Isuzu Focuses on Moving the Iron

CHICAGO Isuzu’s new ad campaign from Malone Advertising is a straightforward effort to get people into dealerships with price and financing promises, a strategy analysts predict will do little to enhance the slumping brand’s long-term viability.

Four TV spots show actors who answer, “Why did I buy an Isuzu?” “Power, space, value,” is what one guy in the targeted 30s age bracket says.

Print, like TV, shows suggested prices cut by as much as 13 percent, said Terry Maloney, president of Isuzu Motors America. The tagline is, “Spend less — go farther.”

“I think they’re trying to keep their dealers happy and keep the brand going for awhile,” said Todd Turner, president of Car Concepts in Thousand Oaks, Calif. “I don’t think that’s an approach that’s going to work long-term.”

Still, it might be the truck maker’s only choice, said Dan Gorrell of Strategic Vision in San Diego. “Isuzu is in a fight for life. The niceties of a national brand campaign can’t be done; every penny needs to be spent to move the iron,” Gorrell said.

With 2002 sales through November down to 145,363 units from 221,131 during the same period last year, according to Ward’s Automotive, and competitors such as the Ford Explorer accumulating market share, Isuzu slashed production, laid off staff and in October turned to Akron, Ohio-based retail specialist Malone. Former shop Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, resurrected Joe Isuzu last year in ads that ridiculed auto-marketing cliches but failed to stem the sales slide.

That effort did not reinforce Isuzu’s value image, said Maloney.

Malone launches the Isuzu Ascender with a budget Maloney admits is a sliver of the $40-50 million industry standard for a new nameplate. Isuzu’s total budget this year will be about $25 million, down from $140 million four years ago.

“We’re going for a more logical, rational appeal that allows us to spend more time talking about the vehicle and benefits,” Malone president Fred Bidwell said.

TV broke in some markets last week, with a national launch set for February on cable.