NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Mitsubishi Motors North America, in an effort to rekindle its image as a technologically innovative brand -- and generate a bunch of buzz in the process -- on Thursday announced what it claims is the first online test drive of its kind.
The Mitsubishi Live Drive will enable people to use interactive remote control to literally drive the new 2011 Outlander Sport in a closed course in Southern California. Starting Nov. 1, U.S. residents aged 18 and older with a valid driver's license can register at microsite www.outlandersport.com to "test drive" the vehicle through Nov. 10.
The test drive is part of an integrated marketing campaign launching Oct. 15 that includes TV, print, digital and direct mail.
How does it work?
Web surfers pilot the Outlander rigged with remote-control hardware using the arrow keys on their computers. A camera is hooked up in the driver's seat that delivers a live video feed to computer screens of the virtual test drivers, which steer the vehicle around the closed course.
The Outlander Sport is a new compact crossover Mitsubishi will begin selling this fall at a starting price around $18,500. It's based on the same platform architecture as the existing Outlander, but it has been shortened by a total of 14 inches.
The stunt, dubbed “Mitsubishi Live Drive,” is a major social media component of the advertising launch for the Outlander Sport that Greg Adams, vice president of marketing and product planning for Mitsubishi Motors North America, says will provide valuable marketing information and be a source of potential sales leads for when the vehicle goes on sale next month.
“We know that people love the car when they get behind the wheel. But if you can't get them to a dealership that easily… why not bring that experience to them?” Adams said.
Because of registration data collected from users that register for the online drive, “you're literally getting some tangible understanding of how many people are interested in the car from the number of views, the number of sign-ups and the number of test drives. The next objective is to get them to test drive a real car,” he said.
Adams said the company plans to offer up to 650 drives daily during the 10-day period, all at 90 seconds a piece.
The first television ad promoting Mitsubishi Live Drive event will begin running on Oct. 15. The ad shows an Outlander Sport driving around an empty tarmac with no driver, and promotes the online test drive's Nov. 1 launch date. A second television ad for the event will appear then, with print advertising beginning Nov. 16. Digital ads are also part of the campaign, which Adams noted will get its greatest exposure on television.
Innovative and cool
Mitsubishi hopes the campaign will bring new attention to the brand, which is grappling with a 3 percent U.S. sales decline this year while the overall market is up 10 percent.
Mitsubishi, like other automakers, has felt the pinch of the recession in recent years. Adams said the goal for the campaign is -- after being seen as doing something innovative and cool -- Mitsubishi will get back on consumers' radar screens.
Mitsubishi sold 41,392 vehicles in the U.S. during the first nine months of the year. Sales topped 120,000 vehicles in the 2007 calendar year, but fell to just under 54,000 units in 2009.
Mitsubishi hopes to sell about 17,000 Outlander Sport crossovers annually.
The company turned to its new creative agency, Omnicom Group's 180, Los Angeles, and production company B-Reel, as well as robotics expert James Brighton and Web design expert Simon Cave, to pull off the stunt. Mitsubishi's other agencies are WPP's Schematic for digital work and Triaville Communications for public relations.
It's a manifestation of the company's desire to have its shops work together as one, with Mitsubishi's internal marketing operations acting as, essentially, lead agency.
Adams joined Mitsubishi in May from Ferrari. It's actually his second stint at Mitsubishi. After working at Ford and Nissan in the United States, he moved to Japan to first work for Mitsubishi in the product planning division. He then went to Chrysler in China before joining Ferrari, first in China then in Japan.