Mazda's Miata MX-5 Still Magnetic North For Brand


Chris Hill knows Miata. Before becoming Mazda's group manager of marketing operations a few weeks ago, Hill was vehicle line manager for the diminutive Miata MX-5. If you look at sales numbers, Miata's not much to look at. The car -- long the best-selling two-seat roadster in America -- still accounts only for a few thousand deliveries per year. But when it comes to Mazda's brand equity, the sports car is a talisman.

The company developed the "Zoom-Zoom" mantra as a way to extend the little car's equity to the rest of the brand. Even ads for the MPV minivan in the early millennium had a "soul of a sports car" message with ads showing the Miata as a kind of shadow of the brand's other vehicles. Hill says that while the company doesn't advertise the MX-5, it still informs the product design and marketing decisions for the rest of the lineup. Hill talks to Marketing Daily about the car and what it means to the brand.



Q: How come you no longer use Miata as a halo car in full-line advertising?

A: It's really something difficult to capture and put into marketing communications, quite honestly. The direction we are going for Miata is connecting with people who get it and understand that transportation can be fun -- that it can make you feel a certain joy, and the Miata is the epitome of that. When we say halo from a marketing standpoint, the segment doesn't appeal to a whole lot of folks.

Q: What did MX-5 originally do in the U.S. market?

A: It redefined the British lightweight roadster and sports car and brought it back to the U.S. market in 1989. There was big chunk of the market looking to relive what that was. And there's a large group of engineers who still work on it, trying to keep it a contemporary version of what it has always been.

Q: If you don't advertise it, in what sense is it a halo vehicle?

A: Our engineers apply it to all of Mazda's vehicles, from a grand strategic perspective; it translates to all the cars. The reason Miata is our halo is because, while there are car companies who make perhaps one car that is stylish and has intuitive features that is really fun to drive, there are few who can say all of the cars do that.

Q: So it's really just an internal compass?

A: If we are just talking to ourselves, then we aren't doing our jobs. The fact is, we aren't going after 10% market share right now -- it's more like 3%. So we feel we can meet our profit targets by appealing to people who want excitement -- vehicles that are fun to drive -- who want to experience a bit of the MX-5 in everything.

Q: That is basically what Mazda used to say overtly in advertising ...

A: In the past with "Zoom-Zoom" we said that, yes, but we have come to realize that it's hard to do that in advertising because there isn't the same big demand for small sports cars that there was. Now the sports car market favors larger muscle cars. However, we realize the importance of the MX-5 heritage; our biggest challenge is to get consumers to understand it, to experience it because once they drive our vehicles, they get it, too.

Q: Does that mean Mazda buyers are less pragmatic when it comes to choosing cars?

A: The top purchase reasons for Mazda buyers tend to be styling and driving experience. So, yes, we have a more emotionally connected buyer, who has more than purely rational reasons for purchase. The emotional side is number one. Our top cross-shop tends to be Honda because of their engineering and tie to racing. It's a very common cross-shop.

Q: How old are your buyers?

A: We have the second-youngest buyer in the industry after Scion. The median age of our buyers is about 41. But the important thing with age is that we don't look at it as much as we look at psychographics and how a person feels. Gen Y is the next-largest big generation of consumers so, obviously, everyone is looking to market there, but what it really comes down to is, who pays for the car? Boomers' money is just as good, and if you make the baby boomer happy, they are actually more likely to stay with you than Gen Y, who are much less brand loyal. The 55-year-old guy who loves driving is just as important to us as the 31-year-old.

Q: Going back to Miata MX-5, who are these people who buy the two-seat convertible sportster?

A: They are Mazda fans, so it's not their first Mazda. And they are big in motorsports, so we support through motorsports efforts such as the MX-5 Cup, through SCCA [Sports Car Club of America] and local sanctioning bodies. And we have a huge network of Miata clubs around the country.

So, for Miata, it's about word of mouth and guerrilla marketing. It has got this perpetual motion behind it already. We sell about 10,000 per year to a buyer base of people who are 50-plus, and so it doesn't need much marketing to keep that going.

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