Inside the Mitsubishi RFP

In the request for proposals in Mitsubishi Motors North America’s creative review, the carmaker indicates that it’s key for the selected agency to help Mitsubishi determine exactly what the brand stands for and why that matters to its core target.

But given Mitsubishi’s history of struggles in the U.S., one car industry analyst believes it may be too little, too late for the self-described “tiny player in a highly competitive marketplace.”

In reference to the brand goals articulated in the RFP, Car Concepts’ Todd Turner said: “Sorry, if you haven’t established that in 30 years, you never will.”

Indeed, the challenges facing Mitsubishi’s next creative agency are formidable, chief among them “low product familiarity, which leads to poor buying consideration,” the RFP states. That partly explains why Mitsubishi’s U.S sales have declined precipitously in the past three years, from 128,993 units in 2007 to 97,257 in 2008 and just 53,986 last year, according to Car Concepts in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

At the same time, Mitsubishi has slashed its spending in major measured media. Last year’s total through November was just $18 million, down from $82 million in 2008 and $177 million in 2007, according to Nielsen. Those figures, however, don’t include online spending.

And while Mitsubishi’s media outlay is expected to grow this year, other automakers that target younger drivers — including Volkswagen and Mazda, which spent $154 million and $139 million on ads, respectively, in the first 11 months of 2009, per Nielsen — will likely spend considerably more. As such, Mitsubishi “must do more with less,” the RFP acknowledges.

Beyond traditional ads, the automaker is seeking help with its Web site, digital efforts (banners, rich media, social media, mobile, search engine marketing and optimization, etc.), promotions and experiential marketing.

Select Resource International in Santa Monica, Calif., is managing the review, which began this month.

Based on agency replies to the RFP, which was due back late last week, Mitsubishi will select six to eight shops to visit.

Afterward, the automaker will name three or four finalists, according to the RFP. Mitsubishi plans to complete its search in March.

Not in play are media planning and buying duties, at Omnicom Group’s PHD in Los Angeles, or direct marketing/customer relationship management chores, at Meredith Integrated Marketing in Los Angeles.

The winning agency will succeed independent Traffic in El Segundo, Calif., (which is not defending), and become Mitsubishi’s fourth lead creative agency in five years. Interpublic Group’s Deutsch/LA in Marina del Rey, Calif., handled the business from 1998-2005, Omnicom’s BBDO in Los Angeles, from 2005 -08, and Traffic since 2008. SRI managed Mitsubishi’s last two creative searches as well.