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Client: 'We're Out of the Rock-Video Business' in Ads

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Mitsubishi Motors North America is getting out of the "rock-video business" and is moving on to cliffhangers that drive people to the Internet, svp of marketing Ian Beavis said last week.

The car marketer plans to introduce more ads like its Super Bowl spot from Interpublic Group's Deutsch/LA, which directed viewers to a Web site to watch the ending.

SeeWhatHappens.com recorded 11 million hits in the six hours following the ad's debut as people logged on to see a Mitsubishi Galant triumphing over a Toyota Camry in a crash-avoidance test. The site received more visitors in its first 24 hours than MitsubishiCars.com historically does in a month; that site averaged 294,000 unique visitors during a six-month period last year, according to comScore Media Metrix.

To keep consumers coming back with subsequent cliffhangers, "you have to make sure that you continue the anticipation—you have to remain creative and unique," advised Wes Brown, a partner at Los Angeles brand consultancy Iceology. "The more you do it, the more difficult it becomes."

"The others are even better," promised Beavis, who joined the Fountain Valley, Calif.-based company nine weeks ago to oversee product strategy, incentive programs, marketing and public relations. The future spots, focusing on different attributes of the Galant and other models, represent a departure from a nearly 3-year-old campaign in which hipsters cruised around city streets to a thumping dance-music soundtrack.

"We're out of the rock-video business," said Beavis. "We're going back to the basics. What is it about the DNA of the company? What is it about the DNA of the products that is important, and how [can we] build a value and quality message for those?"

The creative shift comes as Mitsubishi decreases its reliance on incentives—including "triple-zero" deals with no down payment, zero-percent financing and no payments for a year—to move metal. The new ads will likely target a slightly older demographic than the previous ones, which appealed to mid- to late- thirtysomethings, said Brown.

"[Mitsubishi] had tremendous success in building up their brand awareness over the last few years, especially with younger people, almost making it one of the cool brands to own," Brown explained. "The downside of that was that they were giving the cars away and … really pushing it to the younger people who have unknown credit at best, and they're paying for that now."

The automaker spent about $265 million on U.S. measured media for the first 11 months of 2003, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Mitsubishi saw domestic sales slide 25 percent last year to 256,809 vehicles.

Since Mitsubishi is pitting the Galant against the Camry and Honda Accord, the Web's involvement in the campaign is key, said Deutsch/LA managing partner and general manager Mike Sheldon. "Because it's a challenger brand, we know that people do research," he said. "Eighty-seven percent of prospects go to the Web before they go to a dealer, to arm themselves. So, we thought, 'Let's embrace that.' The ubiquity of broadband allows us to do what we couldn't do even 12 months ago."

Mitsubishi reported that 70 percent of visitors to the site watched the full 50-second version of the Galant ad at least twice, and more than a third viewed accident-avoidance, acceleration and braking tests. "I couldn't afford to buy a :60 on the Super Bowl, but running it on the Web site, I get 20 seconds basically free—I can't even put a media figure on that," said Beavis, who previously was president and CEO of IPG's Foote Cone & Belding in San Francisco. "I know these people are watching the ad on the Web site. This is knowledge rather than suspicion."

The tactic, however, could backfire, warned Todd Turner, president of Car Concepts, a Thousand Oaks, Calif., consultancy. "Most Internet buyers are extremely savvy; they do a great deal of research," he explained. "Shoppers are going to do research on Mitsubishi, and what are they going to find? Are they going to find a whole bunch of glowing reviews out there? No."

Still, Beavis is resolved that the Internet will play a significantly larger role in Mitsubishi's marketing efforts than it did in the past. "I believe in absolute strategic focus and integration and using all the weapons you have available to you," he said. "If you challenge your brain, it does give you permission to take risks. But it also forces you to be very, very strategically focused and integrated."

The Web's greater presence could translate into more work for Deutsch's interactive arm, iDeutsch. The unit, which lost Mitsubishi's digital account in late 2001 to 10th Degree in Irvine, Calif., created SeeWhatHappens.com. Deutsch and 10th Degree collaborate, said Beavis, adding, "I have no plans to change [Mitsubishi's relationship with 10th Degree] at the moment."

He also said he does not intend to review Mitsubishi's general ad account, which has been at Deutsch/LA in Marina del Rey, Calif., since 1998. "I have an agency that's highly creative and has a fabulous service orientation," Beavis said. "They've done a fabulous job, and they're doing a lot better when they're given the right places to go"—a nod to the quick turnaround on the Super Bowl spot.

The car company already had approved the cliffhanger concept when it bought the second-quarter slot three weeks before the game. The commercial was shot the weekend before the event, edited throughout the week and approved by Beavis two days before its debut. Meanwhile, the site still was being beta-tested the day before the game.

Was Beavis afraid the new site would falter during a post-Super Bowl traffic surge? The seemingly fearless exec, who ascribes to the philosophy in Miyamoto Musashi's The Book of Five Rings, a masterpiece that covers the psychology and physics of assault, replied, "No one can make me blink."