PRICE AGAIN POWERS MAZDA PITCH

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The "New" Mazda Motor of America is just 2 years old, but already the corporate message is sounding more like the "Old" Mazda.

When Mazda introduces the Millenia April 1 in 20 markets, the No. 4 Japanese car importer will promote the luxury sedan's $26,000 starting price. Ads will compare the Millenia to the Lexus ES300, Infiniti J30, Mercedes-Benz C Class and BMW 3 series.

Mazda's ads take a direct shot at Toyota Motor Sales USA's Lexus and Nissan Motor Corp. USA's Infiniti divisions with the claim: "We put the money into the car and not into a luxury division."

What the ads fail to note is that in late 1992, Mazda aborted its own effort to create a luxury division.

Since being introduced in 1971, Mazda has built a reputation in the U.S. for inexpensive but reliable vehicles. Then the company reintroduced itself in late '92 as "The New Mazda" as it undertook a hectic period of new-product introductions and dramatic price hikes.

But Mazda will devote most of its current marketing messages to a price advantage strategy, said Ed Kjaer, corporate marketing manager at the company.

Apart from the estimated $30 million Millenia push, Mazda will devote up to 87% of its nearly $200 million in total marketing resources to three models of the 12-vehicle line: the Protege subcompact, 626 midsize sedan and B series light pickups. The three price leaders make up 70% of Mazda's volume.

Competition in those three high-volume segments has forced Mazda to concentrate on high-volume models and essentially forgo its image cars.

"With so many products that are so disparate, everything from niche cars to volume models, it's important to create a personality for each of the cars," said Larry Kopald, exec VP-executive creative director at Mazda agency Foote, Cone & Belding, Santa Ana, Calif.

That goal makes it hard to create an umbrella image for all Mazda vehicles, other than to maintain the "It just feels right" tagline.

Mazda will pull out the stops to introduce the Millenia. Built in Mazda's new high tech facility in Hofu, Japan, "it is the finest Mazda this company has ever built," said Jay Amestoy, VP-marketing and communications.

The TV campaign includes five 15- and five 30-second spots, each with sophisticated time-lapse photography. In print, an eight-page insert will be used for the May 1 national introduction of the car. Mazda will also take advantage of Time Warner's selective binding and ink-jet customized printing.

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