NEW YORK (AP) _ Mazda had a tough year in 1997. Its longtime advertising agency quit unexpectedly. Its sales fell 6.6 percent in the United States even as sales from all Asian-based carmakers rose.

But the Japanese car company is hoping to keep its early 1998 sales rebound rolling with advertising bearing a new theme from its new ad agency.

``Get in. Be moved'' is the ad theme in the campaign developed by the agency W.B. Doner of Southfield, Mich. It takes aim at making an emotional connection with people who love the experience of driving a car.

``We are not the brand for everybody,'' Richard Beattie, president and chief executive of Mazda North American Operations, told reporters Monday at a briefing where the campaign theme was unveiled.

In thinly veiled references to ad themes embraced by its rivals Honda, Toyota and Nissan, Beattie said Mazda wasn't trying to simplify lives, sell cars for ``everyday people'' or make vehicles popular with dogs.

``We appeal to people who love to drive ... drivers who take the long way home,'' he said.

Volkswagen of America has been going after a similar audience with its ``Drivers Wanted'' campaign.

Beattie declined to say how much Mazda planned to spend on advertising in 1998 but said it would be about the same as the $200 million to $225 million that Mazda reportedly spent last year.

The campaign gets off to a somewhat jarring start this week with a 15-second ad designed to introduce the new theme and build anticipation for a longer commercial starting March 12 for the redesigned Miata convertible.

Be forewarned there is nothing wrong with your television screen. Mazda left the static in on purpose for the so-called teaser ads that give a glimpse of the new Miata as it speeds across a desert. Bursts of static blur the vision, however, while a pounding soundtrack demands attention.

The longer commercial which will run frequently through the end of March shows huge satellite towers tracking a Miata as it kicks up dust on a dash through the desert. The car appears to be coming toward the camera until it swerves and swings a door open.

The theme _ if not the same frenetic approach _ will be used later this year when Mazda introduces a new four-door version of its pickup truck and a new version of its Protege compact sedan. A minivan is expected next year and a sport utility vehicle sometime after that.

In 1997, Mazda sales fell 6.6 percent to 221,840 even as Toyota posted a 6.4 percent sales gain and Honda was up 11.8 percent. Overall, U.S. sales from Japanese-based automakers were up 4.8 percent last year.

Mazda executives say a major reason for the decline was its decision to sell fewer cars to car rental companies. Such sales are generally less profitable than individual car sales.

Beattie said sales are up strongly in 1998 with a 6.8 percent rise in January and a similarly healthy rise expected when final results are tallied for February.

Also last year, the car company lost the only advertising agency it had worked with since starting to sell cars in the United States 27 years ago. The agency, Foote Cone & Belding, resigned the account after its parent, True North Communications, struck a deal to buy an ad agency that creates ads for Chrysler Corp. It was feared Chrysler would leave if its advertising agency had even indirect ties to a second agency that worked for Mazda, which is 34 percent owned by Chrysler rival Ford Motor Co.

Mazda selected W.B. Doner in November. Doner has previously created regional advertising for Ford and its dealers.

The Miata two-seat roadster was introduced in 1989. The new model now on sale has been redesigned with a more powerful engine, restyled interior and more trunk space. The popup headlights have been replaced by oval lights molded into the front of the car.

The Miata starts at $18,770 and costs $24,000 with all the popular extras, less expensive than European imports.