Isuzu Looks to Add Flash to Its No-Nonsense Message

Struggling SUV maker American Isuzu Motors last week awarded media planning and buying on its $25 million account to Malone Advertising and charged the independent retail specialty shop with adding an element of entertainment to this year’s ads.

Media chores were at Publicis Groupe’s GM Planworks, which worked with GM Mediaworks on buying. Isuzu’s 2002 sales plummeted about 36 percent to 52,992 SUVs, according to Ward’s Automotive, causing the client to slash production and ad budgets last year and set a sales goal of about 36,000 vehicles for this year. Isuzu shifted media because it wants to focus more on local retail buys, said Sonja Rossi, marketing operations manager of Isuzu of North America.

“We needed more flexibility; we need to move quick,” Rossi said.

Ads for 2004 will continue to argue that Isuzu is a practical buy, the strategy used by Malone in Akron, Ohio, in its first work for the client in January. That effort included TV spots showing actors answering the question, “Why did I buy an Isuzu?” with practical answers such as, “Power, space, value.” But the new ads will seek to add entertainment value to the message in an effort to stand out among the incentives and deals offered by rivals, Rossi said.

Malone president Fred Bidwell said the new campaign is set to break in early January. He declined to give details but agreed there is a mandate for adding flash to the message. “If you’re nothing but ‘just the facts, ma’am’ in a zero-zero-zero [down payment and interest rate] environment, you’re going to get lost,” he said.

Malone’s media win followed a review. The client declined to name competitors.

The shop won Isuzu’s creative business in October 2002, replacing Omnicom Group’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco. Malone—which had done work for Isuzu management in 1991—fit into the SUV maker’s retail-focused ad plans. The cutbacks were spurred in part by General Motors’ decision to decrease its investment from 49 percent to 12 percent.

Isuzu—which sold 21,704 SUVs through September this year, according to Ward’s—is dwarfed by competitors such as Chevrolet TrailBlazer, which sold an estimated 197,000 vehicles last year. Isuzu’s $25 million 2003 budget for corporate ads will stay the same or increase slightly in 2004, Rossi said.

In January, Isuzu will launch a five-passenger version of its Ascender model. But its all-SUV lineup, including the Axiom and Rodeo, remains limited. Thus, consumers need a compelling reason to visit a showroom to see such a small selection, said Lincoln Merrihew, who studies the automotive industry at market analyst Compete Inc. in Boston. “The impetus is on their ad agency to make it sing,” he said.