Mazda unveils Protege 5

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Charlie Hughes, who took the helm as president-CEO of Mazda North American Operations last fall, describes the brand as "in transit with a revitalized product program."

Mazda's latest entry is the all-new Protege 5, the five-door, wagon-style hatchback version of the brand's small sedan of the same name. Protege 5 bowed May 5 in pre-launch spots during NBC's "Saturday Night Live." Doner, Southfield, Mich., created the pair of 15-second pre-launch spots that will air in the same commercial pod for two weeks during late-night programming. Those spots will be replaced May 17, when the regular launch commercials break during prime-time programming over the following six weeks.

The effort represents Ford Motor Co.-controlled Mazda's last major launch this model year, said Kristen Simmons, VP-marketing at Mazda. The target for Protege 5, which starts at $16,815, is roughly 60% male and under the age of 34, she said. More than 90% are college educated with annual household incomes of nearly $70,000.

The ads continue Mazda's "Zoom Zoom" theme, but are more tied to activities in which young males participate, said Tom Blett, president of Doner Automotive, Newport Beach, Calif.

The estimated $20 million media buy for the vehicle doesn't include print. But the vehicle will get a big online push with an exclusive auto sponsorship of the new Skyracer game area on, still in development. The hovercrafts in the race game will have some Mazda styling cues and 15 seconds of Protege 5 footage will appear while the game downloads. Players can register to win; Mazda will collect names from people asking for more information about the vehicle.

Shockwave will send e-mails about the game to 12 million of its most active participants. "We expect to generate a lot of handraisers on this," Ms. Simmons said.

Mazda expects to sell 12,000 Protege 5s this year. The brand posted its eighth consecutive monthly sales rise in April, a nearly 3% improvement from April 2000. Mazda announced May 1 it sold 87,621 vehicles in the first four months of 2001, a 17% jump from the same period a year ago.

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