Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc.

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Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc.

6400 Katella Avenue
Cypress, California 90630-0064
Telephone: (714) 372-6000
Fax: (714) 372-6000
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Mired in a slump caused by sinking sales, a dwindling market share, an anonymous image, and an ill-defined marketing drive, Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc., (then called Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America) introduced an updated version of its midsize sedan, the Galant, in August 1998. Mitsubishi saw this redesign as an opportunity to reinvigorate the company's brand image, and it selected the advertising agency Deutsch, Inc., of New York and Marina del Ray, California, to craft a campaign that would not only distinguish the Galant from its more established rivals but that would also prove strong enough to apply to the entire line of Mitsubishi automobiles.

The resulting $50 million campaign, tagged "Wake Up and Drive," focused on TV, with supporting print, outdoor, and Internet elements. The commercials positioned the Galant as an alternative to the staid family sedan through the use of a pulsing sound track, quick-cutting footage of the Galant barreling down rural and urban streets, and flashes of text messages designed to appear as though they were emerging from the road. The text transmitted the campaign's controlling theme: that responsible adults could remain youthful at heart and choose their automobiles accordingly. As Mitsubishi began to find success with this style-focused pitch, it awarded its entire $180 million-plus U.S. advertising account to Deutsch, which set about applying the theme to the full range of Mitsubishi automobiles. When paired with its affordable compact and sports cars—the Lancer and Eclipse—in particular, the "Wake Up and Drive" pitch more openly courted younger buyers.

Mitsubishi successfully created a youthful and energetic brand identity, surpassing Volkswagen as the automaker with the largest portion of under-35 drivers. North American sales grew by roughly 80 percent over the campaign's five-year run, and in 2002 Mitsubishi predicted further growth of an additional 70 percent or more in the following five years. These predictions proved drastically off the mark, however, as it became apparent that Mitsubishi's sales gains were partly attributable to untenable lending practices. Many of the young people who had bought Mitsubishi vehicles as a result of the brand's newly youthful image began to default on their loans, and when Mitsubishi tightened its lending regulations, sales plummeted back to their pre-1999 levels.


Mitsubishi began operating in the United States in 1982. In 1994 the company sold 230,279 cars in that market and anticipated setting sales records well into the future. None followed, however, and Mitsubishi instead failed to break the 200,000-car mark again. In fact, its share of the U.S. car market dropped from 1.5 percent in 1994 to 1.2 percent in 1997. Sales for 1997 were 12.2 percent lower than in 1996, and even more disturbing was the Galant's performance, which was down 35.1 percent from the prior year. Likely contributing to the free fall was the fact that the company was rated below average in several customer-satisfaction surveys. "Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America has just about hit bottom," AutoWeek pronounced.

Mitsubishi's woes were significantly exacerbated by its image—or lack thereof. "As the market gets more cluttered, it is incredibly important for a manufacturer to have a distinct image that is easy for consumers to understand," an industry analyst told the Los Angeles Times. But when Mitsubishi quizzed customer focus groups about its brand image, they had difficulty associating the name with any of its vehicles. The campaign that its ad agency, G2 Advertising, had created, called "Built for Living," with its scenes of Mitsubishi vehicles being used in everyday situations, had done little to correct this problem. Moreover, since the company often used rebates and price cuts to drive sales for the Galant, the sedan tended to draw a customer base of bargain hunters rather than Mitsubishi enthusiasts. The company's newly appointed executive vice president and chief operating officer, Pierre Gagnon, summed up "Built for Living" as a better "corporate philosophy" than "brand statement," according to Automotive News. With the debut of the Galant looming large, a change was needed. Mitsubishi had hired Deutsch to conceive a dealer-oriented campaign in April 1998 and was pleased with the irreverent tone of the spots. Deutsch was therefore assigned the new Galant campaign as well.


"Wake Up and Drive" sought to remedy the errors of earlier campaigns. After determining its initial target audience to be consumers under the age of 45, typically married, and with an annual household income above $55,000, Mitsubishi strategized about the best ways to reach this demographic group. The company's solution was to pitch the Galant as an antidote to the drab routines and responsibilities of adulthood. Recognizing that its chief competitors, the Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., were unassailable in their reputations for quality and reliability, Mitsubishi opted to present the Galant as an exciting alternative to bland family sedans. "Wake Up and Drive" delivered "a sharp jab into the restless heart of the carpool driver," the Wall Street Journal opined, and "pull[ed] hard on the last youthful cravings for excitement in sedan buyers." While its target audience shouldered the duties of marriage and parenthood, they chafed at the notion of getting old and dull. "We're talking to that youthful spirit that lives in all of us—the one that wants to look attractive, to have fun, to stay young," a company spokesperson told the Bloomington Pantagraph.

As the "Wake Up and Drive" tagline and high-energy approach was extended to other Mitsubishi models, including the Eclipse sports car and the Lancer compact—neither of which were aimed primarily at a family market—the youth-oriented nature of Mitsubishi's brand image became more and more pronounced, tailored to the literally young rather than to the merely young at heart. The company paired its energized brand personality with financing offers that made it strikingly easy for younger consumers to qualify for loans. By late 2002, at the apex of the marketing campaign's success, Mitsubishi had bested Volkswagen as the American auto industry's leading youth brand: 42 percent of Mitsubishi buyers were under 35, compared with 41 percent for Volkswagen.


After the successful release of the "Wake Up and Drive" campaign, two ad agencies representing other car companies accused Deutsch of stealing ideas from their earlier auto campaigns. Ron Lawner of Arnold Communications and Pat Fallon of Fallon McElligott scoffed that pieces of "Wake Up and Drive" were wholly derived from their creative work for Volkswagen and BMW. "That's so comical I can't even dignify it with a response," retorted Donny Deutsch of Deutsch to Adweek. "The children should go back to their crayons."


As the ninth-biggest car company in the United States, Mitsubishi's decision to avoid fighting its giant rivals on their own turf was a logical one. The midsize sedan category of cars to which the Galant belonged was the largest-selling segment of the American auto market. Three of the seven best-selling cars were midsize sedans. "The segment is brutal," an industry analyst told the Orange County Business Journal. Mitsubishi faced fierce opposition from the Honda Accord, the Toyota Camry, and the Ford Taurus in its bid to gain a greater share of this sector with the updated Galant. Those vehicles perennially vied for the rank of the best-selling car in the United States. Moreover, each of these three companies had introduced updated versions of their sedans since 1996.

The Camry had topped U.S. sales charts in both 1997 and 1998. Toyota had released a redesigned Camry in 1996, supporting it with a $50 million television, magazine, outdoor, and direct-mail campaign, using the simple slogan "The New Camry. Better Than Ever." According to the June 30, 1997, Advertising Age, the ads were "as understated as the car." With the debut of its brandwide "Everyday" campaign in the fall of 1997, Toyota incorporated Camry spots into this umbrella effort. Quite the opposite of "Wake Up and Drive," Saatchi & Saatchi's campaign for Toyota glorified the mundane. Instead of presenting the Camry as an escape route, "Everyday" showcased the multiple meanings of everyday: not only was the Camry ideal for "everyday" use, it would also be there "every day." This stolid and reliable image helped Toyota control an impressive 8.1 percent of the U.S. car market.

Honda debuted a redesigned Accord in 1997 and inaugurated a campaign touting the car's new advances that same year. Created by Honda's longtime ad agency Rubin Postaer & Associates, this massive "An Accord like No Other" campaign evoked the Accord's long legacy in the United States. Like Toyota, Honda highlighted its conservative side in these sedan ads. As the Washington Times noted, "never have its cars been the most stylish or the most powerful, but always competent and with no vices. They just deliver all the features with a high degree of satisfaction, and seldom is there any item to complain about." Later Accord campaigns continued to underscore this reputation with simple, clean ads that always made the car the hero. One 1998 commercial depicted a stressed traveler finding sanctuary in her Accord. "It's not just a car. It's a state of mind," declared the tagline.

When it introduced its all-new Taurus in 1996, Ford repositioned the car as affordable and family-friendly. But over the next two years Ford changed directions in its Taurus advertising, particularly in 1997 ads created by J. Walter Thompson USA, which used NASCAR themes to emphasize that the Taurus had recently entered the racing circuit. But during the Winter Olympic Games in February 1998, Ford returned to the basics with a new brandwide campaign. These commercials, which told stories centered on various Ford products, were narrated by actor John Corbett. One spot portrayed a Taurus owner reconciling with her father. By November 1998 Ford had committed to continuing its efforts to emphasize primarily brands over individual models.


By presenting the Galant in a different light from the more traditional Camry, Accord, and Taurus, Mitsubishi strove to forge a unique brand image for its sedan. At the opposite end of the spectrum from Toyota's paean to everyday life, Mitsubishi "show[ed] itself as making its drivers look cool," explained the Orange County Business Journal. The aggressive rock songs chosen for the commercials' sound tracks implied that the Galant was no stolid "family-mobile" but rather that it was rebellious and sporty. The spots were filmed in rapidly shifting spurts, which conveyed a sense of speed and made the spots look more like music videos than traditional commercials. The accompanying captions, however, were the heart of "Wake Up and Drive." One commercial, which depicted the Galant zooming around urban streets illuminated only by a neon glow, proclaimed, "You have a family / You have a house / You have a dog / You have a pulse." Another commercial delivered an additional wry commentary: "The other soccer moms will talk." At its core, "Wake Up and Drive" poked at the raw nerve of insecurity lurking within family-oriented consumers who were not ready to declare themselves "middle-aged" or "terminally responsible." According to the Wall Street Journal, "the idea [wa]s to lure … soccer moms and baseball dads who don't really see themselves in a Toyota Camry or a Honda Accord."

Although the new brand personality was initially tied to the August 1998 Galant launch, Mitsubishi hoped, from the outset, that "Wake Up and Drive" would resonate among consumers to a degree that would justify adapting the platform to other models. It was "an opportunity for us to re-launch this franchise," Gagnon told the Bloomington Pantagraph. Satisfied with the initial buzz surrounding the Galant introduction, the company applied the campaign tagline and concept in November of that year to commercials for its Montero SUV. Set to heavy-metal legend Ozzy Osbourne's song "Crazy Train," the commercial was even aired during the 1999 Super Bowl—a first for Mitsubishi.

Mitsubishi expressed delight with Deutsch amid growing signs of the campaign's success, and in 1999 it awarded the agency the entire ad account for its U.S. operations, at an estimated total budget of more than $180 million. "Wake Up and Drive" subsequently became the rallying cry for the whole Mitsubishi line, and the agency continued to produce corporate-image advertising notable for its evocations of youthful energy and overt appeals to vanity. This branding strategy was particularly apparent in a 1999 installment of the campaign announcing a new redesign of the Eclipse sports car. Crafted to appeal to both young people and older men having midlife crises, as Deutsch's executive vice president and creative director Eric Hirshberg told Advertising Age, the new Eclipse commercials were characterized by an emphasis on sex appeal. For instance, the voice-over in one spot posed the following set of questions: "If you had to be stranded on a deserted island with just one other person, who would it be? A boat builder? Or a survival expert? Perhaps a fisherman? Or would it just be someone who looks really good in a swimsuit?" The redesigned Eclipse was then shown speeding into view, and the voice-over continued, "There are more sensible choices, but who cares?"

With sales of the Galant and Eclipse surging, in 2000 "Wake Up and Drive" focused on the 2001 models of the Eclipse Spyder, a new convertible, and the Montero, as Mitsubishi upped its overall advertising budget by roughly 20 percent over 1999, to an estimated $223 million. In 2001 the company again boosted spending, devoting a large portion of its budget to the U.S. launch of its Lancer compact car, which was then popular in Europe. The affordable Lancer was seen as a way of enhancing Mitsubishi's allure among young and first-time car buyers, and the spots in which it was featured incorporated music from youth-oriented rock bands such as the Barenaked Ladies. Mitsubishi's focus on the music of lesser-known and younger artists during these years made practical as well as strategic sense. The licensing fees for such songs were, of course, substantially smaller than those for mainstream hits, but also, as Hirshberg told the New York Times, "It gives street cred to Mitsubishi and shows that they are not just a corporation with a big budget, but a brand cool enough to tell you what's new." Prominent Mitsubishi spots in 2001–02 focused on young people inside cars, moving to the music that had become increasingly central to the campaign.


"The … ads are bringing people into the dealerships," Mitsubishi's Gagnon said in the November 2, 1998, issue of Advertising Age. "We're getting Accord and Camry buyers, who never shopped us before." By September 1998 Mitsubishi had sold 4,691 Galants (compared to 2,366 the prior year), and by year's end the number had shot up to 44,202. The company's total American car sales edged closer to the 200,000 mark for 1998 thanks in no small part to the Galant launch. The 2000 Eclipse redesign, introduced in the summer of 1999 was equally successful, and surging sales of these two models helped the company achieve record-breaking sales in late 1999 and a full-year total of 261,254 cars sold in the United States. By 2002, despite the intervening difficulties presented by the economic recession and geopolitical turmoil, Mitsubishi sales in North America—the overwhelming majority of which were in the United States—approached 350,000. Mitsubishi seemed well on the road to recovery in the United States. Gagnon predicted that the automaker would annually sell 600,000 cars in North America by 2007.

In 2003, however, it became apparent that in pairing its "Wake Up and Drive" brand identity with easy credit deals, Mitsubishi had pushed sales among an untenable target market. So-called "zero-zero-zero" loan packages specifically created with young buyers in mind allowed customers to take possession of new Mitsubishi cars with no down payment, no monthly payments for an introductory period of time (often six months), and with zero percent financing once payment became due. Many of the 20-somethings who bought Mitsubishis under these terms were unable to make payments after the introductory phase of ownership passed, and as the Wall Street Journal reported, the result was "an avalanche of defaults." When Mitsubishi responded by increasing its loan requirements, sales plummeted. In 2003 the company posted full-year U.S. sales losses of 25.6 percent. The following year was even worse for Mitsubishi in America: sales declined by an additional 37 percent.


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                                         Rebecca Stanfel

                                             Mark Lane

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Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc.

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