President-CEO Richard Beattie told Advertising Age he was leaving for Japan on Oct. 19 for 10 days, and added that no announcement is expected until his return.
The contenders are W.B. Doner & Co., Southfield, Mich.; GSD&M, Austin, Texas; and Ogilvy & Mather, Los Angeles, which pitched the business to a review committee composed of Mr. Beattie; George McCabe, VP-sales and marketing; Deborah Wahl, group manager-product marketing; Ron Neale, director of marketing; and several Mazda dealers.
But Mazda is moving ahead with intermediate plans, set to kick off its first owner loyalty program in over two years.
That's one of several tactics the struggling car company has formulated for a hoped-for turnaround.
'NO SECRET RECIPE'
"We're very focused on what we have to do," Mr. Beattie said. "There's no secret recipe to success in any turnaround situation. We're looking for results. It will not happen overnight."
Mazda sales slid through September to 178,636 from 194,477 a year ago, according to Automotive News.
Mazda hopes to fix its "vague and not well-differentiated" image with strategic and consistent communication messages, said Mr. McCabe.
Mazda wants to expand its demographic reach to buyers in their late 20s up to 40 years old, individualistic people who are "skeptical of commercial hype and respond to advertising that respects their intelligence," he said.
Mr. McCabe noted that the marque wants to be known for "stylish, spirited and innovative" products appealing to consumers' emotions and savvy intelligence.
Research revealed that Mazda was "communicating solely on price," Mr. Beattie said. "When you do that over time, it deteriorates your brand image."
FCB ADS RUNNING
The new strategy is reflected in the two new brand commercials and product ads from FCB's San Francisco and Santa Ana, Calif., offices. After having moved creative to San Francisco from Santa Ana, the agency resigned Mazda in July to avoid a conflict when parent True North Communications bought Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt, a key Chrysler Corp. agency.
The new ads dropped the "Passion for the road" tag (AA, Sept. 29); one brand spot says, "We are not a car for everyone."
FCB also created two spots for Mazda's redesigned B-Series pickup that break Oct. 30.
Mazda will launch its owner loyalty program via direct mail; the focus is on new-vehicle owners and leasees, who will get a series of communications, said Mr. Neale.
Carlson Marketing, Los Angeles, is handling.
The marketer will ask owners how they want to be contacted in future communications, via mail or over the Internet.
"We want to bring them deeply into the Mazda brand," Mr. Neale said.
"We want to find out more about them and build a relationship with them based on their interests," he added.
LOW LOYALTY RATE
Mazda's loyalty rate is about 20%, he said-"We want to do better than that."
That rate is well below the industry's 42% average, said consultant Lincoln Merrihew, director of loyalty analysis at J.D. Power & Associates.
Owners could be leaving Mazda because it doesn't have a large sport-utility vehicle, he said. Another potential problem, he noted, is the significant price