April 11, 2016

Horse 2098 - Zoom Zoom Zoom Is "Childish"

According to a Motoring interview, Mazda doesn't intend to build high-performance versions of the latest Mazda3 and Mazda6. 
Moro is already thinking about the direction for the future performance vehicles. He calls the previous Mazdaspeed3 "childish" and thinks it's time to go a different way. "Mazda brand has become more mature, more upscale, more sophisticated, and we have a new transition of the brand to relate that direction," he said.
- Chris Bruce, Autoblog, 7th Apr 2016

Mazda's North America CEO, Masahiro Moro, announced last week that Mazda would be discontinuing their Mazdaspeed label and with it their MPS label, deriding them as "childish" and that it wasn't unbefitting of a mature motor car company.
I have seen almost universal incredulousness displayed by motoring journalists, the garagistas and keyboard warriors on social media. I can understand these people throwing their hands up in the air and going berko but I honestly think that once you move outside the echo chamber of motorphiles, the general public doesn't give even a single turn of the key. It makes zero difference to them. Mazda may just have announced that they were changing their postal address for all the difference it made.

In some respects I understand Moro's line of thinking. It's more than likely that someone in the accounting department ran the numbers and came to the conclusion that the existence of the Mazdaspeed line as a point of difference was entirely pointless. I have often thought this way about the various marketing divisions of the various motor companies in America. GM ran at least six brands at one point and quite rightly both Oldsmobile and Pontiac have bitten the dust. Ford has come to its senses and finally killed off Mercury, as has Toyota which also sent Scion to the metaphorical wrecker's yard and Honda has hinted that Acura might also be soon for the chop. If Mazdaspeed was treated internally by Mazda like one of these, then its removal is rational.
It is also possible that someone at Mazda looked at the Mazdaspeed and MPS badges and decided that they were writing coolness cheques that they couldn't cash.

 Mercedes-Benz' AMG division led the revival of the Silberpfeil as a sporting identity in the early 1990's, following an official absence from motorsport of 35 years after the 1955 Le Man's disaster which killed 82 people. AMG were the division which led the company through sports car and touring car racing and they currently run the World Championship winning Formula One team.
Nissan's NISMO division has been running their Japanese touring car and sports car team for nigh on 30 years, Toyota's TRD team ran their World Rally Championship effort, then a sports car team and then played in Formula One for a while and closer to home it could be argued that HSV from Holden has been one of the headline acts of Australian touring car racing since 1988. Subaru's star has been falling lately as its famed WRX and STI badges shone in the World Rally Championship and after they pulled out, there isn't anything to back up the desired image.

This is the problem for Mazdaspeed and MPS. Quite apart from the obvious fact that they couldn't even agree on a unified identity across markets, there isn't really much of a marketing point for them.
Mazda won the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 1991 after struggling for a decade and then being a little bit lucky when it came to some rule changes. Their efforts almost immediately started to dwindle and they haven't been back since. Apart from a brief foray into touring car racing in the early 1980s and a few 12 Hour wins in production car racing in the late 1990s, Mazda haven't really done much in the way of motorsport and that's a problem. You can't really market a sporty badge if you don't compete in sport. It's a bit like going a shopping mall and seeing people who have obviously never done a day of sport in their lives, walking around in sportswear. This is probably what Moro has noticed.

There is an alternative though, the company could start making good on the coolness cheques that it's trying to cash and actually go out and compete in motorsport. The way you get to have your posters on the walls of ten year olds is by racing. And yes, that does sound childish but the thing to remember about most men in particular is that part of us never grows up at all; we only get taller.
A lot of the psychology of branding has to do with trading on the memories of the past. People remember catch phrases and jingles for a long time after the ad campaign has ended. I can't even remember the last time that I ate a bowl of Frosties but even I remember Tony the Tiger's opinion of them. I can tell you what "the real thing" is and what "things go better" with, despite both of those ad campaigns ending before I was even born. Jaguar and Alfa Romeo have a brand image which results from their efforts in the 1950s and earlier, so it's not like the marketing needs to be current to have an effect.

As the owner of a Mazda 2, I can tell you that we didn't buy the car because of brand loyalty or even because of some perceived image. Brands like BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus trade heavily on that sort of image but Mazda can't really do that. It could be taken that Moro's comments were supposed to be seen as a positioning statement but it still only really tells part of the story. The truth is that Mazdaspeed and MPS actually are irrelevant and that this is a rational action, or that they should be consolidated and or replaced with something that genuinely does show sporting intent. Basically if Mazdaspeed and MPS can't cash coolness cheques then it should stop writing them, or start banking coolness so that it can.

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