Acura’s New MDX: Hotter Than BMW?

It’s not every day that an automaker gets saddled with the reputation of being a “lost brand.” It’s rarer, however, when it happens to a brand once known for being at the forefront of luxury and technology. Acura, American Honda’s premier luxury brand, is currently fighting to maintain its status in one of the world’s most fiercely competitive automotive markets after years of relatively lackluster sales and an equally lackluster image. Can the nameplate that brought American buyers the sensational Legend and Integra overcome both by switching up its advertising mojo or will its latest efforts to promote its star-crossed lineup prove futile?

Troubled Times

It’s been almost three decades since the Acura brand introduced avid auto enthusiasts and luxury car buyers to the stunning and then-innovative flagship Legend and the sporty yet sophisticated Integra. However, Acura’s decision to drop the Legend and Vigor nameplates in favor of alphanumeric nomenclature during the mid-1990s robbed it of much exposure and goodwill among some customers. The disappearance of the Integra-successor RSX and the “chrome beak” design controversy hasn’t endeared the brand among others.

Acura 2014 MDX interior
Acura 2014 MDX interior

The premium luxury nameplate has since built up a compelling lineup of powerful and comfortable luxury sedans and SUVs, but these products haven’t exactly set the sales charts on fire. In 2011, Acura’s U.S. sales were off by 7.7 percent in a new car market that saw a 10.3 percent increase, according to a recent USA Today report. Some offerings, like the recently introduced ILX premium compact sedan and the five-door hatchback ZDX, proved a mixed bag in terms of new sales. Others, like the successful MDX and RDX, have fared much better.

Regaining the Edge

After years of maintaining a relatively low-key ad presence, American Honda’s now pulling out all the stops with a new national advertising campaign for the MDX. It’s the largest-ever campaign for a single Acura model and it’s one that’s being closely watched by the major players in the advertising industry. Dubbed “The Extremely New MDX – Made for Mankind,” the new campaign puts a spotlight on the all new 2014 MDX and the numerous design and engineering changes it’s undergone. It also focuses on a host of new and innovative technologies for the MDX, many of which will make their way into other Acura vehicles.

Boston-based Mullen and New York firm MediaVest are heading up the new campaign. Potential shoppers can expect to see the new campaign not just on TV, but also throughout social and mobile media outlets. According to a recent press release, American Honda hopes to “highlight the unique engineering and design philosophy at the heart of all Acura vehicles—the synergy between man and machine.”

Will it Work?

The Acura MDX remains one of the brighter spots in the Japanese luxury nameplate’s line-up. According to Car and Driver, the MDX accounted for a third of Acura’s total sales in 2012. Riding the wave of demand for premium luxury SUVs have helped the brand’s fortunes, but it still faces an image problem in the face of luxury icons like BMW and Audi. Often times, customers find themselves cross-shopping Acura’s goods with downmarket Honda and Toyota—not a good sign for a premium luxury marque.

To compete with high-powered German marques and stave off competition from reemerging brands like Cadillac and other downmarket brands with premium product, Acura has to set its sights upwards. The new campaign highlights all of the MDX’s strong points, but it also has to convince Acura customers that the brand is truly a cut above the less-expensive competition. Stronger sales numbers make it easier to find Acura parts online, but it won’t do much to lift the brand’s prestige unless it distinguishes itself as a bonafide upmarket name worth buying.

Robert Carlson