Tag Archives for " Automotive advertising "

Automotive Ads: Another ride down that twisting, mountain road of tired clichés.

I don’t know what it is about automotive advertising. No other category is so rich in promise, yet so void of inspiring insight and unique execution. But there is something any marketer can learn from the long history of mediocre automotive advertising.
automotive advertisingFor instance, there’s a nice Alpha Romeo ad that’s running right now. But it’s nothing new… just gorgeous video of a sexy red Italian sports car doing its thing in the curves with a pretty good voice-over that nobody’s going to listen to.

That’s easy. It’s harder producing a decent spot for a mundane automotive product, like a minivan.

Chrysler single-handedly created the minivan market when the Caravan and Voyager debuted in 1984. Sales skyrocketed and imitators quickly sprang up, but only after Chrysler had firmly established itself as the segment leader.

automotive advertisingChrysler’s minivans moved the segment from niche vehicle to the pinnacle of the mainstream. Minivans have become part of the pop culture. And the marketing people at Chrysler/Dodge have a pretty good handle on what their target audience is looking for.

The advertising routinely features simple slices of family life: we see a baby sleeping peacefully in a car seat. Kids playing cards in facing rear seats. Kids watching videos. Moms & Dads reconfiguring the seats and loading up the endless volume of kid’s stuff.

That’s what minivans are all about: Lugging kids, looking for lost binkies between the seats, and running errands. That’s the reality of it. It’s not glamorous, and it’s not the least bit appealing to anyone who doesn’t have kids. But it’s totally relevant for parents who are carting three kids around everyday.

The main benefit of all minivans is practicality. Plain and simple. And Caravan advertising conveys the idea very clearly. They’re not trying to be anything other than that. Honda, on the other hand, once careened off the road with their spots for the Odyssey.

The Honda spot goes like this: There’s an attractive young couple driving along a winding, country road. In a mini van, for pete sake! The husband, who’s doing the driving, glances at his wife suggestively as she reaches up and grips the panic handle above her window. She gives him a quizzical, turned-on look. He gives the van a little more gas and grips the wheel tightly as he lugs into another corner with all the agility of a Winnebego.

She holds on even tighter and looks at him as if to say, “ohhhh yeah, bring it on big boy.” I almost expect them to pull over and jump into the back for a roadside quicky. Instead, she just holds on for the ride while the voice-over chimes in: “Just because it’s a minivan doesn’t mean you have to treat it like one.”

Oh, c’mon. There’s even a more blatant execution of that idea from Britain, where a couple are about to do it in their Honda Odyssey until they get interrupted by an elderly parent. The voice-over on that spot says “It doesn’t seem like a family car.”

First of all, sex and minivans DO NOT go together. No one gets turned on by a minivan. A corvette might help you get laid, but not a dual-sliding, seven passenger, Chrysler or Honda product. Curvy roads don’t go with minivans either. Put a minivan on a windy road and you here’s what you get: Puking children. Horrendous messes of vomit. Leave the windy roads to the Porsche commercials.

There’s no pleasure in getting from Point A to Point B in a mini van. Believe me, I’ve done it. There is some satisfaction in packing up both kids and the entire kitchen sink for a simple, cross-town play date. There’s satisfaction in changing a diaper on the side of the road without hanging your baby out on the tailgate. But not pleasure.

So Honda’s idea of promoting the minivan as something sexier than just a minivan, simply doesn’t wash. They could spend a billion dollars trying to convey that idea, and parents would still buy it for the cupholders. It’s like trying to kitten-up a milk truck.

So how did the message get so messed up, and what can we learn from Honda’s one-spot marketing blunder?

  1. As a brand, be authentic. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Minivans are not 450 horsepower Italian chick magnets. (Unless maybe Alpha Romeo decides to get into that niche)
  2. Realize that technical specs and insider information is often irrelevant to consumers. The automotive press consistently ranks The Honda Odyssey above its Chrysler competitors in performance and reliability. It’s a great vehicle. Best in class even. And the Honda executives are fully aware of this.

automotive advertising

The problem is, in the minivan category nobody gives a hoot about “chassis refinement and driving feel.” By letting insider information dictate their marketing, Honda ends up with a message that’s relevant to their own executives and to the automotive cognoscenti, but completely irrelevant to the target audience. It’s a classic case of getting in your own way. Of knowing too much.

Of course it probably wasn’t the Honda executives who came up with the idea of using sexual tension in their Odyssey spots. Maybe the ad agency creative team just couldn’t find inspiration in boring old minivan. Maybe there wasn’t any consumer insight or personal experience to go on. Maybe it was just wishful thinking. Or maybe they were just trying to steer clear of a technical, engineering message. Wise move, but they really blew it with the hot couple concept.

Somewhere, the process took a wrong turn and the end result is a waste of marketing dollars. In the scheme of things, one spot isn’t going to kill Honda. But in the meantime, Dodge is sticking to an approach that simply demonstrates relevant features. Their advertising is not going to win any awards, but at least it’s somewhat authentic. It hits the hot buttons of a specific target audience and it wins the head-to-head battle with Honda. In automotive advertising anyway.

For more on Brand Authenticity, click here.

1 Fake Thrills — Another Automotive Marketing Misfire.

Automotive advertising, as a category, is notoriously bad. And the Toyota Camry is not an exciting car. In fact, some automotive writers contend that Toyota’s building nothing but toasters these days. Despite that, the Camry has been hugely successful and has been the best-selling car in America 15 of the past 16 years. (Camry was No. 1 from 1997 to 2000, lost to the Honda Accord in 2001, and has reigned since then.)

Apparently, there’s a huge segment of the driving population that does not care about horsepower or handling or sexiness. Just reliable, utilitarian, point-A to point-B transportation for this crowd. My father drives one, and he fits the demographic perfectly… white, suburban 80-year old male who only drives a few miles a month. The last thing he’s looking for in a car is a thrill ride.

7165c3f5dc0c28a95fd2723b16f34ec0And yet here comes an ad campaign for the Camry, titled “Thrill Ride.”

I was enamored with the TV commercial at first. What a great idea… a car as a high-speed turbulent thrill ride captured in a reality-TV format. All they have to do is build a super rad roller coaster style track and then race the car up and down the hills, around the high-G turns, and into consumer’s hearts.

Then I realized it’s a Camry commercial.

Classic case of a great advertising idea executed poorly for the wrong brand. Once again, we have an automotive brand trying to be something it’s not.

The whole idea is misaligned with the Camry brand. “Thrill Ride” is not the least bit authentic, nor is it relevant to the people who might really be interested in a Camry. (They might have fond memories of ancient, wooden roller coasters, but they don’t want to ride on one.)

And what’s worse, the spot doesn’t even deliver on its ill-advised promise of being thrilling.

The so-called “thrill course” features one little hill, a banked turn, and a tunnel. There are relatively young, hip people riding shotgun as the Camry inches its way around the course. It’s a reality TV on Geritol.

I can understand why the Brand Managers at Toyota would want to appeal to a younger audience. And I can even go along with the premise of being a little bit more fun. But why do it in a way that’s utterly fake and out of context?

Why leap all the way to “thrilling?” Consumers are too smart for that. As one YouTube viewer wrote, “So you’re basically saying that the only way your Camry will be exciting is to drive it on some mock roller coaster course.”

Why couldn’t they advertise the car’s popularity and reliability and resell value, but in a fun way?

“Among the boring sedans targeting people over 50, the Camry is the MOST FUN!” That, I could buy. But there’s no way Toyota will every convince people that the Camry is thrilling. They could launch one into space and parachute it back to earth, RedBull style, and it’d still be a boring brand.

But in this case, boring is good. People eat it up! Why are they trying to be something else? There are plenty of thrilling cars already on the market that don’t sell nearly as well as the Camry.

Bloomberg News reports that in 2014 the era of Camry dominance could run out. There’s a lot of competition in the midsize sedan segment from Kia, Honda, Huyndai and the Ford Fusion. Perhaps the Camry spot was a knee-jerk reaction to the Fusion, with Toyota execs saying, “we gotta be cooler and appeal to a younger target audience like they have.”

Good luck with that.

Assuming you built a thrill course worth its salt, the spot would work brilliantly for BMW’s Mini brand. The Mini is a car that runs on rails, delivers thrills and is genuinely fun in every way. The analogy works.

With the Camry it falls on deaf ears.

At the end of the commercial one of the actors says, “like maybe I’ll look at a Camry differently.” That sounds like a line stolen right from the creative brief under the header “objective.” I seriously doubt this spot will do it.

Camry commercial

And more importantly, why would Toyota want people to look at the Camry differently??? Seems to me, looking at it as the #1 selling car in the country with outstanding resell value and a super-high reliability rating would be plenty.

So here’s some advise for brand managers and business owners… if you’re lucky enough to have the best-selling brand in your category, don’t pretend to be something else. Don’t lighten your offering in order to appeal to a seemingly broader audience. Stick to your core. Resist the temptation to leverage your brand it into some other line of work.

For example, if you’re Guinness Stout you don’t start advertising an American-style lager.

If you’re Harley Davidson you don’t start advertising a new line of lightweight motocross bikes.

If you have the best selling sedan in the country that happens to be a bit vanilla, don’t try selling yourself as a spicy hot sporty sedan. You’re wasting your breath.

 

In great advertising, God is in the details.

I’ve never heard such a hush fall over a Superbowl party. The commercial titled “So God Made Farmers” disrupted things almost as much as the Superdome power outage.

If you don’t think poetry has a place in business and marketing, think again. Just listen to these words:

“God said, I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bales, yet gentle enough to yean lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-comb pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the leg of a meadowlark. So God made a farmer…”

Farmer image for Ram Trucks Superbowl ad

“I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from an ash tree, shoe a horse with hunk of car tire, who can make a harness out hay wire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. Who, during planting time and harvest season will finish his 40-hour week by Tuesday noon and then, paining from tractor back, put in another 72 hours.” So God made the farmer.

The imagery is arresting. The pacing and rapid-fire alliteration, perfect. The details, unquestionably credible.

And that voice… The choice of using Paul Harvey’s original voice-over was a genius move. For 45 years Paul Harvey he was the Walter Cronkite of the radio… everyone knew him and every marketing guy in the country wanted him pitching their products. When his name appeared on the screen, every baby boomer stopped.

Rich Lowry, Editor of the National Review wrote, “Delivered by Harvey, who could make a pitch for laundry detergent sound like a passage from the King James Bible, it packs great rhetorical force.” Listening to it can make someone who never would want to touch cows, especially before dawn, wonder why he didn’t have the good fortune to have to milk them twice a day. In short, it is a memorably compelling performance, and without bells or whistles (of most superbowl spots.)

“The spot stuck out for thoroughly how un-Super Bowl it was. It’s a wonder that CBS didn’t refuse to air it on grounds that it wasn’t appropriate for the occasion. It was simple. It was quiet. It was thoughtful. It was eloquent. It was everything that our celebrity-soaked pop culture, which dominates Super Bowl Sunday almost as much as football does, is not.

It wasn’t just a subtle tug on our heartstrings, but a two-ton pull that produced dramatic results. It’s been viewed over 10 million times in just one week. 10 million voluntary impressions, above and beyond all the eyeballs that were glued to the TV in the 4th quarter of the game last Sunday. And according to Bluefin Labs, which specializes in analytics for social television, the Ram spot was “the most social commercial” of the game, generating 402,000 comments in social media.

If you think the Superbowl is only for outlandishly juvenile spots full of big boobs and talking animals, there’s still hope. AdWeek magazine said it was the #1 spot of the year, with the Budweiser baby Clydesdale coming in at number 2. (Another heartwarming story)

But it was not a new idea. Truck companies have been using this sort of borrowed interest for years, leveraging the themes of hard work, craftsmanship, and salt-of-the-earth American values. But the details in the execution, this time, were far superior.

Paul Harvey actually wrote that riveting monologue back in 1978 for the national FFA convention. The words themselves pack such force, the pictures almost seem like an afterthought.

Kudos to The Richard’s Group for producing it. And to the folks at Ram who approved it. There are a million ways they could have screwed it up.

First, many marketing execs would never approve the use of the word “God” in a commercial, for fear of offending the 70% the population who don’t go to church regularly.

Many companies, in an effort to save money and maximize their media buy, would cut corners when it comes to photography.

Not this time. They didn’t opt for cheap stock images. Instead, the agency commissioned 10 photographers, including William Albert Allard of National Geographic and documentary photographer Kurt Markus, to create the images that form the commercial’s backdrop. Gorgeous.

The only problem is, the connection to the Ram Brand was a bit of a stretch for me. (But then, I’m not a truck driver, nor a farmer.)

Ram is a brand that’s attempting to reinvent itself. No more “Dodge Ram.” Now it’s just Ram, and they’re looking for things — themes and concepts — to affiliate themselves with.

Might as well be God, and country, and hard-working farmers. With great execution, during the biggest game of the year, it’s hard to go wrong with that.

How to do a great branding ad — Subaru scores with skier-focused print.

Winter Storm Slams Into Washington.
Travel Advisory For The Entire Mid Atlantic.
Historic Storm Hits Atlantic Coast.
Subaru of America loves headlines like that. Every time a big storm brings traffic to a standstill, the Subaru brand shines.

Subaru brand performs on snowy roads and in ads

The Subaru brand performs on snowy roads and in ads.

You seldom see an all-wheel-drive Outback wagon or a Forrester stuck in a snowbank. And you won’t see the company taking government bailout money.

While the big three automakers were buried in losses, Subaru was cruising right along.
Overall, U.S. sales were up 15% in 2009. In July, they posted a record sales month, up 34 percent from the previous year. In 2008, despite the lowest incentives in the industry, Subaru gained market share.

Not bad for a niche brand with a limited vehicle line up and a miniscule media presence. Subaru’s entire advertising budget is less than what some automakers spend on a single vehicle.

Which brings me back to those dreaded winter storm warnings and an ad I recently spotted in Ski Magazine:

“Snowstorm Advisory. More of a calling than a warning.” Subaru.
No photo of the car. Just a dramatic, black and white photo of a lonely road in a blizzard. It’s taken in the first-person perspective, as if I’m sitting in the front seat.
That ad doesn’t just speak to me. It sings.

Hats off to the creative team at Carmichael Lynch. And a round of applause for the client at Subaru who actually stood up against the industry convention and agreed to leave the car out altogether.

It takes guts to run a full page ad in a national magazine without showing the product. And I’m sure the dealers gripe about it, and say “it’s just a branding ad.”

But it works. It speaks volumes about the brand, and it touches a highly relevant emotional chord with anyone who has ever driven through a blizzard to be first on the chairlift.

Besides, with a limited budget there are plenty of practical reasons to leave out the product shot:

1. There’s no debate over which model to feature.
2. You don’t risk alienating anyone… Just let them imagine whatever Subaru model they like. For a younger, California skier it could be a WRX. For a Birkenstock-wearing telemark skier, it’s a Forrester.

By NOT showing the model, they actually sell every Subaru in the line up.
Damn right it’s a branding ad! You should be so lucky.

The Subaru ad reflects a genuine, empathetic understanding of the core audience.

Kevin Mayer, Subaru’s Director of Marketing, says his brand is as much about customers as it is about products.

Subaru caters to outdoorsy people of comfortable means who opt for function over fashion every time. It’s a well-targeted niche market of skiers, hikers and kayakers who need all-wheel-drive for navigating unpredictable roads. (Not surprisingly, most Subarus are sold in the Northwest and the Northeast, where there’s a lot of skiing, kayaking and hiking.)

But more importantly, “Subaru owners are experience seekers – they want to live bigger, more engaged lives,” Mayer, said. “To them, the car is the enabler of that bigger life. A conscious alternative to the mainstream.”

It’s obvious that the ski magazine ad came directly from that sort of crystal-clear consumer insight and brand strategy.

“We went back to the customer and started thinking again about their values and how our values are alike. We dialed in our strategies back to core,” Mayer said in a 2008 MediaPost.com article.

To me, the message is loud and clear… crummy, snowy roads can’t stop me from doing what I love.

In this ad, it’s benefits over features, all the way to the bank.

Karl Greenberg, editor of Mediapost said, “Subaru has the kind of brand equity and staunch loyalty you usually find in luxury marques, which means they can keep their message on product and brand, not on deals or features.”

Rather than running a headline that touts the features of a Subaru (ie the “symmetrical all-wheel-drive system) the ski magazine ad conveys the benefits of that system:
It sells the idea of all wheel drive.

While everyone else is stuck at home, Subaru owners are out enjoying life. Having fun. Missing nothing. It’s a message of empowerment wrapped in a warm, wintery blanket.
That’s what long term brand advertising is all about… connecting with specific groups of people in a relevant, emotional manner, time after time, after time. Until people start feeing like part of club.

Clearly the top executives at Subaru get it. They know their market. They’re clear on company values. And they’ve designed products that align perfectly with the brand, the message and the medium.

You couldn’t place that Subaru ad in The New Yorker or Parade Magazine, even during a snow storm. It would be out of context and off target. And when you see it in context of ski magazine, it doesn’t come across as hype. It’s as authentic as they come.

But no brand is perfect, and Subaru has had its share of flops. For instance, they ran full page ads featuring the Motor Trend Car Of The Year trophy.

Unfortunately, Subaru drivers don’t care about automotive awards. In fact, they buy Forresters almost because of the derogatory comments from industry insiders.

Subaru Forester brand for outdoor enthusiasts

The usual, stock photo of A 1998 Forrester

Subaru once tried to build a sports car. The SVX was a classic branding faux paus… In the mind of the consumer, Subaru means only one thing: Functionality. No amount of advertising could change that. So it wasn’t a sports car, and it didn’t look like a Subaru. What the hell was it?

It didn’t’ stand a chance.

Subaru CEO Ikuo Mori recently admitted that the “up market migration” with the B9 Tribeca hasn’t worked.

Too big and too flashy for that family of cars. Jim Treece from Automotive news said, “There is nothing especially wrong with the B9 Tribeca, except that it has utterly nothing to do with Subaru’s brand.”

Despite its occasional slip-ups, Subaru enjoys tremendously high brand loyalty. Rally enthusiasts swear by them and people sell their neighbors on Subaru based on their own brand stories.

And the common theme: The cars are relentlessly practical. Especially in a snow storm.

One of the worst words in marketing: “Huh?”

I am not a stupid person. I can connect the dots pretty well when it comes to concepts, ideas and images used in commercials or print ads. In fact, I bet I’m a lot better at it than the typical Superbowl fan.

And yet, as I watch commercials or read print ads, I often find myself scratching my head saying “HUH?” What was the meaning of that?

What were they really trying to say?

What are they thinking?

That doesn’t make sense. Why should I care?

Here’s a good example from Sunday’s superbowl telecast… The Godfather spot for the new Audi R8. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_sshN-URJY]

Normally I wouldn’t waste my breath critiquing the commercials that debut during the game, but this one really got me because it’s a brand I adore. I’ve owned three different Audis now, and I love ‘em. Especially this time of year when the roads are slushy by day and icy by night. audiusa.com

But I digress. We’re talking about advertising that makes you go huh, not sports cars that make you go wow.

Some credit to Venables Bell & Partners of San Francisco for breaking away from the usual automotive cliches. The spot in question is a take-off on the most famous scene from The Godfather, circa 1975. The slow-paced set-up gets your attention right away. And I’ve heard that Godfather fans recognize it immediately… dramatic music with an exterior shot of a gigantic Italian mansion.

Cut to a creepy old guy asleep in bed. He wakes up, pulls the sheets back and reveals, horror of all horrors, the front end of an unrecognizable car. His screaming is really, quite disturbing. Then, finally, they cut to a shot of the R8 zooming out of the driveway.

The tag says, “old luxury just got put on notice.”

HUH?????

I had to watch this spot three more times before I could identify the front end of the car as a Rolls. And the old man is covered in oil instead of blood. Talk about over the top.

In the advertising business that technique is called borrowed interest. Usually it’s reserved for me-too products in categories with low involvement and little inherent interest. Like non-aspirin pain relievers or feminine hygiene products. You have “borrow” interest from something that people will relate to.

But that’s definitely not the case here. Have you seen the R8??? It’s the coolest, meanest looking new car in years. Who needs to borrow an old movie scene to advertise such a great product? Couldn’t the creative team find any inspiration in the R8 itself?

And why, may I ask, is Audi positioning the R8 against an old Rolls Royce? The R8’s a sports car more comparable to a Lamborgini than a Rolls. Not exactly apples-to-apples.

I doubt I’m the only person who’s confused by Audi’s approach. And that’s my point… why sacrifice clarity for an elaborate spin-off that leaves people feeling completely clueless? Nobody’s going to spend time figuring out the message like I did.

Besides, if I worked for Audi I’d want people talking about the car, not the commercial.

It seems like the R8 spot was conceived with no clearly defined message in mind. Like they said, “hey, let’s spend four million dollars and introduce the R8 at the Superbowl this year. Wouldn’t that be cool.”

Nobody took the time to figure out the strategic intent of the spot before the creative team sat down. In other words, Audi didn’t know what they wanted to say besides “introducing the new R8.”

Was it really their intent to scare Rolls Royce and Mercedes? I can’t imagine. Maybe someone thought the car was a little over the top, so they did a commercial to match. Who knows?

Chances are, you don’t have 5 million dollars earmarked for one, single commercial. But if you did, wouldn’t you want to avoid confusing people? Wouldn’t you want the best ROI you could possibly get? If so, then make sure your marketing messages have these three things covered: Relevance. Credibility. Differentiation.

There are thousands of ways you could tell your brand’s story, but the trick is to make your message relevant to the specific group of people you’re targeting at that particular time and place. Is the Godfather really relevant to football fans who’d seriously consider an Audi R8? Will that movie reference resonate more than the car itself?

That’s the trouble with borrowed interest. Super low relevance.

The second thing is credibility. Consumers these days are highly skeptical of any commercial pitch, and a claim that leaves them scratching their head will never pass the credibility test. Confusion’s never credible.

Finally, good old-fashioned differentiation. I have to admit, the four-second shot of the R8 at the end of the Godfather spot is enough to differentiate it from any other car on the road. All the rest of it’s just Superbowl egomarketing nonsense.

Before you place your next ad, be sure to do the “Huh” test. Listen carefully to the feedback and if a lot of people come away saying “Huh, I didn’t get it,” then you need to rethink the ad. There are plenty of great, creative ideas that won’t leave people utterly confused.

But do your ad agency a favor and get that feedback early in the process. Before you film anything and blow the production budget. And trust your instincts… if it feels confusing to you, it’s almost guaranteed to be confusing to people who aren’t as familiar with your product or service.

And while you’re at it, also do the “Duh” test. You don’t want that reaction either. It’s never a good idea to make your target audience feel like idiots.