By on April 4, 2018

Mazda’s new “Feel Alive” advertising campaign places consumers as its focal point as the company tries to market itself as an upscale and hip, enthusiast-oriented brand. On Monday, Mazda launched the first commercial — a borderline insulting collection of superficial phrases intended to get you excited about the brand’s new identity.

The spot itself is about as boilerplate new-millennium luxury car commercial as it gets. It opens with a series of attractive actors, all on the cusp of an important moment, as the narrator offers bizarrely simplistic lines of encouragement like “do that thing” and “take that step.” Granted, auto ads became far getting far less chatty about specs during the 1990s. But, over the last decade, too many car spots seem to be copying perfume ads — strange adventures in abstraction that say nothing about the product and cost a fortune to produce.

Perfume ads have to be weird because it’s difficult to discuss the merits of purchasing a fancy smell through a visual medium. This doesn’t have to be the case with cars, as they have a clearly defined purpose and most automakers usually have an identity they can cling to without running down a list of specs. I’m thinking specifically of Honda’s “The Cog,” (from 2003) where a Rube Goldberg machine of auto parts rolls an Accord into frame as a voice says, “Isn’t it nice when things just work?”

The consumer target is enraptured by watching the contraption unfold for over a minute, before having a forced epiphany that banks entirely on Honda’s famous reliability. “Oh yeah,” they murmured from their collective sofas. “Honda builds a quality item. I should buy one.”

While Mazda does attempt to capture some of the Zoom-Zoom magic by asking drivers to “turn off the highway and soar,” it’s only a small portion of the spot. The brand is building some of the best-looking consumer goods on the market right now and probably could have showcased them a little more. Two-thirds of their first “Feel Alive” ad is devoted to people experiencing tender moments with no car in sight. Then you briefly see a branded race helmet, the Vision Coupe Concept, and updated Mazda 6 before more people swim with whales, play the drums, and perform other activities that have absolutely nothing to do with cars.

The commercial ends with people passionately spreading their arms in triumph, presumably because they own the right kind of automobile, and we close on a man standing next to a Mazda MX-5 RF. While not identical, the whole affair smacks of Cadillac’s “Dare Greatly” campaign from 2015 — a series of ads widely criticized for being sanctimonious and unrelated to automobiles. Even General Motors acknowledged the ads left a lot to be desired and decided to focus more on the physical product for 2018.

 

So what the hell is Mazda doing taking a page from its scraped playbook? “Mazda has always engineered to a feeling. We want to build an emotional connection with our fans by making them feel something profound,” explained Dino Bernacchi, Chief Marketing Officer for Mazda North America. “‘Feel Alive’ will be a celebration of human challenge, inspiration, exhilaration and potential and there’s no better moment to reveal it than [NCAA] Championship Monday.”

Ah. It would seem that Mazda’s upmarket push has resulted in it becoming a “lifestyle brand.” But there’s a problem with that. Japanese premium brands like Acura and Infiniti have both struggled to maintain a clear identity against German rivals and Lexus, which bests them both in U.S. sales, still banks on Toyota’s superior reliability as a major selling point. If Mazda wants to cling to being the fun Japanese manufacturer and catch the eye of more affluent customers, it’ll have to spend more than seven seconds per ad featuring cars being driven.

Mazda really needs to push the sexy shape of its lineup or run the performance narrative a little harder — maybe while bringing Mazdaspeed back into the limelight. This isn’t a image-ruining advertisement by any means, but we’d caution the brand’s marketing team to avoid the pitfalls of other manufacturers that emphasized style over substance. It doesn’t have to be Subaru’s “Subaru Loves Pets, Pets Love Us” or adopt Ram’s ultra-manly call to arms. But it can’t be this flavorless and forgettable mess.

[Image: Mazda]

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79 Comments on “Mazda’s New ‘Feel Alive’ Campaign Has Us Worried About Brand’s Upmarket Push...”


  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    What?! Car marketing is virtue signalling? Who would’a thought.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      This isn’t really virtue signaling.

      Virtue signaling would be them saying things to claim how morally or ethically “good” (as in good vs evil rather than good vs bad reliability/handling/etc) they are.

      This is just them trying to associate themselves with warm fuzzy feelings.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Great, now when I do happen to catch a weird commercial I’m going to have to think: “Is this an ad for perfume? Calvin Klein underpants? Mazda?”

    • 0 avatar
      Ralahamy

      Funniest comment I have seen today.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      The point of these kinds of commercials is to catch your attention when the sound is off and/or you are fast forwarding through the commercial break. Brief images of good looking, happy people doing interesting and exciting things, along with flashes of the product and a logo. It’s almost on the subliminal level, but it works better than lots of talk or text because it’s trying to stimulate feelings instead of thoughts.

      • 0 avatar
        Rasputin

        Very perceptive comment. “Feelings” are all important now.
        Use the “wrong” pronoun and you will hurt a person’s feelings, causing you to lose your job. Expressing certain ideas will hurt other’s feelings, reason enough for them to destroy property in order to stop you from saying those “hurtful” ideas.

        Mazda got it right – it’s all in the “feels.”

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Instead, think: “What the heck am I doing wrong, putting myself in a position to be exposed to this tripe?”

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        There are times I’ll pause to consider who the target audience is for a program I’m watching based on the commercials. It can be a fascinating little piece of sociology/psychology.

  • avatar
    John R

    “…it’ll have to spend more than seven seconds per ad featuring cars being driven”

    It might help if their products could get 60 mph in under the same amount of time also.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      … nice …

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      And without being buzzy and noisy, and without rusting prematurely.

      Maybe they should spend some of that advertising money on engine balancing, reducing NVH, and rustproofing.

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        This exactly. I saw a brand new bright red 6 today with temp tags on it and it caught my eye. They’ve nailed the styling, absolute home run. The problem is everything else. They’re all style and minimal substance. Not to mention slow and said by some to have bad A/C which there is absolutely no excuse to have.

  • avatar
    Waterview

    something . . .something . . .Miata is the answer!

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    They barely showed the cars. Yawn.

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    That kiss looked awkward.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I really don’t understand why they killed off the Mazdaspeed models. Sure, a lot of performance cars—FiST, FoST/RS, Civic Si/Type-R, and WRX/STi—look ostentatious. But you’ve also got stuff like the Golf GTI/R and Cooper S that look both mature and sporty. Mazda could make a performance 3 and 6 that still adhere to its new, more-mature brand.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      Mature and sporty…someone else out there making a Cooper S?

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Agreed. An MS3 that righted the wrongs of the previous one would be nice and really elevate the brand. Some more horsepower across the board wouldn’t hurt either. Premium wheezy.

      • 0 avatar
        Groovypippin

        CX-9? Most Torque in its class. Mazda6 2.5T? Most torque in its class. Mazda3? A 185 HP 2.5 engine available which is more than class competitive. And if we ever see the diesel in the Mazda CX-5? It will have the most torque in its class.

        For the VAST majority of folks a “fast” car is defined by how quickly it gets up and going from a dead stop, not top line speed. That’s why the public actually loves torque more than they love horsepower even if they don’t realize it.

        Mazda’s under powered? Mostly a myth

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “Most Torque in its class”

          I don’t care. It isnt a truck or late 70s Oldsmobile. I want the cars to be much faster than they are now. Hopefully the turbo Mazda6 will accomplish this.

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          CX-9’s torque doesn’t matter; crossovers with more aggressive gearing + less torque are faster in the 5-60 test (V6 Acadia, Honda Pilot). Mazda6 2.5T hasn’t been tested yet but it will be the same story against something like a Camry V6.

          And you are talking about Mazda’s top end engines, which aren’t even competitive against other top end offerings. It’s even worse with the base offerings. Mazda6 2.5 was slower than the Accord 2.4 Sport 6MT. Mazda3 2.0i rental I had was slow as molasses. Probably average for the class which by definition is not “premium”. Golf TSI was a rocket by comparison with the base engine for the same money.

          • 0 avatar
            Groovypippin

            Does anyone in the world say the Acadia and Pilot are better to drive than the CX-9? No. Best, looking driving three row SUV by a country mile and best fuel economy aside from the Highlander Hybrid – but yeah, clearly not class competitive with the Honda Pilot, which is about as interesting as water on a plate.

    • 0 avatar
      dougjp

      Torque completely confounded them. After years of trying they gave up dealing with it, hence no MazdaSpeed. But wait! Along comes a turbo for the 6! Should be interesting….

    • 0 avatar
      mikedt

      Considering they use the same 2.0L/2.5L engine in almost every vehicle, adding a Speed trim level to each car shouldn’t cost them that much and really supply the sporting feel they’re advertising.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Have big TV marketing campaigns ever been successful in revitalizing a brand? Every successful car brand I can think of earned their market position and desirability through good + well timed product. As well as very accommodating markets. The average car today is really good and we are spoiled for choice. What can Mazda possibly offer in today’s market that isn’t being sold & that people will actually buy?

    • 0 avatar
      Groovypippin

      Mazda’s sales were up 37% last month. I think that speaks for itself. It has the very best vehicle – the Mazda CX-5 – in a very hot category – compact SUV. Motor Trend just did a head to head with the CX-5 against the Lexus NX and chose the CX-5. Both measured identically quiet at highway speeds. Mazda is on to something. Premium design, quality and drive at an everyday price is a compelling market advantage as far as I am concerned.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        CX-5 being the best vehicle is highly debatable. A CR-V 1.5T is just as upscale, refined and quick as the CX-5, while getting significantly better gas mileage and outhandling/outbraking the CX-5 as well. Not that the CX-5 is a bad choice but it’s hardly class leading.

        • 0 avatar
          Groovypippin

          The CR-V is also a very good vehicle – it and the Mazda CX-5 are clearly the two best vehicles in the compact SUV class – but Honda design leaves a LOT to be desired. I would never pay good money for something that can, at best, be described as not completely terrible looking and aside from the Honda Accord, everything else Honda builds ranges from hideous to not entirely offensive.

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        Has every automotive site now got their own assigned Mazda marketing employee? Or do we have to share with Autoblog?

    • 0 avatar
      TW5

      RAM.

      Also, Mazdas are generally better (these days) than most of their competitors. They finally stopped building cramped tin cans. The interior feel quite upscale. I think the word is getting out.

      • 0 avatar
        willhaven

        The interior is ok if a little cramped. The infotainment (something you use everyday) is pretty mediocre and the storage design is pretty terrible. There’s too much unused space. I don’t think any of Mazda’s cars are class leading, save for the MX-5. They may be nice to drive, but that’s hardly enough of a value differential for the average consumer (not a car reviewer).

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      @sporty – Agreed.

      I think Mazda (and Mitsubishi) need to stop trying to eat from the same table as the bigger players, and focus on underserved niches.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      It did alright for The Lincoln Motor Company. Alright…alright

  • avatar
    doublechili

    Not much worse than an aging rocker driving a car backwards around a race track until he’s young again. I guess companies that have no established identity would tend to have commercials that reflect that fact. Short of bringing a rotary engine back (that would make commercials easy), Mazda should decide what they are and “sell” that.

  • avatar
    Verbal

    This is what happens when you let the marketing monkeys run amok. Someone needs to rein them in.

  • avatar
    mmreeses

    Mazda sees the writing on the wall. Fight for scraps as a forgotten mainstream brand or fight for scraps as a forgotten near-luxury/performance brand and maybe turn into something like Subaru.

    Choice B is less bad than Choice A.

    • 0 avatar
      tnk479

      Near-luxury, whatever that even means, is not happening as long as they are selling the Mazda 3 which is a cheap, little car and the Mazda 6 is a peg-leg front wheel driver. Also, the MX-5 as a halo? It needs a lot more horsepower for that.

  • avatar
    x-defector

    Full disclosure: I’m a Mazda fanboi.

    I have a ’17 CX-5. For my taste, it easily punched above the competition in every category that mattered to me. The materials, design, and chassis dynamics are way above its class. It’s a vehicle that can mostly sell itself. I also have a ’16 ND Club with the BBS package….not much needs to be said there.

    This article is painfully on point. I hate this kind of crap in advertising. It’s idiotic. When I see something like this I can’t shake the feeling that they do it because they have to, to provide cover for a mediocre product with no redeeming qualities. Mazda needs to play to their own strengths and showcase their excellent product – you know, the thing they need to sell to stay in business.

    Want to up your game, Mazda? Work on improving your dirtbag dealer and service network. You aren’t getting where you want to go without that.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    The best car commercial on tv right now is actually an ad for Snickers with Almonds. The driver gets fed up with his buddy’s bs and jumps out of the car while it’s moving, lol.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      “It’s ALL-mond, with an L.” Lol. I have to rewind and watch that one through, every time. Their ad agency (is it shared with other M&M-Mars products?) is doing a great job.

  • avatar

    insipid drivel – I sure hope they didn’t pay anyone much for this.

  • avatar
    arach

    I love Mazda.

    But I’m not 14 any more. I don’t think I’ve ever met a non-miata driver who didn’t buy a Mazda as their first car out of highschool/college. If I had to guess, I’d say 80% of Mazda drivers are under 25?

    I wanted to buy a mazda 6, but my wife insists that no one will take me seriously driving a kids car.

    Are we the only ones with that perception?!?

    This commercial doesn’t help. Was there anyone in that that was over 16?

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      send your wife to hell, get a new one

      • 0 avatar
        arach

        My wife bought me an exotic car for my birthday.

        I’ll keep her.

        Speaking of that though, she really has convinced me that Mazdas a kids car. This commercial really confirms that. Is this a “millenial” car or do adults drive it too?

        • 0 avatar
          ClutchCarGo

          FWIW, I cross shopped the CX-5 against other compact CUVs last year and I’m no kid, I’m a Boomer. I liked it but I really wanted to like it more. It lost out to the Forester since the wife liked it better and it’s her car.

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          In my book, anyone speaks against Mazda, burns in hell. I am not a kid. And I simply don’t know what I would buy if not for Mazda

    • 0 avatar
      mikedt

      Bought a miata at 50 and cx-5 at 55. So I’m skewing that demographic

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “Are we the only ones with that perception?!?”

      Yes. I don’t know of anyone else that would consider the Mazda6 (which is just a midsize sedan in the Camcord class) to be a “kid’s car”.

      I know of some people that would consider a Mazda to be a “poor person car” but I’d say Dodge, Kia, and Mitsubishi have that stigma worse.

      I’d venture that the majority of nonenthusiast people don’t even remember Mazda exists most of the time.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick_515

        Agreed – arach usually you have such good analysis, but this is completely out of the blue, and completely off. NO ONE ever saw Mazdas as kids’ cars.

  • avatar
    TW5

    The conceptual construction of the ad is pretty good. Sure, the imagery is cloying and the M83-esque emotive wailing is gratuitous and trite. However, “spread your wings” and “feel alive” are at least congruent concepts. I wonder why they didn’t choose “spread your wings” rather than feel alive, especially since they found a way to tie “spread your wings” into the Mazda logo.

    The brand managers get it. They just need to get their art and copy people headed in the right direction.

  • avatar
    Freddie

    I think a lot of the people who make TV commercials are wannabe film makers and they focus more on being artsy than selling the product.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “Mazda has always engineered to a feeling. We want to build an emotional connection with our fans by making them feel something profound,”

    so, you give us electronic parking brake and you think, we feel connection to a car. WOW

    And this campaign is disaster. Hitting completely wrong group of people. Lets say half of those were African American, young people. they simply will not afford Mazda since Mazda is not good at loans and leases. It is only good for cash purchases. you better hit some established middle class folks

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    Rotary engine in a coupe or don’t bother at all.

  • avatar
    vehic1

    After the remarkable sales boost Subaru got out of its campaign over the last few years – and Mazda’s time in the doldrums – it’s trying to strike sales gold, too. The question: Will “Feel Alive” resonate with an equivalent slice of the buying public as “Love”?

  • avatar
    joc6812

    They need to radically upgrade their dealer network if they want to go “up market.” I’ve lived all over the US. The Mazda dealer is almost always the most run down facility with the sleaziest sales people and worst maintenance ratings. This has prevented me from buying several Mazda’s when I really wanted to. Mazda’s lease offers are also really lame and non competitive.

  • avatar
    PasadenaYellow

    IMHO, in almost all cases, modern auto marketing/advertising is a major turn-off. I would be more interested in purchasing a vehicle from a brand that didn’t market or advertise at all — at least, one that didn’t do so in the highly irritating way that most seem to do these days.

    A potential salutary benefit of the automakers eliminating or significantly reducing their marketing budgets would be a decrease in their selling prices, and a corresponding increase in the affordability of their vehicles. How much cheaper could a Miata be if Mazda didn’t fork out big bucks for this Feel Alive campaign nonsense? How much cheaper could an IS350 be if Toyota didn’t have to pay to plaster the Lexus logo on a bunch of premium stadium seats? How much cheaper could a C63 be if Mercedes didn’t purchase the naming rights to two NFL stadiums (for rival NFC South teams)? How much cheaper could an M2 be if BMW didn’t have to pay the ad agency behind the X2 email I just received: “The BMW X2 isn’t concerned with the politics of the road, only its own path. This rebellious nature comes from its unconventional design—the inverted kidney grille, unexpected roundel placement, and killer 20 inch rims”?

    • 0 avatar
      turf3

      Don’t forget that the people who go into marketeering usually aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer.

      They are still using the same tired old methods that were radical and innovative in 1920. I don’t think there’s been a new idea in advertising since about then.

      As for car ads that don’t have anything to do with the product, see “Somewhere West of Laramie” ca. 1923. Like I said, no new ideas in marketeering since the 1920s.

  • avatar
    bd2

    Question is – can Mazda succeed here in the US with its upmarket push (a “premium” mainstream brand known for its driving dynamics) when VW abandoned it after decades of trying (having since switched to a approach to attract the American buyer)?

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    I miss the older commentators from back in the day on this site. I dont know who most of you are….

  • avatar
    SuperCarEnthusiast

    Mazda had a 30 minute presentation that they hype showing a teaser of a part of a Mazda 6 front grill. It was a just a long commercial on how Mazda customers are now Mazda “fanboys/fanladies”. They picture themselves as the Apple of the car business. LOL! It was pretty crazy presentation! You can still view it on YouTube!

    • 0 avatar
      turf3

      …the Apple of the car business…

      You mean they’re going to make us pay exorbitant monthly fees just to be able to turn the car on, then collect reams of our personal data and claim they are “protecting our privacy” by doing so?

      Or do you mean that they’re going to charge a premium for their product built in hellhole third world sweatshops because it looks cool?

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Feel Alive and drive something else kids, you can do better!

  • avatar
    Kevin S

    I’m a bit late to the party on this one but tonight I Googled “why is Mazda’s feel alive commercial so crappy” and this is where I ended up.

    The best car commercials I ever saw where Chevrolet’s Like a Rock campaign that ran for years. I miss those….

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