AFTER SHORT WAR PAUSE, AUTO ADS RESUME

$350 Million in Campaigns Readied for Launch

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- After a brief pause during the outbreak of the war in Iraq, U.S. auto marketers are preparing to launch 12 new ad campaigns worth $350 million.

At the onset of the fighting, a handful of category titans completely pulled their ad schedules.

SUVs will be rolling back onto TV screens as part of 12 new automotive ad campaigns.
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Now, a dozen auto marketers tell AdAge.com they are resuming ad plans -- with some caveats. Toyota Motor Sales USA's Lexus, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Group, for example, have asked media executives not to place ads near war coverage during TV newsmagazine programs, national and local newspapers and newsweeklies.

All said they would continue to monitor the situation and pull advertising if appropriate.

Weeklong blackout
The resumption of advertising follows almost a weeklong blackout. Volkswagen of America, Mercedes-Benz USA and American Honda Motor Co. yanked advertising for a week. Nissan North America's Nissan and Infiniti brands took a seven-day hiatus that ended March 26. Toyota opted out of all TV news for a week while its Lexus division blacked out all-news cable TV networks for seven days, a policy it plans to re-evaluate April 2. Ford Motor Co. and its stable of brands have stayed the course in entertainment programs but opted out of TV news coverage of the war and newsweeklies, a spokeswoman said.

At least nine new models are coming in March and April, and Subaru of America and American Suzuki Motor Corp. are breaking major new 2003 campaigns in mid- to late April. Among the introductions: Lexus' RX330 SUV, backed with an estimated $65 million in media; Mitsubishi Motors North America's $60 million Endeavor SUV sendoff; Kia Motors America's $40 million Sedona minivan push; and $30 million in media for GM's freshened Pontiac Grand Prix. Ford Motor Co.'s all-new Lincoln Aviator also continues its $60 million campaign begun in February.

Flagship sedan
Steve Wilhite, vice president of marketing for both Nissan and Infiniti, said it's important for the company to stay on track to introduce its sixth-generation Maxima. It's "a pretty important product for us. It's out flagship sedan," he said. Mr. Wilhite declined to discuss spending, but said Maxima's 2003 blitz is "significantly" more than what was spent on the older, outgoing 2002 model. He's targeting annual sales of 75,000-plus units. Nissan sold 98,502 Maximas last year, according to Automotive News.

For the launch, Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles, created four 30-second spots that show off the Maxima's new styling and 265-horsepower performance. In three of the spots, passers-by touch the parked Maxima and are mysteriously transported into an exhilarating drive in the car.

The sedan's multimedia push includes magazines, outdoor, the Internet and direct, said Wayne Adair, marketing director at Nissan. Nissan's all-new Murano SUV, launched earlier this year, will remain on the media schedule into May. "We are taking a launch and then sustaining it, not a launch-and-leave approach."

Desert ad pulled
All automakers contacted said they've reviewed their national creative, and only one, Toyota, said it pulled a TV commercial. The spot, for its Tacoma, showed the pickup in a desert. Toyota Division said last week it was still checking regional dealer ad group work.

A Toyota spokeswoman said Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles, in Torrance, Calif., developed three "alternative" new TV spots for the brand's regional dealer ad groups. She said they are not in response to the war. Each spot touts the fuel economy of Toyota vehicles and carry the new theme, "Count on Toyota." The groups may still use ads for Toyota's March sales event, the spokeswoman said.

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