Dave Schembri replaced "Wake up and drive" with "Driven to thrill."
So new marketing chief Dave Schembri is creating a brand-awareness department that will develop face-to-face communications with consumers.
The department will have its own vice president and three managers focusing on customer relationships, strategic alliances and events.
This year Mitsubishi is devoting only 56 percent of its estimated $200 million marketing budget to traditional media such as TV, down from 75 percent last year, the automakers says. The rest will go to brand-experience programs such as ride-and-drives; direct marketing, which includes customer-retention activities; and regional dealer advertising associations.
"This is not for the weak of heart," says Schembri, referring to the battle to rejuvenate the Mitsubishi brand. "We must do dialogue with the customer and then close the loop" by adding sales.
Closing the loop
Mitsubishi dealers have not been able to close the loop in recent months. Sales were down 38.4 percent in the first five months of the year compared with the year-ago period. All nameplates fell. The company has cut back dramatically on low-profit daily rental sales, but it has not been able to increase retail sales to make up for the lost fleet numbers.
Enter Schembri. He arrived at Mitsubishi in February after 11 years in sales with Mercedes-Benz, where he most recently was vice president of Smart USA. He also spent 16 years in sales with Volkswagen of America.
Since joining Mitsubishi, Schembri has hired BBDO Worldwide of New York as the automaker's new ad agency. He also hired Daniel Kuhnert, a former Mitsubishi employee and dealer, as vice president of sales.
He also reinstated dealer advertising groups, which spend money on local advertising.
Schembri's first launch was the redesigned Eclipse coupe, which went on sale in late May. It has more equipment and is priced lower than the 2005 model.
In the new Eclipse commercial, Schembri replaced the seven-year-old "Wake up and drive" tag line with "Driven to thrill." The spot emphasizes Japanese design and culture.
Schembri's early grades are good.
"This new Eclipse has done more to generate traffic than I've seen in a long time," says dealer Don Herring. "It's been a long time since I've seen a TV commercial get people out into our dealerships."
Herring owns three Mitsubishi dealerships in the Dallas area. While some Mitsubishi dealers are departing, Herring bought his third store in March.
Though sales only total 30 to 50 a month at each store, Herring says he has a lot of confidence in Schembri and Rich Gilligan, CEO of Mitsubishi Motors North America.
"I think it's a good investment," he says. "The quality and product are good. The biggest challenge we have is reaching consumers."
Schembri must start reaching potential customers quickly.
Gilligan seeks a 22 percent sales increase this year. He also wants North American operations to make a profit in 2006.
But sales are poor for the brand's two core products, the Galant sedan and Endeavor SUV. And Mitsubishi must find ways to promote new products.
The new Raider pickup and a freshened Lancer Evolution 9 sporty car come on board in October. The redesigned Eclipse Spyder goes on sale next April. A redesigned Outlander SUV and Lancer debut in late 2006, and a redesigned Evolution 10 is scheduled as a 2008 model.
Consultant Jim Sanfilippo says product has never been Mitsubishi's problem. He says management and marketing in the United States have been lacking.
"Here is a company that can build an Evo. It has always been good with technology," says Sanfilippo, executive vice president of AMCI, an automotive consulting company in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
He credits Schembri with good instincts.
"Schembri came in and changed the agency, and now he's changing marketing strategies and rebuilding internally," Sanfilippo says. "Now they need a clear, consistent marketing message and to reach customers in big enough numbers.
"There's a lot of work that needs to be done, and they don't have a lot of time. They don't have a lot of money. They need the right people driving their cars and talking about their cars."
Schembri admits "there is low recognition" of Mitsubishi nameplates.
He describes Mitsubishi vehicles as being nonluxury performance vehicles, competing with Nissan, Mazda and Volkswagen.
Schembri says his goal is to touch the 22 million consumers whom he describes as "fun-seeking strivers." They are people of all ages, ethnic groups and gender who seek fun driving, he says.
The new marketing plan also includes a comprehensive customer relationship initiative to reach Mitsubishi's 2.2 million owners, Schembri says.
He looks to Nissan Division and the Chrysler group as role models.
"Nissan and Chrysler group are benchmarks for coming out of a slump," Schembri says.
"The Xterra gave Nissan credibility. We think Eclipse can do the same thing for us."You may e-mail Kathy Jackson at [email protected]