When Acura wanted to regain its edge in a crowded SUV market, it turned to the Boston advertising firm Mullen for an unusual, even daring strategy:
Target Mark Zuckerberg.
The billionaire cofounder of Facebook represents the kind of “enlightened” successful business person who might appreciate the understated elegance and high quality that the automaker says is the essence of its once-popular sport utility vehicle, the MDX.
“There’s a new generation of tech-oriented doers out there that are quietly changing the world,” said Gary Robinson, manager of Acura National Advertising and Brand.
“People that have a lot of money, but aren’t necessarily into the trappings of money. A new young affluent class that is interested in the finer things of life, not for the sake of showing off, but for having the best.”
Mullen’s new advertising campaign for Acura debuts Monday, centered around the redesigned 2014 MDX, Acura’s best-selling model. Mullen won the $200 million contract with the idea that the mid-size MDX is “Made for Mankind.”
One commercial features a series of scenes — a man scaling a tree as the limbs blow in the wind, sand running through a toddler’s fingers, and a wide-eyed astronaut staring into space — that a female narrator says are meant to show man’s inherent desire to “seek, push, improve, transcend.”
And Acura, the narrator adds, was inspired by human evolution to create the redesigned MDX, the company’s attempt at the “world’s smartest luxury SUV.”
The videos feature powerful and artful imagery from up-and-coming director Martin De Thurah, known for short films, music videos, and commercials.
“We are aiming to make everything feel like short films,” said Peter Rosch, executive director of creative for Mullen. “Cinematic, emotive, and provocatively visual.”
The campaign, which features five videos plus print and Internet ads, was developed over three and a half months. The companies would not provide figures, but said it is Acura’s largest and most expensive campaign to date.
“The thing that we really loved about Mullen in the pitch was we’ve been trying to build vehicles around this idea of the human connection with the vehicle, and it’s just a very hard thing, we’ve realized, to capture,” Robinson said. “And they did that. They were able to put the emotion into engineering.”
The luxury brand of Honda Motor Co., Acura was once known for exceptional engineering but has since lost its edge. Even sales of its best-selling model are down.
Acura sold 50,854 MDX vehicles in the United States last year, down from 58,606 in 2007.
Its share of the midrange luxury SUV market, in which it competes with the Lexus RX, Infiniti JX, Audi Q7, and BMW X5, has also dropped a few points, according to data from the car guide Edmunds.com.
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult for all automakers to create a clear brand image,” said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst at Edmunds.com. “The bar is set so all vehicles are really good. There are no bad vehicles, so what is it that sets you as a brand apart? You have to do things to catch the consumer’s eyes.”