Mazda Drives Young Professionals to Web Site

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Mazda Corp.'s North American Operations unit, Irvine, CA, is steering young drivers to its Web site to gather names and find buyers for its new 1999 Protegé.

"We've launched a couple of cars over the last couple of years and we've always done an online element, but not to this extent," said Debbie Hjelmstrom, Mazda's manager of integrated marketing.

The Protegé, which carries a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $11,970 to $14,925, is a sleeker, sportier replacement of the Mazda 323 that the company is pitching to 24- to 29-year-old professionals.

This month, the Japanese auto giant's U.S. unit began directing traffic to the Protegé Road Trip, an event that preceded the car's formal launch party. Mazda bought banner ads on Yahoo, as well as on lifestyle and auto sites run by MTV, Rolling Stone, Elle and the automobile pricing guide Kelley Bluebook, among others. On the Road Trip, users designed their own "road buddy," a virtual companion to join them on their journey, before gathering parts of the Protegé, which was never fully visually revealed on the site. Users entered their names, addresses and e-mail addresses, said Hjelmstrom, who added that Mazda assembled a quantity of names in "at least the five-digit range."

As part of the same push, the company placed 200,000 GoCards -- free, ad-bearing postcards in restaurants, bars, cafes and health clubs -- in its six largest markets: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Miami and Washington. The back of the cards featured a toll-free number and Mazda's Internet address,

Mazda began its broader ad campaign, including television spots, on Oct. 15. The company is accumulating more names through an essay-writing contest, the Out-of-the-Box People, which gathers names, addresses and e-mails of "creative individuals who find unique solutions to life's daily challenges." Users are asked to nominate and provide information on people they know who fit the category, as well as give information about themselves. The contest itself is a 150-word essay-writing competition that asks nominees to describe their "most compelling OOTB accomplishment." The winner will receive a 1999 Protegé, while four others will get one-year leases on the car.

The site directs users to dealers in their area, or people perusing the page can request brochures on the Protegé or other Mazda vehicles. The company plans to make merchandise offers worth about $500 to Protegé buyers as a way to get people to take test drives, but Hjelmstrom said plans aren't yet final. Only users who specifically request more information will be told about the offer.

"Our job is to drive quality traffic to our dealerships, so we are very cautious about telling people up front that they're going to be getting a special offer," she said.

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