Porsche puts laughter back in new ad pitch

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After a year's detour from the strategy, Porsche Cars North America returns to humor in its 2001-model ad campaign.

Contrasting with its "very artistic, almost poetic" approach last year, "we tried to goose the fun quotient" in the new commercials, said Tim Mahoney, general manager-marketing at the luxury sports-car marketer. The first of two 30-second spots broke Sept. 24; the second spot arrives Oct. 14.

The initial spot was shot in Ireland and directed by the U.K.'s Stephen Frears, Academy Award-nominated as best director for "The Grifters" in 1990. In it, well-known Irish actors Frank Kelly and Myles Purcell insist on drinking tea at a pub so they can drive the Porsche. Mr. Mahoney said the shoot in Ireland wasn't tied to the commercial TV actors strike, but filmed there for authenticity.

In the second spot, shot in California, a young girl purposely misses her bus twice to get a ride to school in her daddy's Porsche.

HUMOROUSLY INTELLIGENT

The overall theme for this campaign, from Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis, is "a thrill like no other," said Mr. Mahoney. Headlines on five new print ads, bowing in November magazines, will reinforce that. One, for example, shows a yellow Boxster S driving through a field of sunflowers, with the copy: "What a dog feels like when the leash breaks."

The strategy aims to keep a level of intelligence that marked last year's ads while ratcheting up the humor and fun associated with the brand.

The prior campaign portrayed scenes such as a suspicious woman surprised to learn the phone number in her man's suit pocket was for a Porsche dealer and a frustrated driver stuck at a train crossing itching to reach nearby mountain roads. All used blues as background music and virtually no narrator.

Porsche owners said the ads worked and clearly showed brand characteristics, but non-owners found the ads a bit too cerebral, said Mr. Mahoney.

John Colasanti, Carmichael Lynch's managing partner-director of account management, said since research with non-Porsche owners showed they didn't grasp the brand message instantaneously, "we wanted to make sure the message is quickly understood" in this year's work. The new message: "igniting the spirit of self-determined people."

The target is mainly male. The media buy, handled by CMI, New York, will run on Fox TV's pro football and the Speedvision network. Auto enthusiast magazines return to the schedule after being cut last year.

SPENDING RISES

Mr. Mahoney declined to reveal spending, but said the media budget has risen incrementally. Porsche spent $9.3 million in 1999 in measured media and $607,000 in the first quarter of 2000, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Going after publications that match Porsche's target is a smart idea, said John Bulcroft, president of consultancy Advisory Group and a former Porsche marketing director. "Why spend the money on TV with such a broad audience?" he asked. "If Porsche thinks it's going to be a volume producer, they're wrong. They have a well-defined audience and wonderful product."

The German carmaker drove U.S. ads onto the humor road in 1994 under Joel Ewanick, the general marketing manager who left in 1998. He wanted to humanize the brand after sales plunged in 1993, the year Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, was hired (Carmi-chael Lynch was tapped in February 1999). Porsche research revealed one out of five consumers had something negative to say about the brand, still seen as a symbol of conspicuous consumption of the 1980s.

Sales have been revitalized mainly from the less-expensive Boxster roadster, which bowed in Porsche's first Super Bowl blitz in 1997. Boxster quickly became Porsche's best-seller, accounting for 62% of 16,304 units sold through August.

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