Mazda turns heads

An interactive, face-tracking billboard aims to reflect the craft that goes into the automaker's design.

Mazda is using some new tech as part of a continued effort to elevate its brand in a new campaign for its MX-5 RF.

Located in a retail concourse  in Toronto, a digital billboard plays a 15-second video loop of the MX-5 driving and displayed in a studio. Using a camera and facial recognition software, the board is able to recognize when a passer-by turns their head to look at it, tracked by an odometer-like counter on the top of the screen.

J. Walter Thompson Canada led the effort, working with Excelerator Media and Fourth Wall, the interactive arm of Pattison Onestop.

“This car is a real head-turner and has a lot of curb appeal,” says Ari Elkouby, VP and creative director at J. Walter Thompson Canada. “Like the car, this board really stands out from a lot of the other static ads nearby. It’s always great when advertising can reflect the product. This board is also intended to communicate the fact that, if Mazda is able to produce ads that push the boundaries with tech, I can only imagine what their cars and the engineers behind them are capable of.”

The campaign was launched Monday ahead of next week’s Canadian Auto Show, where the brand will be debuting the MX-5 RF. The interactive ad will only appear in Toronto, but is part of a larger four-week out-of-home campaign in market during the same period.

Vincent Reboul, marketing director at Mazda Canada, says the message behind the board helps emphasize the craft behind the MX-5 RF’s design, something the automaker has been making a bigger part of its brand positioning since 2013.

Reboul says Mazda wanted an “elevated” ad that emphasized those new, more “sophisticated” design cues and the impact they have. “We don’t want to position ourselves as a premium brand, exactly,” he says. “It’s more of an alternative to premium. We started to really elevate the way we finish the product, on the inside and outside. We really show the craftsmanship on the way we do things like finish the leather stitching or craft the aluminum pieces, and that also means elevating our messaging.”

While that push from the product side is happening globally, Reboul says its a message it is trying to “maximize” for the Canadian market.

“Consumers here know Mazda for vehicles that are stylish and fun-to-drive vehicles, but they tend to also have a lower perception of quality,” he says. “Those first two things are still true, but we also are also very quality-oriented. We want to have some communications that appeals to both the emotional and the rational side. A way to reassure them that Mazda is the right choice for them is not just focusing on the fun of the car, but how our design helps us build well-crafted vehicles.”

The interactive board was placed in the Royal Bank Plaza on Toronto’s Bay Street - a location that sees high traffic from the slightly higher income Bay Street crowd. Reboul says the typical target for the MX-5 is an “empty nester” looking for a fun, roadster-style car to drive on weekends. But since the RF’s hard top offers more security and comfort, he says that opens up the market to those looking for an everyday vehicle, like younger professionals.