Mitsubishi widens Endeavor ad focus

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Mitsubishi Motors North America created a lot of buzz and won younger buyers with its cool-music TV spots, but this week in a revised campaign for the Endeavor sport utility vehicle it sounds a note familiar to an even younger crowd-the theme of "SpongeBob SquarePants."

Greg O'Neill, president-chief operating officer of Mitsubishi Motors North American sales division, called the spots a "planned second phase" in the rollout of the SUV. The Endeavor was launched in the spring with a $60 million campaign featuring a car driving through an urban setting to "Horn Dog," from Overseer, a British group. Those spots showed off the car's "sexy, edgy exterior," he said, while the new spots, in which SpongeBob's music interrupts "Horn Dog," focus on the more rational interior features appealing to families. He declined to discuss details of its deal with Viacom's Nickelodeon Network for the "SpongeBob" theme.

Mitsubishi Motors CEO Pierre Gagnon has said he anticipates Endeavor sales will hit 60,000 this year and 80,000 in 2004, and boost overall sales this year by 7%. But sales of Endeavor, launched amid the sluggish economy and war concerns, have so far been disappointing. Year to date, Mitsubishi has sold 7,875 Endeavor SUVs, with 3,492 sold in June, according to Automotive News.

Mr. O'Neill, however, said Endeavor sales were "starting to gain some traction," with an increase of 30% in April vs. May, and 50% in May vs. June.

Mike Sheldon, managing partner of Mitsubishi's agency, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, Los Angeles, said the new creative doesn't mark a change in positioning. "Our brand strategy is still cool cars for cool people. We are just broadening the audience out a bit to talk to families."

The Endeavor, however, skews to a higher demographic than Mitsubishi's traditional buyers, said Rob King, a dealer in Winston-Salem, N.C. He said many of his Endeavor buyers range from age 36 to 45 with annual household incomes starting at $50,000. The first launch ads "missed the strategy" with its "MTV music," he said. "They were great Mitsubishi commercials, not necessarily great Endeavor commercials" because they didn't explain its pricing position of between $24,000 and $35,000, he said.

Mitsubishi spent $392 million in measured media last year, up 23.8% vs. 2001, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

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