Suzuki Pits Kizashi Against High-End Cars

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American Suzuki's Kizashi sport sedan has gone some ways toward raising both awareness for the automaker, whose name many people still associate with two-wheeled transport, and sales. Next year, the company will put most of its marketing dollars behind the car with a campaign centering on a series of ads showing how the Kizashi fares against the competition. Except in this case, the competitive set is not other mid-sized cars but luxury sports sedans by Audi, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz.

The campaign, comprising three 30-second TV spots and two 15-second ads, touts Kizashi for its handling, safety and performance -- with the takeaway that one doesn't need a premium badge and price point to get a premium experience. The ads -- each of which show the Kizashi in side-by side track tests versus either Audi's A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class or Volvo's S40 -- also have a humorous twist, as they also pit Kizashi against a motorized sofa, a man completely encased in a bubble-wrap suit and a stretch limo.

One of the spots has Kizashi beating the Audi A4 -- and the motorized sofa -- in braking, cornering and quietness tests. In another, the car is touted for having more airbags, better road-holding grip, superior braking performance and a higher safety rating than the Volvo S40. In that ad, the guy in the bubble wrap is safe until a few dogs take a liking to popping the bubbles.

There will also be a new Web site for the "Kizashi Kicks" campaign -- Kizashikicks.com, set to go live this week. The site will have the ads as well as interactive animation, videos, tools for consumer input, and links to the Suzuki Auto site with dealer locator, build and pricing features.

Steve Younan, director of marketing for the Brea, Calif.-based American Suzuki, tells Marketing Daily that the media plan is focused on the automaker's key markets versus a national network buy.

"Our first market for the campaign is the Southern region; then we will roll into the Northeast and upper Midwest and then the Pacific Northwest through the end of March." He points out that the effort targets upscale vehicles because the automaker is targeting consumers who aspire to own a luxury performance sedan, not a mid-market car.

The spots will air initially on programs like NBA Christmas Day, Academy Awards, the Grammys, NFL regular-season games, Tournament of Roses Parade, AFC Championship game, NCAA Tournament, "Survivor," "30 Rock" and "The Mentalist."

Then in January -- when the ads roll into major East and Midwest markets like New York, Providence, Roanoke, and Chicago -- the spots will air on shows like the Academy Awards and its Red Carpet Special, the NFC Championship, NCAA Tournament, "Dancing with the Stars," "American Idol," "House," and "Desperate Housewives."

"Kizashi was designed to appeal to buyers who want to own entry luxury vehicles in the future," says Younan. "It was designed to deliver quality and handling at a price within reach of all buyers more or less. That's the story we want to tell. And the campaign also has that breakthrough factor that makes it memorable -- that helps us break through the TV clutter."

Rob Siltanen, creative director of Siltanen & Partners Advertising, tells Marketing Daily that those "breakthrough" humorous elements in the ads are intended to poke fun at the competitive test-drive theme. "There have been a lot of competitive ads out there so we wanted to do it in our own fashion. This car has very serious technology going for it, but we wanted also to add a wink and a smile, as part of the whole Kizashi Kicks theme."

Siltanen says the bubble wrap guy in the Volvo comparison ad was a last-minute change, as Suzuki had planned to make the third spot a comparison with Acura's TSX. "Steve said 'we have all these claims against Volvo, so why not do one focused on safety and replace Acura with Volvo?' That was a couple of days before shooting, so we worked over the weekend and came up with bubble-wrap thing."

Younan says the car is not just the halo for the brand, but the breadwinner, as it resides in the highest-volume segment of the car market. "We are running these TV spots at same time we will be running full-line ads that include Grand Vitara and SX4, our other key vehicles. Those ads will phase out."

"Kizashi is the centerpiece of the brand, not just a halo," adds Siltanen. "So with limited ad dollars, we needed to focus in on that car."

Seventy-five percent of Kizashi buyers have not bought Suzuki before, according to Younan, who adds that the median age of Kizashi buyers is mid-40's and that they are about 60% male.

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