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Mazda positioning a product line teaching note

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Case Overview

This case examines Mazda North American Operations and the efforts of the automobile company and its advertising agency, Doner, to its position its vehicles in the highly competitive U.S. automotive market. The case begins by describing the IMC program developed by Doner to reposition the subcompact Mazda Protegé model a few years ago using the “Get In. Be Moved” tagline. The repositioning of the Protegé was very successful and Doner began using the tagline in advertising for other Mazda vehicles. However, Mazda’s marketing executives were concerned that “Get In. Be Moved” theme was too passive and vague and was not effective in positioning Mazda as a company that makes sporty vehicles that appeal to the driving enthusiast. In 2001 Mazda began using a new creative platform in advertising and replaced the “Get In. Be Moved” tagline with a new theme based on the phrase “Zoom-Zoom.” The case provides an opportunity for students to evaluate the change in Mazda’s positioning strategy and the IMC campaign used to reposition the Protegé, as well as a new campaign for the MAZDA6 sports sedan.

The classroom discussion of this case can be enhanced by showing the Mazda Protegé video that is provided as part of the instructor’s supplement package. This video presents a detailed examination of the integrated marketing communications program developed by Doner to reposition the Mazda Protegé as a cool, fun, hip, vehicle that would appeal to a younger target audience. It examines the various elements of the IMC program for the Protegé including media advertising, the development of an Internet website and use of banner advertising, sales promotion, direct marketing, publicity/public relations and point-of-purchase programs. Three of the commercials developed by Doner as part of the repositioning campaign for the Protegéare also available on tape one under Chapter 2. Additional background information regarding the Mazda Protegé video and the three commercials is available in the Instructor’s Video Manual.

In addition to the video and commercials, print ads for the Protegé5 and MAZDA6 are included with the case. Students should be encouraged to review these ads when analyzing the case to gain more insight into the advertising used for these models. You should also encourage students to visit the Mazda web site at where information is available on the various Protegé models and the MAZDA6, as well as the Mazda Tribute and the RX-8.

Discussion Questions

  1. Analyze the role of integrated marketing communications in the marketing of automobiles such as the Mazda Protegé and MAZDA6. How is each IMC tool used to market automobiles?

Integrated marketing communications play a very important role in the marketing of automobiles such as the Mazda Protegé and MAZDA6. Many automobile buyers base their purchase decisions on product related attributes such as price, quality, reliability, durability and performance, as well as on factors such as style and brand image. A variety of IMC tools are used to provide consumers with information about the Protegé as well as to create an image that will appeal to the target market for the car. The case notes that Mazda’s turnaround strategy in 1997 called for a change in the positioning of the Protegé. The car was originally positioned as a step up from a compact sedan and but as a car that retained compact attributes such as fuel efficiency and a low price. The new strategy called for positioning the Protegé as a cool, fun, hip-to-drive car for young professional women in their early 20s to mid-30s. To accomplish this repositioning, the advertising for the Protegé began focusing on attributes such as the car’s euro-chic styling, room for friends, value, reliability, and cool features such as CD players and air-conditioning.

Mazda uses all aspects of the promotional mix to market its automobiles and other vehicles. Advertising on television as well as in magazines played a very important role creating and reinforcing an image of the Protegé as a car that is cool, fun, and hip-to drive. The TV commercial depicting the group of hip 20-somethings carpooling in the Protegé and driving through the surrealistic cityscape was designed to help create the above noted image and positioning for the car. Direct marketing was used by building a data base of customers who enter the sweepstakes on the Mazda web site and/or request more information about the Protegé. These customers were sent information about the Protegé and occasionally received direct mail pieces. Interactive media and the Internet were also used as part of the IMC program for the Protegé. Mazda’s interactive agency created the “Protegé road trip” on Mazda’s web site where consumers could take a cyber journey to learn more about the car. Mazda also mailed a CD-ROM with music, movie reviews and interviews to consumers who requested more information about the Protégé. Sales promotion techniques such as a consumer sweepstakes and dealer incentives and contests were also part of the Protegé launch. Mazda also generated a considerable amount of publicity for the Protegé and its advertising campaign through press releases and various public relations activities. Finally, promotional efforts for the Protegé were extended to dealerships to support the personal selling effort and to convert the showroom into a “Protegé World” that extended the advertising and positioning theme to the showroom floor. Sponsorship of events such as auto racing and motocross is also a very important part of Mazda’s IMC program.

An integrated approach was also used in the introductory campaign for the MAZDA6 that involved the use of media advertising; a direct mail program which included the mailing of videos and CD-ROMS to prospective buyers,; event sponsorship; participation in various promotions sponsored by ESPN; showroom displays in Mazda dealerships; online advertising, and a specific section on the MadzaUSA web site. You might go through each of the IMC tools used for the Protegé and the MAZDA6 and discuss the role each plays in the marketing communications program for these vehicles.

  1. Evaluate Mazda’s decision to drop the “Get In. Be Moved’ tagline for the Protegé and adopt the “Zoom-Zoom” theme for its advertising.

The decision to drop the successful “Get In. Be Moved” tagline would appear to be based on Mazda’s desire to return to and build upon its heritage and long-term positioning of making fun-to-drive cars that are sporty and appeal to the driving enthusiast in everyone. While the “Get In” tagline may have worked well for the Protegé, Mazda’s marketing team felt that it really did not differentiate the brand very well nor contribute to the aforementioned positioning platform. To effectively position an automobile, it is necessary to develop an image over time. Mazda positioned itself as a company that made sporty cars that appealed to driving enthusiasts way back in the 1970’s, and attributed much of its early success in the U.S. market success to this image. The success of the Mazda RX-7 sports car and the Miata roadster reinforced this positioning platform.

The highly successful launch of the Mazda Tribute sport utility vehicle, which was positioned as having the “soul of a sports car” and accompanied by ads using the “Zoom-Zoom” mantra, provided further support that the sports car tie-in would be beneficial to Mazda. Subsequent use of “Zoom-Zoom” in advertising for other vehicles led to increases in advertising and brand awareness. For a company that struggled with a brand identity in the 1990’s, the adoption of the “Zoom-Zoom” advertising was a smart move. In part, the mantra contributes to the positioning that has made Mazda successful in the past. The “Get In. Be Moved” theme would not have been as successful in achieving the sporty positioning that Mazda is trying to achieve.

  1. Evaluate the strategy Mazda of North America is using for the new MAZDA6 sports sedan. Do you agree with the decision to use a more mature and less playful approach to advertising for the MAZDA6?

As noted in the case, the MAZDA6 introduction was one of the most important in Mazda’s history. The MAZDA6 competes in the mid-size sedan segment, which is the most important segment of the automobile market due to its size, and success or failure in this segment may have a halo effect that carries over to the rest of the product line. In addition, cars that compete in this segment often constitute the foundation upon which the product line is based. To compete in this segment, Mazda will have to go head-to-head with the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, all of which are highly successful and worthy adversaries. In addition, the target market for the MAZDA6 is consumers in their mid-30’s, typically male, and somewhat less of a car enthusiast, which makes this group somewhat different than the customer for the other Mazda models.

Mazda’s strategy for the “6” must strike a balance between the sporty positioning and a more reserved, mature approach. They must be careful not to give up on the positioning that has made them successful, but recognize the needs of a more mature audience, and translate “sporty” into “enthusiast.” At the same time, they must find a way to differentiate themselves from the firmly entrenched competitors such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan. The MAZDA6 strategy appears to be well designed. The retention of the “Zoom-Zoom” mantra helps to maintain the sporty positioning strategy, which should serve as a basis for differentiation. The ads themselves appear to be more mature, less playful and suggest that the MAZDA6 is a more “grown-up” option, without abandoning the fun aspects of driving. The focus on handling, performance and mechanical aspects should appeal to the enthusiast, who may be looking for something different from the standard midsize car (after all, getting older doesn’t mean one has to act older!).

The highly integrated media campaign also looks promising. An increase in print ads may be necessary to explain some of the sporty features of the new MAZDA6, while the television spots are still exciting and fun to watch. The media schedule, which is heavily weighted to ESPN, the NFL and NCAA College Football, reinforces the sporty aspects of the car, while reaching the sought target audience. Tie-ins to other sports programming such as ESPN’s Pigskin Pick’Em, Exhilarating Moments and Truck 2 Promo should help reach the target for the MAZDA6. Mazda has also integrated elements of previously successful campaign including the Internet, publicity and public relations, direct mail, and event sponsorship into the IMC program. Receiving recognition from automotive magazines such as Car and Driver’s award for one of the 10 Best Cars for 2003 is great publicity that can be promoted in media advertising and other venues such as the web site for the MAZDA6.

  1. What recommendations would you make to Mazda regarding its integrated marketing communications strategy as the company moves forward?

When Mazda has been successful, it is due in large part to having an image as a company that makes sporty, fun-to-drive cars. This positioning helped them achieve success with the RX7 and the Miata. When Mazda has gone away from this positioning the company has lost its basis for differentiation and its models have become “just another car”. To be successful, companies must develop a sound positioning strategy and maintain it over time. In the 1990’s it was not clear as to what Mazda brand stood and the company had trouble differentiating its vehicles from the competition. However, by establishing and maintaining the sporty positioning strategy, Mazda now has a stronger image and identity for its various models. For those consumers that want some exhilaration and fun in their driving, Mazda models such as the Protegé and MAZDA6 should appeal to them. A lesson can be learned by observation of the BMW’s strategy of differentiation. Their “Ultimate Driving Machine” position has been used for nearly two decades and has been very successful over the years.

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