Mitsubishi Ad Account Short of Being "Red Meat."

Usually ad agencies view a car account going into review as a red-meat opportunity. The news that Mitsubishi’s U.S. account I headed for review is being greeted more like it was a tofu appetizer on a bed of week-old watercress.

It’s no wonder. Sure the company spent $155 million last year on media, according to TNS. But word is out that the struggling Japanese company is going to cut that, and is looking for an agency that will work for lower fees than BBDO, Los Angeles. Mitsu also recently projected it will sell fewer vehicles by 2011 than the 129,000 it sold last year. That Mitsu managed to score an 8% sales gain last year was, it seems, in part due to some lively ads produced by BBDO for the Lancer. But no good deed goes un-punished in the ad game.

Mitsubishi is a mess. A few years ago, the company hit the wall in the U.S. as it booked huge numbers of crazy loans. The cars’ values dropped so fast that legions of buyer/borrowers with low credit scores simply walked away from the cars.

Mitsu has long been plagued by the fact that it is little more than the Brand Japan car company. The only discernable image its products have is with the tuner crowd. The Lancer and Evo have been popular. But vehicles like Galant, Outlander, Endeavor and Montero (the old Diamante..LOL)have offered little in the way of standing out from Tier One Japanese products or even the Koreans of late. And this is not a company that should bother with the pickup market.

The company says that it plans to move the U.S. product portfolio more into cars than SUVs. Um…I hope that includes crossovers fellas. It’s only the fastest growing segment in the industry. The Outlander, while competent, has been invisible. The 2008 version finally comes with a four-cylinder engine. But it has absolutely no profile in the industry. A new ad agency can help with that, but only if you green-light some spending for it.

Mitsu has no environmental message at a time when any company who wants to compete for attention needs one. A hybrid? A clean diesel? An electric city car? They show some stuff at auto shows, but it doesn't look close to arriving on U.S. shores. Give us something that an agency can create a story around. Your $34,000 Evo is a cool car. But that takes care of about 32 people. Okay...about 2,500 a year. But that's garnish. You have to do better with the red meat of bigger sellers and market them right.

A few years ago Deutsch seemed to be making some headway with TV ads that used unique music and showed a lot of young people having fun in its cars. Management booted the ads when consideration by more middle-aged folks went down. Yo…fellas….that’s a media planning problem, not a creative problem. Those ads had started to create an identity and mood around Mitsu, something that it hadn’t seen before those ads, or since.

The truth is that Mitsubishi is one of those brands that if it went away tomorrow, like Isuzu, few people would notice, especially as industry sales are tanking. The new agency has to come up with an idea to make people give a hoot, and to keep dealers engaged in the next few years while the company sorts out a new product strategy.

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