Suzuki ups outlay, triples sales targets

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American Suzuki Motor Co. will significantly boost its ad spending as it embarks on an ambitious sales growth strategy later this summer.

The marketer will increase measured media spending on autos and trucks to $100 million next year from the planned $65 million in 2003 and $41 million in 2002, said Tom Carney, marketing director. Suzuki aims to sell 200,000 vehicles annually in the U.S. by 2007 or roughly triple the 68,000 it sold last year-a big task considering Mr. Carney admits that when most people hear the name Suzuki they think of motorcycles rather than cars.

The ramp up comes as Suzuki consolidates advertising for its regional dealer ad groups to national agency Dentsu's Colby & Partners, Santa Monica. The 25 dealer groups each now pick their own agencies, and few use Colby. That has caused "a disconnect" between Suzuki's national and regional ads and disparity in regional ads, Mr. Carney said. Suzuki has asked Colby to set up service offices within the automaker's four regional offices to work with the dealer groups. That will progress after each of Suzuki's own four regions add an assistant manager for sales and advertising by the end of August.

Jim Sanfilippo, exec VP of Omnicom Group's auto consultancy AMCI, said that if Suzuki is going to reach its sales target, it will need cohesive advertising and contributions from its dealer ad groups. "With a small brand like Suzuki, you have to look bigger than you are, and one way to do that is have the dealer ad associations run national ads." He speculated that $100 million may not be enough; that Suzuki and its dealer ad groups may need to spend between $150 million and $200 million.

"They have credible products," he said. "It's a matter of telling people about them."

Mr. Carney said the brand plans to nearly double its national cable TV buys in 2004 to $40 million from $22 million this year. Consumer print will also double to $10 million from roughly $5 million. Magazine ads will continue to tout third-party awards and endorsements of the brand and its models. Spot TV spending in 2004 will jump to $48 million from nearly $36 million this year, he said.

Suzuki kicked off a summer clearance push July 19 that runs through Sept. 2.

The brand's product assault starts that same month with the mid-September ad launch of the Verona, the first of two, all-new car models. The midsize Verona sedan is Suzuki's largest car ever. It will be followed by ads for the Forenza compact sedan later this year.

Mr. Carney called the cars "a one-two punch" for Suzuki's expansion strategy, adding that they will get the bulk of this year's budget-a combined $40 million in backing this year.

verona launch

Verona's launch TV spot from Colby lets the car be the star. Still in rough cut, it shows the "grand entrance" of the sedan in New York's Times Square as its occupants look out and read billboards with third-party Suzuki endorsements. It will also mention Suzuki's transferable, 100,000 mile/seven-year warranty.

Suzuki expects to sell 25,000 Veronas annually and 45,000 Forenzas a year, Mr. Carney said.

George Peterson, president of consultancy AutoPacific, said "it will be a challenge" for Suzuki to hit its 200,000 annual sales target. "In the last five years, they've been saying they'd hit 100,000 a year and they never came close."

AutoPacific's 2003 Future Brand Consideration Study, released this week, shows most consumers don't put Suzuki on their shopping lists. Of the more than 36,000 consumers who responded to the study, only 3% said they'd consider Suzuki the next time they buy a vehicle.

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