After changing ad agencies and revamping its U.S. marketing staff this summer, Mazda is reworking its brand image.
The plan: retain Mazda's fun-to-drive image but move it more upscale.
As it is, the brand lacks strength to support the rollout of Mazda's Sky direct-injection engines next year or its future design language, says Don Romano, who took over in March as marketing boss at Mazda North American Operations.
The new styling was seen in the Shinari concept unveiled in Milan, Italy, in August.
"Shinari is a glimpse of what we're thinking as a brand," Romano said of the low-slung, four-door concept car designed to embody kodo -- Japanese for "the soul of motion."
"If you saw that roll into a showroom today, would our brand be able to support that vehicle? If you then put Sky technology in it ... is our brand able to support that?" said Romano.
"I would argue, 'No.' "
This is Romano's second stint as the brand's top North American marketing exec. He joined the company in 2000 from Nissan North America and held the chief marketing job from 2004 until 2006, when he took over at Mazda Canada, where he continues as president.
"My job is to define the brand and put it in a new direction that is more fully embraced by our target audience," said Romano, 50.
He has been shaking things up since returning to his former post. John Abel was named U.S. director of marketing in June. He previously was general manager for global brand management at Mazda Motor Corp. in Hiroshima, Japan. Since June, about half of Mazda's U.S. marketing staff have changed jobs, changed duties or been replaced.
Mazda's new ad agency, WPP Group, of London, this month launched a team to handle the Mazda account, called Team Mazda. It was modeled after WPP's Team Detroit, which handles advertising for Ford Motor Co.
Romano said Mazda is not trying to move into premium-car territory, and the "zoom-zoom" slogan will live on. But the look and feel of the brand's marketing will be different, he said.
Exactly what will change is unclear. The first ads by Mazda's new agency won't be seen until next spring, Romano said.
The first vehicle to be launched by Team Mazda is the redesigned Mazda5 small minivan, which goes on sale in January.
"We want to move the brand into a position that is differentiated more than it is today in the eyes of our customers -- not so mainstream as compared to every Tom, Dick and Harry company out there that makes a car," Romano said.