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Mazda PH boss shares thoughts on ’90s MPV-plus-Miata promo

Does he think it was good or bad for the brand’s reputation?

The first-generation Miata, believe it or not, was once used as bait to sell the MPV. PHOTO BY HERBY CONSUNJI

It’s a buyer’s market out there right now in the automotive industry. Which means the supply is far greater than the demand. This is due to car buyers generally putting off their vehicle purchase as the ongoing health crisis brings with it a lot of economic uncertainties. As a direct result, both distributors and dealers have had to resort to extremely aggressive marketing gimmicks in order to attract the attention of customers. And if you’ve been paying attention to these sales promos in recent weeks, you may have noticed at least a couple of “buy one, take one” offers.

Now, a buy-one-take-one deal in the world of cars may sound too good to be true, but the concept isn’t exactly new. Back in the 1990s, the Philippine distributor of Mazda at the time—Columbian Autocar Corporation—surprised the market with this promo: “Buy one MPV, get one Miata for free.” Note that “MPV” was the actual model name.

Young people today have a hard time believing this really happened. But it did. Trust me: I was there. I guess it’s because the Miata (aka MX-5) is now so popular and iconic—all four generations of the Japanese sports car, in fact—that it boggles the mind knowing it was once offered as a mere come-on for a multipurpose vehicle nobody remembers now.

Looking back, one has to wonder: Was the outrageous promo good or bad for the brand? Sure, it likely helped the previous distributor’s bottom line, but what about its effect on the automaker’s (and the Miata’s) reputation? Who better to ask than the current Mazda Philippines president?

Mazda Philippines president Steven Tan is glad the Miata has reached iconic status. PHOTO BY HERBY CONSUNJI

“Buy-one-take-one is a poor marketing gimmick,” Steven Tan told me. “It downgrades the brand to that of a pizza promo.”

The Malaysian expatriate explained:

“Being the new Mazda distributor, many people often tell me that their memory of the Miata is of the buy-MPV-take-Miata promo. Strangely, there is not a single Miata owner I know today—or anyone I know, for that matter—who actually bought the package, yet everyone knows of it. Is that a good thing? Some may argue that any brand recollection is better than none. I would argue that had the Miata not built itself into a cultish position, the giveaway promo would have killed it, to be regarded as not much worthier than junk. In the circle of sports car enthusiasts today, a mint first-generation Miata is gold. Secondary market for the NA and the other Miata generations is robust, active and growing. It took the Miata two decades to recover, or the equivalent of four lifetimes in car years. Offering a buy-one-take-one is akin to throwing in all your chips in an all-in move at the poker table—but at stake is your brand equity.”

So there…straight from the Mazda boss himself. A buy-one-car-take-another-vehicle sales promo might be great for the buyer, but not necessarily for the automaker involved. Because let’s face it, the first thought that comes to mind whenever we hear of such an offer is this: “Does nobody really want that free car that’s why they’re just giving it away?” In the overall scheme of things, the sale may not be worth the long-term damage to the car’s (and the brand’s) reputation.

What do you think?

Vernon B. Sarne

Vernon is the founder and editor-in-chief of VISOR. He has been an automotive journalist since July 1995. He became one by serendipity, walking into the office of a small publishing company and applying for a position he had no idea was for a local car magazine. God has watched over him throughout his humble journey. He writes the ‘Spoiler’ column.