Carmakers stretch marketing dollars

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Top auto marketers are grappling with new realities.

Car executives from the nation's top ad spenders say the latest auto marketing trends include getting the most for their ad dollars; clarifying brand identities; and a bigger push for global ad agencies.

"Conventional wisdom doesn't work anymore," says Steve Sturm, VP-marketing at Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota Division. He cites the changes in the way consumers buy products and where they collect product information.

Toyota has broadened its product mix in the last year, but "We're trying to do more with modest amounts of [media spending] growth," Mr. Sturm says.

So, for the first time, the marketer grouped its expanded sport utility lineup in ads that broke last week.

To launch the niche MR2 Spyder convertible sports car and Prius electric-gas car earlier this year, Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., produced 15-second commercials that broke on the Web followed by a minimal TV buy.


The rising cost of media is one of the auto industry's biggest challenges, says Jack Collins, VP-marketing and product planning at Nissan North America for both Nissan and Infiniti brands.

"Prices keep rising. But our budgets can't meet those kinds of increases, so we're challenged to use the tools more efficiently," he says.

Nissan's media mix has evolved over the last three years with expanded cable and Internet buys. Mr. Collins says it's also important to test the efficiencies of new media.

An increasing number of new models and more South Korean marketers entering the U.S. have intensified the industry's competitive environment, he says. "The need for clarity of image or positioning is stronger than ever," he says. "Even marketers with sharp brand images are trying to be sharper" still. Nissan will unveil its new global brand positioning at the Detroit auto show in January.

As the industry globalizes, car marketers will accelerate a drive to global ad agencies "for clarity of brand image," Mr. Collins says. "It's a lot less about cost [cuts] than assuring the desired positioning is being maintained in a bunch of countries."

Shortly after DaimlerBenz acquired Chrysler Corp. in fall 1998, the car marketer consolidated much of its media buying and advertising globally.

Ford Motor Co. moved media buying shortly after acquiring Volvo Cars of North America and Land Rover to its dedicated J. Walter Thompson USA unit, Ford Motor Media, Detroit.


While both Nissan and Infiniti brands have made good progress in the last 18 months, Mr. Collins says "we have a lot more we need to do."

Nissan changed the look of its advertising in fall 1998 when its top designer Jerry Hirshberg began appearing in early launch commercials from TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif. Mr. Hirshberg retired June 1 but will continue to appear in ads.

Marketers are giving their cars much more personality now, says David Huyett, the senior executive overseeing marketing at Volkswagen of America from January 1999 until Oct. 1, when he retired.


Mr. Huyett cites VW's Beetle and DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler PT Cruiser. Then the executive predicts upcoming models unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January will show "a hint of retro and a hint of the future."

To Jim Schroer, VP-global marketing at Ford Motor Co., the industry's biggest advertising shift has been a move to create emotional connections with buyers rather than selling cars and trucks on price and features.

In recent years, DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes-Benz USA, Audi of America and American Honda Motor Co., among others, have all started adding an emotional bent to their advertising.

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