LOS ANGELES -- A Shakespeare soliloquy might seem out of place in a car ad, but Jaguar wants to make a key point -- that it is a quintessentially and unapologetically British challenger to BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.
A short online video released this month -- the latest installment in Jaguar's "British Villains" marketing campaign -- shows a pearlescent white F-Type hardtop creeping into a subterranean parking garage while John of Gaunt's ode to the "demi-paradise" of England from King Richard II is recited in the background.
Behind the wheel, actor Tom Hiddleston reprises the role first seen in Jaguar's Super Bowl commercial "Rendezvous." After picking up a mysterious bag from his henchmen and outrunning a Porsche 911 in pursuit, he roars off into the nighttime streets of London, voicing the rest of the Shakespearean passage: "This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England."
"British Villains" is Jaguar's largest-ever U.S. marketing campaign, designed to launch the F-Type coupe and to position the brand as stylish and disruptive of the status quo. It is a critical part of Jaguar's effort to boost buyer awareness and consideration ahead of other key product launches, such as the XE small sedan coming in 2016.
More online films and TV spots will follow in the campaign, says U.S. marketing chief Jeff Curry. They are scheduled to run through August.
Curry won't disclose how much Jaguar is spending on "British Villains," saying only that it's "a ton of media money." Earlier this year he said Jaguar would boost U.S. marketing spending by 20 percent from 2013, when research group Kantar Media says it spent $68 million.
"This is a huge investment, and we're a small brand," Curry said. "We sell a tenth of the volume of Audi, but we have a story to tell."
Jaguar is in a competitive field made up of luxury brands from Germany that outsell and outspend Jaguar several times over.
Sales were up 32 percent to 4,715 in the first quarter, following a 41 percent leap in 2013 to 16,952. But that is far from peak sales of about 60,000 annually more than a decade ago. And with tougher fuel economy requirements looming, Indian parent company Tata needs to boost Jaguar's U.S. sales to offset the gas-guzzling SUVs built by sister brand Land Rover.
Jaguar's heritage is both an asset and a liability. Its racing bloodlines run deep, but the brand is still plagued by a reputation for unreliability, a notion so ingrained in the popular consciousness that it turned up on AMC's hit TV show "Mad Men," about a fictional 1960s ad agency that briefly holds the Jaguar account.
In one scene, an executive of a rival agency dismisses Jaguar as "like an expensive, unreliable Dodge." In another, a Jaguar's balky starter foils an attempted suicide.
Jaguar's quality has improved. It has ranked in the top 10 in J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Studies for the past two years and was 13th overall in the firm's dependability survey last year, achieving above-average scores.
But the negative perceptions persist. Nearly 30 percent of same-segment buyers avoided Jaguar vehicles because of concerns about reliability and brand reputation, according to J.D. Power's 2014 Avoider Study.
"The elephant in the room is the same one today that it was 10 years ago, and it's quality," said Charles Mayer, a marketing executive at Jaguar from 2002-04. "Consumers continue to have the same really negative perception of Jaguar quality ... and it's a key barrier to purchase consideration."
Mayer says Jaguar needs to focus on laying out rational reasons for consumers to consider Jaguar over German luxury brands.
"They have the benefit now of a pretty nice product lineup and more on the way," he said. "They're pushing the brand to be more modern. I would pull out all the stops. Find the stories that position my vehicles as being better than the default choices, take the gloves off and start swinging."
The campaign tries to forge a modern image for Jaguar, while also launching the F-Type coupe, Curry says.
Product attributes such as the aluminum chassis construction and improved quality are taking a back seat to the positioning of Jaguar as the British bad boy of the luxury auto market. He says consumers will learn about Jaguar's improved quality during the shopping process. The main focus now is reaching consumers who want an alternative to German luxury marques.
Jaguar's advertising takes direct aim at the competition.
A TV spot with a voiceover from English actor Benedict Cumberbatch that debuted in March shows an XFR sports sedan wheeling into an underground parking structure and preparing for a rumble with the Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E class and BMW 5 series.
"Some don't know that Jaguar is one of the fastest-growing luxury automotive brands," the voice says. "But they certainly do."
It's a more assertive voice for Jaguar, Curry says.
"We're literally naming names," he says. "It helps people understand who we are by knowing what we're up against."
Jaguar's revived product lineup, is winning more attention from shoppers. Brand consideration increased by 27 percent in 2013 and was up 74 percent in the first two months of the year, according to Millward Brown Digital, an online marketing analytics firm.
Dennis Bulgarelli, director of the automotive practice at Millward Brown Digital, says those gains are significant, but Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes still have about three times as much online shopping activity as Jaguar. Jaguar also converts shoppers into sales at a lower rate than those competing brands. Bulgarelli says that is probably a result of Jaguar's comparatively limited lineup.
But Jaguar's marketing campaign shows promise, Bulgarelli said. The Super Bowl spot was followed by a big bump in shopping activity.
"That momentum is key to ultimately getting Jaguar on the same level of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Audi," he said. "Increasing consideration and demand is a first step for Jaguar. Once they get on the radar of more prospects, they stand a better chance of driving more sales."