SUZUKI UNLEASES TV FOR GRAND VITARA: $30 MIL DRIVE FOR SUV TIES IN WITH PUSH SHOWCASING SPONSORSHIP OF FOOTBALL AWARD

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American Suzuki Motor Corp. will use a U.S. sporting icon and TV spots shot in South Africa in a $30 million campaign breaking Oct. 8 for the Grand Vitara sport-utility vehicle.

The media buy for the effort reflects the auto importer's multi-year, $35 million package deal inked with Time Warner this summer. The centerpiece of that deal is sponsorship of college football's Heisman Trophy, in conjunction with the Downtown Athletic Club in New York.

Suzuki sponsors the weekly "Heisman Watch," updating the performance of trophy contenders during CBS' NCAA football broadcasts. Also, CNN/SI is producing "Heisman Heroes" vignettes that profile past Heisman winners, to run on the network during its "College Football Preview" program, as well as on CNN, the CNN Airport Network, the www.cnnsi.com Web site and on college-stadium Jumbotron video screens.

The new TV spots from Asher & Partners, Los Angeles, tweak last year's Grand Vitara launch campaign, which used humor to herald the Suzuki's return to national advertising after an 11-year absence.

MORE SELF-ASSURED ADS

The advertising will take on a more self-assured tone, said Bruce Dundore, agency creative director. In the earlier spots, an animated moon and a talking horse expressed surprise to see the new vehicle.

"We wanted to do something that went from a little bit of incredulity to something more affirmative," he said. "You tone down the overt humor so that it is less incredulous and more accepting."

In one new spot, "Cheetah," a woman driving across an African plain finds herself being chased by a cheetah and outruns it. She then stops at a water hole to release a young springbok, after which onlooking African tribesmen nod to each other and say, "Suzuki."

The 30-second commercials will run on network cable in addition to CBS Sports, with spot buys in some markets, said Mike Dillon, agency senior VP-account director.

Print ads are appearing in Entertainment Weekly, Life, Newsweek, People, Sports Illustrated, Time and auto-buff books.

The print ads for the Grand Vitara include a small inset photo of the Heisman trophy and the words, "Official automobile of the Heisman Trophy Award."

HIGH-PROFILE MOVE

Lore McKenna, American Suzuki national advertising manager, said the company was looking for a high-profile way to continue the momentum of the Grand Vitara launch last year.

"We wanted to build on what we started last year," she said. "That was the catalyst for us to start talking to the Downtown Athletic Club."

One facet of the deal is designed to drive consumers into dealerships. Fans will be able to cast ballots for the Heisman at Suzuki dealerships; the winner will receive one vote when the traditional balloting by sportswriters takes place.

BOOSTING TRAFFIC

Although it's unlikely one vote will swing the balloting, Ms. McKenna said dealers see the promotion as likely to boost showroom traffic.

"We will be watching that closely," she said. "The dealers are very excited about this promotion."

Positioned as a small SUV, the Grand Vitara competes with the Honda CR-V, the Toyota RAV4 and the Subaru Forester. It's the only one of those vehicles offering a V-6 engine, a point reinforced by the "Cheetah" spot, Mr. Dundore said.

Showing the escape from a predator also touches on the feeling of security while driving a SUV, he added.

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