Consumers typically think of Volvo as the automaker that owns safety. But American Suzuki Motor Corp. is clawing for some of that reputation.
In early February, Suzuki advertising will tout the value of its XL-7 mid-sized sport-utility and Aerio subcompact sedan. A key message: The vehicles are safe.
The advertising, created by Colby & Partners in Santa Monica, Calif., encourages consumers to "Take a closer look at America's best value."
"The thought behind the line for us is that most people are less aware of our brand compared with other manufacturers," said Alan Bethke, Suzuki's advertising and sales training manager.
"Our safety, warranty, amount of features and price point really have a value that's hard to duplicate."
For example, he said, the Aerio sedan scored higher than Volvo's S40 sedan in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's 40-mph frontal offset crash test.
Yet, the Aerio costs $10,000 less than the S40.
Suzuki hopes the focus will help it attain 6 percent sales growth in the United States this year.
The company sold 67,855 vehicles last year, up 4.9 percent from 2001.
"We definitely want to continue to move the brand more mainstream and more upscale from the lower price-point niche," Bethke said.
The average annual income of Suzuki buyers is less than $60,000. Typically, they're aged 35 to 55 and about 60 percent are female.
Suzuki will spend about the same on advertising this year as it did in 2002, which was up 80 percent from 2001, Bethke said. According to Competitive Media Reporting's 2001 data, that means Suzuki will spend $69.5 million.
In hopes of making more efficient media buys, Suzuki is trying something new.
"We'll align a lot of our media into the last two weeks of the month, when dealers see more traffic," Bethke said.
"We always recognized that the last two weeks are the strongest selling weeks of the month, so we'll try to maximize those dollars."
Don Hicks, owner of Shortline Automotive Inc. in Aurora, Colo., (Suzuki-Subaru-Hyundai-Kia) likes the media strategy.
"Fifty percent of the cars we sell all month are in the last 10 days," Hicks said. "We've tried to weight our media to get a jump-start and saw little or no increase."
But if the media schedule doesn't sell more vehicles, Bethke said Suzuki will move quickly to spread out its buys.