a problem as its products and ad messages. He said he liked past commercials and their emotional bent, but Mazda doesn't have the product to back up the "Get in. Be moved" tag. He said the Tribute will help boost the brand, as will the new RX7 sports car expected as a 2002 model.

After the teasers, Tribute's official launch starts in late August and will continue through October. One TV commercial asks "What if an SUV were raised by a family of sports cars?" It shows the SUV weaving through a pack of Mazda's other vehicles.

Mr. Odell said Mazda is "clearly differentiating Tribute from the rest of the SUV herd," often shown in ads plowing through mud or snowy trails.

Ford Motor Co., which owns a controlling interest in Mazda, will come out with a sister version of Tribute later this summer. Although the Ford Division Escape is expected to get dedicated ads from J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, the SUV has already appeared in the brand's full-line print ads under the "Ford outfitters. No boundaries" theme.

The Tribute spots use the same reggae-sounding music of the branding commercials. The song is "Zoom Zoom Zoom" by Brazilian band Sarapis Bay. Mr. Odell said Mazda's ad dollars will work more efficiently under the umbrella theme.

Print arrives in September and October books, including Fast Company, Men's Journal, Money, Newsweek, Shape and Time. Doner also created a series of direct mail pieces sent to some 3 million prospects since early May.

The branding commercials will return in the fourth quarter.

Mr. Odell, who took his post Jan. 1, said the "Zoom zoom" theme expresses the "uninhibited fun" of driving a Mazda.

Mazda devised the new strategy after conducting consumer research earlier this year.

"There's a lot of latent good will for Mazda" among consumers, said Mr. Odell, who vowed to take ads in a new direction after joining Mazda Jan. 1. He added the brand is fun and a little bit quirky. "People warm to it. For consumers, `Zoom zoom' describes Mazda."

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