The effort, from ad agency Garage Team Mazda, salutes sports and historical figures who have "changed the game" -- reflecting what Mazda says it has done to the automotive game since entering the U.S. in 1970.
Among the game changers: Dick Fosbury, the Olympic gold medal winner who revolutionized the high jump with his back-first "Fosbury Flop;" and surfer Laird Hamilton, co-inventor of the tow-in surfing technique where surfers use jet skis to reach the biggest waves. Mazda is also looking at using inventor Thomas Edison in future ads.
The new campaign will coincide with the rollout of the 2014 Mazda6. But the integrated effort will eventually incorporate the automaker's full line of products over the next two to three years. The ads will appear on TV, in print and digital media and in movie theaters.
Said Russell Wager, VP-marketing of Mazda, in a statement: "Game Changers will be the unifying advertising campaign to tell the story of Mazda's rich heritage in developing new and different ways to build outstanding vehicles."
Harvey Marco, creative director of Garage Team Mazda, said the campaign will highlight individuals "who did things differently, which resulted in them rising above their competition."
Among things Mr. Hamilton, the surfer, has done differently is automotive marketing. He previously appeared in "The Undying Dream," a short film that was part of Honda's "Dream the Impossible" film series.
That doesn't "affect our campaign. But shows the relevancy of Laird Hamilton as he is viewed as a game changer," said Mr. Wager.
Over the next few months, Mazda will shift from a mostly-TV media approach to a more digital approach, said Mr. Wager during a press preview of the campaign during the New York International Auto Show. "More of what like to call a sniper vs. a shotgun approach. At the same time, we're not abandoning TV. We're going to still employ TV as part of our mix," he said.
If Mazda's use of historical figures sounds familiar, it should. The ads are reminiscent in some ways of TBWA/Chiat/Day's "Think Different" campaign for Apple Computer in 1997, which saluted the likes of Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr., Amelia Earhart and Pablo Picasso. Mr. Marco acknowledged the similarity between the two approaches during a Q&A with reporters. But he said Garage Team Mazda will take a more "contemporary" approach.
Mazda sold 277,000 vehicles in 2012, up 11% from the year before, according to Automotive News. But the company's market share slid to 1.9% last year from a steady 2% from 2008 through 2011. The automaker reached its peak market share of 2.8% in 1991.