LOS ANGELES - American Isuzu Motors Inc. will take its the rifle-shot approach even further in the 2000 model year.
In sponsoring off-the-beaten-path sports with more marketing dollars, Isuzu will try to connect more often with fans of those sports. Isuzu also will begin an affiliation with top athletes in those more obscure activities.
'This is more than a `me-too' sponsorship of snowboarding, where we would sponsor 12 mountains and have Isuzus parked at the bottom,' said Bob Reilly, American Isuzu general manager. 'We want to be associated in a more meaningful way. We need to show how distinctive we are, based on the events we affiliate ourselves with.'
That means sponsoring more events like the Ironman Triathlon and Eco-Challenge. But Isuzu isn't interested in extreme sports like synchronized skydiving or street luge, which already are cluttered with automakers trying to tap into Generation X.
A GENUINE LINK
Rather, Isuzu wants to align itself with serious athleticism, such as the Race Across America, in which cyclists race 22 hours a day from Irvine, Calif., to Savannah, Ga.
'The No. 1 male and female triathletes in the world drive Isuzus, but who knows who they are? The demographic and psychographic we want to appeal to knows who they are,' Reilly said.
'We want to associate with the people who climb the North Face (in Yosemite), who surf at San Onofre. It's a real limited demographic, but it's who we're looking for.'
But it's more than just putting an Isuzu in the garages of those top athletes and using the athletes as promotional tools. Isuzu wants to be sure the athletes already own Isuzus, to show the link is genuine.
'That Nissan Xterra ad, where the skier is falling off the mountain, is using borrowed interest to generate consumer excitement. But it's not genuine,' Reilly said.
That also means different advertising tactics.
In the past, Isuzu stuck with the mainstream recipe of 'dirt roads and mud holes,' but Reilly promises 'something decidedly different' for the upcoming model year - although the 'go farther' tag line will remain.
A LOST OPPORTUNITY
'The message is more than `I want to buy it because so-and-so drives one,'' Reilly said. 'We want to show how that top athlete arrived at his purchase decision to buy an Isuzu and put it in his driveway.'
And, yes, Reilly is kicking himself for not sponsoring winning American cyclist Lance Armstrong as part of Isuzu's tie-in with the Tour de France.
'We could have had him for $50,000 before the race. Now he's, what, $5 million?' Reilly said.
Reilly admitted Isuzu's tactics are a matter of splitting marketing hairs: 'The difference between excitement and genuine enthusiasm compared to pandering to a group of people is not an easy position to stake out.'
Then again, since Isuzu has a foothold as a genuine off-road player with that demographic group, it might be easier to make further inroads, he said.
'You take a picture of a parking lot at trailheads and out-of-the-way places, and 13 out of 100 vehicles are Isuzus,' Reilly said. 'It's a genuine affiliation we're looking for.'