Marketing & Brand Strategy | Marketing and Communications

You bought a Jeep? But definitely not a Mitsi


First published in New Zealand Herald 9 June 2015

There’s a question that market researchers ask when they want to understand how customers perceive a brand. “If X was a car, which car would it be?”

You get a pretty good idea what your customer thinks of you when they say your shoes, architects or widgets, are more like a Toyota than a Ferrari; perhaps a Volvo but definitely not a Maserati.

Automotive brands have huge personalities, which of course is a big part of the appeal in driving one.

A few years back when I was in the market for a new car, people who knew cars told me to buy a Hyundai. I listened to all the practical comparisons and of course I knew it was true. But I wanted a Volkswagen. End. Of. Story.

You could have told me a Volkswagen was a Hyundai in everything but name. I didn’t care – I still wanted my Volkswagen.

The seed was planted many years ago, when as a university student driving my practical Toyota, my heart was crying out for a Golf. It was the aspirational brand for many young women in the 90s: a bit of a goofy and rebellious teenager, but with serious engineering at its heart. (That’s the VW, not me.)

Volkswagen’s brand positioning was spot on. And yes, dad, I know the Toyota was a better investment, held its value and parts were cheaper. But I just wanted a Golf.

So now as a marketer I enjoy observing how the automotive brands battle one another for supreme position. It’s the ultimate marketers’ play land: big brands, big prices, big personalities and big budgets.

As we approach the end of the financial year, car advertising hits fever pitch here in Australia as it likely does in New Zealand. Every brand desperately works to distinguish itself with run outs, sales events, drive away prices and irresistible finance deals.

This year Mitsubishi has come in with a loud voice and a polarising new ‘It’s a Mitsi’ tagline. On high rotation during peak times, the ads are impossible to miss, though it’ll be some time before we see if the irritating tag does its job.

Or whether it cheapens the Mitsubishi brand, as Cummins & Partners co-executive creative director Jim Ingram suggested at last week’s Mumbrella360 media conference in Sydney.

As part of the team on the also irritating but ridiculously memorable ‘You bought a Jeep’ creative, Ingram himself is no stranger to polarising campaigns. Love it or hate it, Jeep has grown significantly in Australia, opening up a formerly pretty masculine brand to a new female buyer. It is tongue in cheek and you’re not quite sure who it’s making fun of, but you still get the feeling it’s pretty cool to own one.

Mitsi on the other hand is kind of confusing. Who are they targeting? The ads feature men escaping from boring situations, like looking after a girlfriend’s poodle or shopping with your wife and mother-in-law. When the “Mitsi” drops out the sky with some blokey mates behind the wheel, our protagonist is rescued. I get the premise, but I don’t know that any bloke is going to refer to his Mitsubishi as a Mitsi. Feels a bit naff to me.

But who knows, perhaps Mitsubishi Australia’s research team have uncovered a whole new segment that likes its grunty Japanese cars to be like that friendly mate who saves the day.

Or they’ve just lost their way. After all, I’m not sure what I’d mean if I said brand X was “just like a Mitsubishi”.

What would that be like?

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