Foreign Car Makers Unveil New Ad Plans

Times Staff Writer

Several foreign automobile manufacturers are making dramatic changes in their advertising just in time for new model sales and anticipated stiffer competition for imports.

After a six-year run of its “Oh What a Feeling” campaign, Toyota Motor Sales USA today is changing its theme to “Who Could Ask for Anything More.”

Tomorrow, American Honda Motor Co. will unveil an elaborate ad for its new Honda Accord. The commercial, loaded with special effects, features about 200 look-alike cars prowling a desert floor at dusk as the wind snaps a car cover off the new Accord.

Locally, the Nissan Dealers Advertising Assn. of Southern California has been running an offbeat “life style” advertising campaign that portrays car salesmen as trustworthy, likeable types: Nissan dealers “want to sell you your next car and your next car,” the commercials say.

German automobile manufacturers, such as BMW and Porsche, have also been airing new ads in recent months.


Until import restrictions were eased last April, foreign manufacturers had little reason to create new ad campaigns since most of them were selling, at a premium, virtually every car they could ship to the U.S. However, now that the ceiling on Japanese passenger car shipments has been raised to 2.3 million units this year--a 24.3% increase from last year’s 1.85 million units--the atmosphere has become more competitive, experts say.

The average price for a new car rose from $7,591 in 1980, before the quotas, to $11,254 in the third quarter of 1984, says the Commerce Department. Some Toyota models cost more than $15,000 now. The increase has forced dealers “to really work hard to sell and move inventory,” said Brad Ball, president of the Davis, Johnson, Mogul & Colombatto Inc. agency in Los Angeles, which handles advertising for about 130 Toyota dealers in California.

Although Toyota claims “Oh What a Feeling” became the most remembered advertising campaign of any imported car brand, “it’s always better to trade a ball player a year before it’s too late,” said Toyota spokesman Kurt von Zumwalt. He said Toyota will increase its overall ad spending 10% to 15%, mostly as a result of heavier broadcast of the new commercials, which still show actors jumping in slow-motion excitement over Toyota cars.

Where once many import car manufacturers simply touted their product’s technical features or its value, now they have become more aggressive in attending to the idiosyncrasies of the American car buyer.

Two years ago, for example, BMW of North America emphasized its technical prowess in advertisement that showed helmeted drivers tearing around a test track. But now, in a new advertising campaign for its luxury coupe, BMW shows an elegantly dressed couple suggestively unzipping a car cover off a black BMW 635i as if it were an heirloom.

“I got into BMW in 1969 when it was a performance car and enthusiast car,” said Leif F. Anderberg, president of the Los Angeles region of the BMW Automobile Club of America. “Today the people who drive BMWs have no idea what they are driving.” Anderberg blames the shift in advertising. “It’s like they are turning away from the performance-minded person . . . and appealing (only) to the guy who wants status.”

Other foreign car makers with new campaigns say their new ads reflect a greater sensitivity toward the life styles of American consumers.

“As the customer becomes more sophisticated, obviously there is a need to change with him,” said Gerry Rubin, president of the Los Angeles office of Needham Harper Worldwide. “Our advertising not only addresses the demographic change, but we make sure we address (changes in) life style in our advertising. Prelude (Honda), for example, is the car for the performance-oriented (consumer), the Civic is a more family-oriented car . . . (while) the Accord is more upscale.”

Adds David Butler, vice president and associate creative director of Chiat/Day, which recently became the agency for Porsche cars: “When you sell a higher-ticket item like a BMW or Mercedes or Porsche for that matter, you have to show there is more value to the car than simply the components that go into it. You have to show the corporate culture.” Otherwise, said Butler, “it’s hard to convince a consumer to prefer one car over another when (they all) appear to be the same nuts and bolts and sheet metal.”

Domestic car makers are not standing idly by. For instance, Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln-Mercury division has attracted widespread notice in the advertising community by using music of 1960s artists like the Beatles and Four Tops in order to capitalize on the life-style themes that appeal to nostalgic baby boomers.