Mazda Goes Global For The 1st Time With MX-5 Launch

Mazda will break its first-ever global ad campaign to launch the MX-5 Miata—formerly known as just the Miata— in September, and it will be followed in October by a TV campaign to introduce the Mazdaspeed 6, the six-speed automatic transmission version of Mazda6, the company said.

But finished spots for its SUV alternative Mazda5 were shelved in the U.S., where the automaker, a unit of Ford Motor Co., has decided it can—for the first time in its history—launch a mass-appeal model without TV spots.

Two executions of a spot for the MX-5 from independent Doner, Newport Beach, Calif., will be aimed at male drivers—an attempt to reverse gears on what Mazda acknowledges was a dramatic skew toward women since the Miata’s introduction in 1989.

“The Japanese thought [it] was about oneness between horse and rider,” said vp of marketing Don Romano at Mazda’s Irvine, Calif., headquarters, “which we translated to ‘Be the car.'” The spots will emphasize the more aggressive body styling, “deliberately targeting a younger male to broaden our reach,” he added.

The spot shows a young man admiring his MX-5, then being transported behind the wheel and speeding to the sound of an accelerated heartbeat, until he reaches a stop sign. “A woman walks by who should make his heart race,” said Romano, “but his heartbeat decelerates because she’s blocking his view of the stoplight change.”

The “Be the car” tagline will carry into print and Web. Working with NBC as it also did for Mazda5, the carmaker will use “promercials,” product placement in promos for Surface and Vegas, not in the shows themselves.

Despite risks that the automaker acknowledges, the launch of the Mazda5—already popular in Europe, but so far unseen in the U.S.—will bypass TV in the U.S. and rely on event-marketing alliances and Web entanglements, such as Quiksilver surfing contests and painted-and-wrapped vehicles; AND1 street ball tournaments; American Baby magazine photo contests; and Daily Candy e-blasts written in the female-oriented site’s style. Doner TV work produced in anticipation of the launch will only run in Canada for now, Romano said. The tagline for the Mazda5 plays off its odd size, between station wagon and SUV: “It’s right where everything else isn’t.”

One auto analyst thinks, as a fuel-efficient car, the timing of Mazda5’s release is ideal, but the strategy is risky. “If you never heard that Isuzu launched the Ascender or the Axiom, then you know the perils of launching without TV ads,” said Todd Turner, Car Concepts, Thousand Oaks, Calif. “In this case, launching without TV is a mistake. It is going to be one of the better-kept secrets of the launch year.”

But Romano said avoiding the compression of spots overcomes challenges of “entering a segment that doesn’t exist. … We’re taking the alternative marketing approach because we couldn’t tell the story in 30 seconds with the right takeaway. We designed a plan to let the personality incubate without the pressure of overachieving sales numbers.”

He added that sales of the first Mazda5 model indicate they will sell all they can now import, moving from 5,000 to 6,000 vehicles in 2005. He wouldn’t say how many Mazda5’s the company hopes to sell next year.

“A slow rollout is nice if it’s consistent, intentional and building on sales,” said Turner. “The risk for Mazda is that it becomes like the [Mazda] MVP, and sales never build up.”

Car Concepts tracks Mazda as down 3 percent for the year through July, with unit sales of nearly 160,000. Mazda spent $115 million on advertising through June 2005, $50 million on Mazda6 alone, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Spending on the Mazda5 launch and the performance version of the Mazda6 was undisclosed.