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Mazda Hopes to Move Buyers With New Ad Campaign

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March 03, 1998|DENISE GELLENE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mazda, in the midst of a much-needed image make-over, unveiled an advertising campaign Monday that nudges car buyers to "Get in. Be moved."

Mazda is kicking off the campaign with 15-second teaser ads for its redesigned Miata, a sporty roadster considered critical to any turnaround for the company.

The ads are the first from W.B. Doner of Southfield, Mich., which won the coveted $240-million Mazda North America Operations advertising account over two other agencies last fall.

The campaign is intended to improve Mazda's fuzzy image with consumers. Though car buffs recognize Mazda for its engineering and handling, many buyers don't know what to think of the low-profile Japanese auto maker.

Richard Beattie, president and chief executive of Irvine-based Mazda North America Operations, described the company's new slogan as a "call to action."

"We're using the phrase 'get in' to invite people to come and look at Mazda and be in the showrooms. We're challenging them to get in the cars for a test drive," Beattie said in an interview.

Taking a swipe at rivals Honda, Toyota and Nissan, Beattie said Mazda isn't trying to simplify lives, make cars for everyday people, or pitch vehicles to dogs.

"We appeal to people who love to drive," Beattie said at a New York news conference, echoing Volkswagen's "Drivers Wanted" slogan. "Drivers who take the long way home."

Mazda on Monday revealed only small pieces of a campaign that will unfold throughout the year. In the teaser spot for the Miata, the car zooms along a desert landscape with sand dunes in the background. The fast-paced spot cuts to a satellite dish, then to digital gibberish, before refocusing on the car.

A print ad shows a silver Miata on a winding road, with blurred scenery in the background. "To stir your soul, use the proper utensil," the ad says.

The ads suggest how Mazda has decided to balance the demands of building an image for its brand while pushing specific cars. Several car companies have struggled to achieve the right balance. Nissan North America upset its dealers last year when it devoted the bulk of its advertising budget to image ads with the mysterious Mr. K that touted the Nissan name but failed to showcase the cars.

"I believe strongly you shouldn't divorce the brand from the product," Beattie said. "It is very important you don't go off on a tangent. . . . You make it clear it is the product you are selling."

Analysts said Mazda's new slogan seemed more promising than the previous motto from former agency, Foote, Cone & Belding: "Passion for the Road."

The old slogan worked for the sporty Miata, said Wes Brown, a consultant with Nextrend in Thousand Oaks. "When you get to the 626 [sedan] or a pickup, how do you get 'passion for the road' out of that? Consumers had a hard time accepting it," Brown said. "The new slogan says they have vehicles you can get enjoyment out of. It seems more focused on what Mazda can deliver."

Mazda is trying to recover from years of dismal results. Sales plunged 36% from 1994 to 1996, and were off 6.6% in 1997, a year in which Toyota and Honda posted healthy gains.

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