Mitsubishi Freshens Its Media Mix

LOS ANGELES As struggling Mitsubishi Motors prepares to unveil details of a restructuring plan on April 30, the car maker is plotting a new course both creatively and in its media mix.

Without a new model to push, the agency will concentrate mostly on promoting the Galant sedan and Endeavor SUV for the rest of the year. Those ads will tout Mitsubishi’s cars as “highly styled with superior driving” capabilities, said senior vice president of marketing Ian Beavis last week.

Beavis, a former FCB and Lincoln-Mercury executive who joined Mitsubishi in December, is ramping up the client’s move away from network TV to online and other media. “We haven’t finalized percentages, but the shift from network TV will be dramatic,” he promised, adding that media spend would remain around the $260 million mark. (For the first two months of the year, however, Mitsubishi spending was down from about $50 million to $30 million compared with the same period in 2003, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.)

At the New York International Auto Show last week, Beavis said the company would spend less on network, more on spot advertising and triple its print budget to more than $60 million.

Speaking before the Motor Press Guild last month, Finbarr O’Neill, CEO and co-chairman of Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America, explained: “We have a problem. If we’re going to run Galant and Endeavor commercials, we don’t have the money to run a lot of Lancer commercials. We’re going to have to look at marketing alternatives.” He cited specifically promotional events, direct mail, Internet and interactive.

There has been no indication that the client will blame its agency, Interpublic Group’s Deutsch/LA, for a problem analysts attribute to under-competitive product and an over-reliance on deals that offered zero percent financing, no money down and no payments for 12 months.

“There will be no shifting of the agency,” said Beavis. “It’s not even on the table. You don’t consolidate direct mail and interactive at an agency you intend to review.” Mitsubishi shifted its $10 million direct and interactive business to Deutsch/LA in Marina del Rey, Calif., last month.

The latest campaign from Deutsch, which broke during the Super Bowl, strives to distance Mitsubishi from incentive pitches, as well as its hipster focus of recent years-what Beavis has called “rock video” advertising.

In its new emphasis on print, O’Neill said, the company will be playing up the rational side of the product story over the emotional. “All we can do is take the product that we have … and tell the story as best we can,” he said. “I believe it’s a marketing solution.”

Some industry watchers disagree. “I don’t think they’ve had weak marketing,” said analyst Todd Turner of Car Concepts in Thousand Oaks, Calif. “They don’t have anything to back it up. Mitsubishi has almost zero brand loyalty.” The key problem is that Kia and Hyundai sell comparable cars for less money, he said, while Nissan, Honda and Toyota offer better quality for the same amount.

In the first quarter, Galant sales were down by 25 percent, from 19,352 to 14,528, according to Wes Brown of Iceology in Los Angeles. But sales picked up in March, rising to 5,980 from 5,342 the prior March. The Super Bowl spot compared the Galant with Toyota’s Camry, which also saw a first-quarter sales drop, falling 10 percent from 38,658 to 35,100.

Meanwhile, dealers are taking a typical dealer stance: wait and see. The Galant campaign “has great merit,” said Maury Feuerman, owner of Arnold Mitsubishi in Roseville, Mich. “But we’re not seeing it translate into sales yet. Whether it will remains to be seen.”

—with Kevin Ransom and Karl Greenberg