Vroom! Vroom! Suzuki's New Auto Ads Feature Bikers

Suzuki is bringing its motorcycle heritage to bear on its new lineup of SUVs and crossovers in a national ad campaign breaking this week.

The effort, via Colby & Partners, Brea, Calif., makes an explicit connection between the redesigned XL7 crossover and the new SX4 compact crossover--both on sale this fall--and bikes like the GSX-R sport bike and Suzuki's Boulevard lineup of cruiser motorcycles.

Gene Brown, vice president of marketing at the Brea, Calif.-based automaker, said the company will spend 165 percent more in this year's fourth quarter than it did two years ago.

"We are increasing [spending] in all media, but most noticeably in Internet and lifestyle promotions-type activities," said Brown, who joined Suzuki from Nissan North America in March.

Using Suzuki's "Way of Life" tag, and the new theme line "It's gonna be a great ride," the campaign is comprised of an initial flight of two 15-second teaser spots and four 30-second national TV ads, print and online ads, and promotional activity slated for next year. In-cinema and in-flight elements will round out the effort.



The teaser ads set the tone, with one showing an XL7 stopping at a biker cafe. The door opens, and a booted foot emerges to depress a motorcycle-style kickstand on the SUV's undercarriage. Voiceover: "Are our SUVs as much fun as our bikes?"

The 30-second ads follow a narrative. The first shows two guys in an XL7 being followed by a gang of bikers on Boulevard cruisers. The guys decide they'd better pull over. The bikers approach, but when they remove their helmets, they are women. The leader hands the guy his cell phone: "You left this in the diner. There's a new number on it."

Ads after that show that he and she are now a couple. In one ad, they switch rides--he taking the bike, she taking the SUV. "Think you can handle it?" she asks. "Can you?" he responds.

In December, Brown said, a one-minute trailer for a five-minute Web-based thriller, "The Briefcase," will run in movie theatres nationwide. The short film features the couple and the vehicles. It will be hosted at www.suzukiauto.com and other sites.

The campaign, which Brown said targets men and women in their 20's to 50's, will focus on active lifestyle shows like Major League Baseball, ESPN's "Monday Night Football," and college football broadcasts.

By month's end, cable kicks in, with the ads running on ABC Family, Comedy Central, Lifetime and others. Print ads in outdoor and active lifestyle publications like Outside and Men's Journal, as well as auto enthusiast and lifestyle books, continue the theme. Print ads show the vehicles in action, but the shadows they cast are of riders on motorcycles. Headlines include "Easy Driver" and "Born to be Wild."

Brown said that although brand awareness of Suzuki's cars has jumped dramatically--by about 50 percent from two years ago, the company still ranks low compared to other automakers.

"That's why we thought it would be valuable to tap into the extended awareness of the brand that exists through our strength in motorcycles," he said. "Instead of trying to start from zero, and introduce ourselves as if we were a stranger, it seemed wiser to introduce ourselves as known and respected."

Suzuki seems poised to make record sales this year, having posted an 11 percent increase in September to 7,940 units, and a year-to-date sales increase of 28 percent. Still, the automaker's volume makes it a small player in the U.S. The company sold 7,940 vehicles in the U.S. last month, and 81,328 for the year.

By contrast, Kia has sold 221,998 vehicles through September. Even Mitsubishi, which has been in a nosedive since 2003--but seems to be coming back--sold 10,287 cars and trucks last month in the U.S.

Bruce Harrison--a senior consultant at automotive marketing firm Global Insight, Cambridge, Mass., who specializes in motorcycles and niche-vehicle marketing--said Suzuki might be watching Honda, the other Japanese automaker with a motorcycle heritage, which has used its dirt bikes in ads for its Ridgeline pickup.

He said a large part of Honda's brand equity for adults--especially adults looking to buy a pickup--is in their experience as kids with Honda dirt bikes, minibikes and small motorcycles. "But," he added, "the Suzuki motorcycle, at the youth level, isn't viewed the same way ... and I don't know that it's necessarily going to sway a buyer into their vehicles."

Brown conceded that the tight U.S. market will constrain Suzuki's possibilities, so the brand's goal is modest: 250,000 vehicles sold per year in North America by 2010.

"We will still be a small player, but we have set our sights on being a brand that's well-differentiated in the market," he said. "This campaign will give us an edge in that direction."

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