Automakers across the board have increased their presence at grassroots events this year in order to reach specific audiences through music, sports and lifestyle events, a tactic central to Toyota's marketing for Scion and its Yaris car, for example.
Suzuki just completed its second sponsorship, along with Head Snowboards and Skiing Magazine, of the six-event Suzuki Half Pipe Jams snowboard tour. The La Brea, Calif., automaker will also sponsor the Saturday's Suzuki Champion Cross Sugarloaf Open hosted by Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott. The snowboard competition features the top 24 snowboard-cross riders on the Federation of International Skiing World Cup tour plus contenders competing for $50,000 and a Suzuki motorcycle.
Suzuki VP/marketing Gene Brown says the niche automaker positions itself as an active lifestyle-oriented brand and is building its marketing on three pillars: surfing, snow sports and motorcycling. "We are sharpening our focus to support a few things very deeply rather having a broad focus," he says.
Skiing is an affluent sport that is growing in popularity, per Skiing Magazine, which reports its fall 2006 readership at 1.3 million--up 11% versus the period in 2005, and also pegs the median age of its reader at 43, with a household income of $88,000.
Suzuki for the first time had a grassroots presence at Daytona's Bike Week, packing in its XL-7 Adventure Tour, a road show making stops at 10 motorcycle and non-motorcycle events around the country.
The company, which is unusual in the automotive business in that it is far better known for its motorcycles than cars, launched a rebranding campaign last fall to exploit that fact, with ads by AOR Colby & Partners, La Brea, showing both Suzuki cars and SUVs and motorcycles and using the theme line "It's gonna be a great ride."
"That campaign has tested very well and also has given us entree to Daytona Bike Week," Brown says, adding that Suzuki will adhere to the campaign "and it will evolve."
He says the focus on events and sponsorships reflects the company's relatively small media budget versus competitive brands. Suzuki, which had an ad budget of around $107 million last year, sold just over 100,000 vehicles (a 23% increase versus 2005). By contrast, American Honda sold 1.5 million vehicles and spent $637 million in 2005 in measured media. "The legitimate reality is that, financially, it's not a great investment for us to go broad-based," says Brown. "We are a niche brand."
Brown says the company is also considering ways to use Wescott in other marketing efforts beyond the Champion's Cross. "Obviously, this thing is just getting going; we are talking to him about whether that would make sense. When we are already involved in an activity in which someone like Wescott is emblematic, it makes sense [to pursue further opportunities] as opposed to seeking a celebrity association regardless of a connection."
Suzuki is also ramping up its involvement with music-related events, including its first-ever sponsorship of a band tour, the just-completed "Hearts of the Innocent" tour by the Christian-music rock band Kutless. This spring, Suzuki will co-sponsor the Xbox 360 Tour, in which Suzuki created an "SX Box" version of the SX4 car.