Mazda bets $138 mil on 6

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The all-new Mazda6 is so crucial to Mazda North American Operations that the marketer is giving the sport sedan the biggest media send-off for any of its models-an estimated $138 million blitz.

The automaker's last major push was for its Tribute sport utility vehicle in June, 2000, and Kristen Simmons, marketing director at Mazda, said the 220-horsepowered sports sedan will get twice the media push of Tribute. Mazda spent $69 million in measured media on Tribute from June through December of that year, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

"We know we need this car to drive our overall business," said Ms. Simmons of the 2003 Mazda6, which goes on sale in late November.


The car will replace the 626 and Millenia sedans, and Mazda is projecting Mazda6 will tally North American sales of between 75,000 and 80,000 units in its first 12 months.

Wes Brown an analyst for auto consultant Nextrend, said Mazda, in which Ford Motor Co. has a controlling interest, lost ground in recent years due to unclear positioning, older, uncompetitive products and red ink (Mazda's Japanese parent returned to profitability in the fiscal year that ended in March). But he said Mazda is now on the right path with new models, body styles, performance and driving dynamics different than key competitors Toyota Motor Sales USA and American Honda Motor Co. "They clearly are trying to find themselves a niche," he said. "It looks like they finally have the products to meet the claims in their brand image campaign."

The reference is to "Zoom. Zoom," the familiar line in every Mazda TV commercial from Doner, Southfield, Mich., since mid-2000. It's also used in one of at least two :15 teaser TV spots for the Mazda6 that begin this month. One TV spot features a tachometer and revving engine sound rather than a shot of the car .

The car's actual ad launch hits national TV in early January with at least a trio of :30s. The buy is heavily weighted to football, since Mazda6's core target is 30-something men. Mazda has an integrated marketing deal with ESPN for the car, which is the presenting sponsor of its National Football League "Pigskin Pick'Em" game. Since the start of the NFL football season, the sports sedan gets a mention during ESPN's TV and radio broadcasts as well as on, continuing up to the playoffs.

Print ads for the Mazda6 are already appearing in auto enthusiast titles. The automaker also kicked off a series of direct mailers in October that will reach 5 million consumers. The final wave, offering test drives, is to be mailed in December.

The brand has been "cranking up performance" in its products since the Protege5 last year, Ms. Simmons said, adding "we are taking it to the next level with the Mazda6." The next product on the horizon will be its all-new RX-8 sports car, due in mid-2003; the marketer recently announced the car will appear in Twentieth Century Fox's "X-Men" sequel due to premier May 2 of next year.


Events are also part of the Mazda strategy. The automaker is the national sponsor of Hot Import Nights, which attracts auto enthusiasts known as "tuners" who have "tricked out" their cars. The events started in California with Hispanic and Asian male youths but have started expanding to other cities in Texas, New Jersey and Florida. Mazda sponsors music acts at the events but doesn't plaster its name on big banners, which may turn off the tuners.

The marketer's sales have been rising. Mazda said it posted its best September this year since 1993 with a nearly 22% jump to 24,099 units. Through September 2002, the brand reported its sales rose by 1.2% to 211,107 vehicles vs. the same period a year ago.

Susan Jacobs, president of consultant Jacobs & Associates, sees no problem with Mazda's product direction, but is concerned whether the brand can keep building on its momentum. "They need to be able to communicate [performance] in this kind of climate where all the marketing channels are overflowing with incentive messages and new-product messages."

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