Mazda goes viral to tout new models

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Mazda is aiming to generate buzz for upcoming models with online viral videos.

Mazda North American Operations is studying concepts for two online-only videos for the four-and-five-door versions of the 2004 Mazda3, hoping consumers will find the films entertaining enough to pass along to friends. "If you hit it right, it spreads like wildfire," said David Sanabria, group manager-relationship marketing at Mazda.

Mr. Sanabria is considering ideas for two videos from the brand's online agency, independent Sarkissian Mason, New York. Mazda may decide to go with both, either simultaneously or separately, with a late-year arrival. The video will precede launch ads in traditional media, due early next year from independent Doner, Southfield, Mich.

He said the online films will have a similar flavor to its current "video cards" that visitors can build in the RX-8 area of mazdausa.com. The marketer is also talking to Dennis Publishing's Maxim about putting the video on maximonline.com rather than buying a banner ad on the site, Mr. Sanabria said. But the deal with Maxim isn't finalized. Maxim didn't return calls by press time.

Patrick Sarkissian, president of Mazda's online shop, said viral online videos are "really starting as a trend" and gain more credibility among consumers when received from "cool people." Plus, the videos get passed around free.

BMW of North America began the trend with its first online film series in 2001. The second "The Hire" series started last year.

`The Hire'

According to data from BMW's agency, Publicis Groupe's Fallon, Minneapolis, 55.1 million people have viewed "The Hire" films. Baba Shetty, group account director at Fallon, said viewers' pass-along rate of the films is very high, though he declined to be specific. "Our take is that this is due as much to the quality of the films, the `you've-got-to-see-this' effect as to the specific viral-marketing mechanism we've engaged. Content quality is what matters most here."

Several examples of viral online videos started in the U.K. this year. One is Ford Motor Co.'s "Evil Twin" film for the Ford SportKa at ford.co.uk. by WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, London. Sibling J. Walter Thompson, London, created another for Mazda's RX-8 called "Venus Flytrap" at mazdarx8.co.uk. Another popular spot online is Honda's "Cog" commercial, which a spokesman for American Honda Motors Co. said he got via e-mail from friends with no Honda ties. "I had never seen a commercial that bolted around the world like `Cog' in two weeks."

Mazda's efforts come in the wake of a strong sales month. The marketer sold 21,781 vehicles in October, a 54% jump from a year ago. But Mazda said its sales through October slid 4% to 216,489 units compared with the same period in 2002.

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