'Kill Bill' Did It. 'Lost in Translation' Did, Too. Now Mitsubishi Plays Up Japan's Hip Factor.
By JEREMY W. PETERS
Published: June 20, 2005
Los Angeles Times
TOYOTA, Nissan and Hyundai can't seem to stop talking about how American they are. Not Mitsubishi; it wants you to know the red diamonds in its logo are as red as the rising sun.
Complete with booming Japanese taiko drums and cars that bow in the customary Japanese show of respect, Mitsubishi's new advertising campaign for the Eclipse sports coupe tries to sell the company's Asian lineage.
A Mitsubishi Eclipse is about to pass a few other cars that are bowing in a show of respect in a new promotional campaign. The company is playing up its Asian heritage.
"The Japanese competitors have walked away from that," said Chris Hall, a vice president with BBDO Worldwide in New York, the advertising agency that designed Mitsubishi's new campaign. "They are trying to be as American as they can be. So we said, 'We need to take this ground. It's ours.' "
In a 30-second television spot, titled "Respect," that is scheduled to begin running on July 1, a red Eclipse meets a nondescript black coupe at an intersection. As the two cars sit grille to grille, the black one bows by lowering its headlights and its front end. The Eclipse then zips past, leaving the humbled black coupe at the intersection.
In another 30-second spot that began running on television last month, sleeveless, short-skirted women beat on taiko drums and let out an occasional yelp as the camera gives close-up shots of the Eclipse. The car speeds down a wet city street and skids into a 180-degree turn as the announcer calls attention to the available 263-horsepower engine. The Eclipse, he says, is "driven to thrill."
The new advertising campaign is part of Mitsubishi's broader effort to remake its image and reconnect with consumers.
"Our intention is to rebuild the brand model by model," said Dave Schembri, Mitsubishi's North American sales and marketing chief. "It starts with the Eclipse."
Not too long ago, Mitsubishi was asking people to buy its cars for their 100,000-mile, 10-year warranties, not for their styling or power. Critics said the campaign was hardly a vote of confidence by the company in the appeal of its product.
Since then, the automaker has cleaned house in its marketing operations. Its old advertising agency, Deutsch, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, was replaced with BBDO, which is a unit of the Omnicom Group. Several senior company executives who oversaw marketing are now gone.
"Basically, the impression consumers told us they had with Mitsubishi, somehow we lost over the years," said Mr. Schembri, who joined Mitsubishi in February. "The warranty campaign spoke to the rational side of the reasons people buy our cars. The more overwhelming reason people buy our cars is the emotional aspect of a Mitsubishi, and that's what we needed to reconnect the consumer with." Mr. Schembri came to Mitsubishi from Mercedes-Benz, where he led the Smart minicar division.
Mitsubishi is hoping the Eclipse, one of its top sellers, will help reverse the company's eroding market share and sagging profits. For the financial year that ended in March, Mitsubishi reported a loss of $4.4 billion, and its sales dropped by more than a third compared with the previous year.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Schembri underscored how critical the success of the new Eclipse is to the company's turnaround. "The Eclipse really has several purposes. Not only is it an important car because it's a signature car for the brand," he said, "but it also serves the purpose in rebuilding the brand."
Peter M. DeLorenzo, a former automobile advertising executive who is now a consultant and is also the publisher of Autoextremist.com, a Web site that comments on the industry, said Mitsubishi is in a "do or die" situation. "There's no question they need a substantially hip product," he said. "Everything is on the line."
The hip factor is the reason Mitsubishi chose to highlight its Japanese roots. Looking at the recent popularity of Japanese culture with American consumers, Mitsubishi believes it can cash in on that in the same way makers of the movies "Kill Bill" and "Lost in Translation" did.
"That whole phenomenon is sort of sweeping the country much the way the British invasion did," Mr. Hall, the BBDO executive, said.
Not everyone is convinced the cultural heritage is a marketable commodity.
Mr. DeLorenzo said the ads gave the appearance of a last resort for Mitsubishi. "They've tried everything else. To hark back to the great legacy of Mitsubishi is a bit shaky, but it's a little bit above grasping straws."
Clive Chajet, chairman of the Chajet Consultancy in New York, said nationality is not a factor most consumers consider when buying a car. "Swiss cheese doesn't have to come from Switzerland. Chablis doesn't have to come from France. We are living in an era where national identities are less and less relevant," he said. "I would venture to guess that they have been unable to come up with any other meaningful points of differentiation between their brand and their competing brands."