Deutsch drives Mitsubishi north

US agency rides across the border, fueled by a US$25 million assignment to launch the automaker's vehicles in Canada.

The National Post, October 21, 2002   

One of the most talked about and profitable advertising agencies in the business has opened its first Canadian offices, powered by a US$25 million assignment from automaker Mitsubishi Motors Corp.


Deutsch Inc., whose advertising for the vehicles in the United States helped increase sales by 69.2 percent from 1998 through 2001, is adapting the campaign for Canada, mainly by adding footage shot in Canadian locations (such as Bloor Street in Toronto) to the existing Mitsubishi spots. The commercials, originally handled by Deutsch’s Los Angeles office, show people in their 20s driving through urban nightscapes, their Mitsubishi vehicles as desirable a place to be as the nightclubs they seem to be heading for.


“This all started when Mitsubishi decided to come into Canada,” explained Rob Morand, senior vice-president and general manager of Deutsch’s Toronto office — its first outside the United States. “That was really the motivation behind Deutsch launching the office here. The job was to start from scratch to start up an office to service the national side of Mitsubishi and the dealer business. I’ve got some people working the Quebec market to handle the French side of things and then people in Toronto handling both the national side and all of the dealer business across the country.”


The Toronto office opened in April, but with no employees, its slow growth built in a kind of “stealth launch,” timed to break wide with the Mitsubishi Canada campaign. The office opened officially last week with nine employees.


Mitsubishi intended to enter the Canadian market five years ago, after almost 20 years in the United States, but that stalled. “We did not have a small-car strategy for Canada,” Randy Sears, president & CEO of Mitsubishi Motor Sales of Canada Inc., said. “You can’t come to Canada without a solid entry in that segment. We have that now with the Lancer. Also, in ‘97, the U.S. operation was not performing where it is today. But now, after three successive years of volume, growth and brand awareness, the time is right.”


Mitsubishi Motors began selling cars in Canada on Sept. 3, six months ahead of its targeted launch date of February 2003. This month, the dealer network expands to more than 40 coast to coast. While Deutsch was given the Canadian assignment, that decision wasn’t simple or immediate. Mitsubishi searched for months, meeting with several Canadian agencies, to see whether a domestic shop might offer a better fit.


“It was a five- or six-month process,” Mr. Sears said of the Canadian search. “We went through a very detailed process supported and assisted by an outside company.” But nobody showed Mitsubishi anything it liked better than Deutsch’s efforts.


“They’ve been with us for a long time and they understand our product and how we’ve carved out this strong brand image in the US,” Mr. Sears said. The company’s U.S. advertising provided a foundation for the Canadian launch. Mr. Sears said advertising “spill” — American commercials seen by Canadians — pushed brand awareness of Mitsubishi in Canada to 30% before the company’s decision to enter the market. “Our goal over the next couple of years is to double that.”


That will be Mr. Morand’s job. “Not many really big brands are being launched these days,” he said. “Mitsubishi is a neat creative opportunity to position ourselves here in Canada.”


But the Toronto Deutsch beachhead is not just a branch plant or service office set up to run the Mitsubishi account, Mr. Morand said. Deutsch will be going after clients just as aggressively as long-established firms. “We’ve already picked up our second piece of business, Burger King Canada. The objective is to build this office into an independent and free-standing operation.”


The Canadian move was modeled, Mr. Morand said, on Deutsch’s 1995 expansion from its New York headquarters into Los Angeles. His work at the helm of the Canadian operation is the culmination of a career that’s included JWT, Chiat\Day and Gee Jeffrey & Partners.


“We wanted to turn the brand into a club, present it to people as a way of thinking, driving, living, and being,” said Eric Hirshberg, managing partner and executive creative director at Deutsch LA, explaining the thinking behind the original Mitsubishi advertising. “Then we present the question, ‘Are you in?’ Do you want to be a part of it?”


The campaign’s other notable aspect was its musical accompaniment: obscure but catchy rock tunes seen as good driving songs, selected after agency staff tested suggested music behind the wheel and agreed on which ones would work best in the commercials.


Their choices connected. There was so much demand among consumers for information about the music that the carmaker produced a limited-edition CD compilation, The Mitsubishi Mix. Dealers offered it as an incentive to prospective buyers who came in for test drives. While the Deutsch brand is well known among advertising people, clients may not be as aware of its reputation for memorable, effective creative. “There are two sides to that,” Mr. Morand said. “People in the industry know it. Clients don’t know a lot about us. So that’s the opportunity for me: getting to build the Deutsch brand here in Canada.”