Archive for the ‘automobiles’ category

Suburu Spot Superb

May 26th, 2012

Great  marketing is essentially great storytelling, and that’s certainly the case with this  commercial from Suburu.  This spot was extremely well-written, well-cast and well-produced.

First it grabs you with the visual of a 4-year-old girl who’s apparently about to take the car for a spin.  It holds you with great acting–especially by the 4-year-old–and finally makes you smile when you see that little girl suddenly transformed into a 16-year-old who has just received her license.

This spot oozes empathy.  What parent can’t relate to the father stressing about having  his teenager make her first solo drive?  And what human being can resist the charms of the incredibly cute 4-year-old, or the subtly confident smile of the attractive young woman she’s become?

Normally I’m not big on commercials that don’t mention the brand name until the end, but I’ll make an exception here.  My rationale: the spot is ultimately about safety, and since Suburu has successfully positioned itself as a safety-oriented brand over the years, I suspect that most viewers recognize this as a Suburu commercial.  In addition, because the spot does such a great job of holding your attention throughout, it’s hard to miss the Suburu brand at the commercial’s end.

I can personally attest that there’s no feeling quite so special as being the father of a daughter.  And there are few things that capture that feeling as powerfully as this superb thirty-second piece of storytelling from Suburu.

VW Beetle Ad Rates a High 5–and a 14th Floor!

May 23rd, 2012

Who wouldn’t want to drive a car that other motorists love?  And has there ever been a car loved–or beloved–by more people than the VW Beetle?

And that’s what makes this commercial for the 2012 VW Beetle so brilliant. Arguably no other “retired” car brand in history could be welcomed back as warmly as the iconic “Bug”, and this commercial captures that fact in an attention-grabbing, highly infectious way. The visuals are very clever, and the music makes you want to not only listen but watch.  And, best of all, you see the product–a very stylish one at that–repeatedly throughout the spot.  (Unfortunately, I could only find a 15-second spot online; the 30-second spot currently on the air does an even better job of showcasing the product and making the viewer smile.)

No other car could possibly have run this commercial, and that’s high praise indeed.

This ad merits not only a “14th Floor” rating, but my favorite German adjective:  Ausgezeichnet!

P.S. And how perfect is it that this ad campaign was developed by a U.S. agency named “Deutsch”?

Kia and Michelle Wie Both Have Soul

December 13th, 2011

One of the keys to success in professional golf is having a caddy you can trust to recommend the right club.  I think Kia‘s ad agency could not have recommended a better celebrity than 22-year-old golfer Michelle Wie for this TV commercial for its new Soul sub-contact car.

This ad does a wonderful job of targeting the Soul at young people contemplating their first new car purchase.  If you want a car that would never be driven by your parents–not to mention the stuffy country club set–this is it.  And a big part of the credit for that perception goes to the infectious song (“Pro Nails” by Kid Sister) that plays throughout the spot.

On a more subtle note, one other thing that makes this commercial work so well is the fact that both Kia and Michelle Wie are of Korean descent.  (She was born in Hawaii to South Korean immigrants.)  Kia, like its sister Korean company Hyundai, has made great strides in building its brand equity over the past few years through high quality ratings and appealing product design. Aligning the Soul brand with a popular, attractive young Korean-American will surely make “Korean”–and Kia–even cooler.

But then again, what would you expect from a company based in Seoul?

Audi Says “Haudi!” to Excellent Customer Service

June 1st, 2010

Your brand is much more a function of what you do than what you say about yourself.  And there’s no more powerful way to affect your brand–either positively or negatively–than through your customer service.

I’ve been driving my Audi A4 Cabriolet–very happily–for seven years.  When I bought the car, the dealer–The Audi Exchange in Highland Park, IL–asked if I wanted my license plates on the front and back or just the back.  I hadn’t realized that the latter option even existed, but they pointed out that front plates weren’t required in Illinois.  As someone who generally prefers a very clean look, I took the “back only” option.

Unfortunately, at some point over the past several years, the city of Chicago–where I often go for both business and recreational reasons–started ticketing vehicles without front plates.  But when I recently asked the Audi Exchange to install my front plates, I was initially told that the installation bracket that would be required would cost about $280.  When I explained my situation to the service manager and pointed out that I wouldn’t have been charged for the bracket had I had the front plates installed when I bought the car, he smiled and said, “That’s a fair point.  Okay, the brackets are on us.”

That was it. No haggling.  No complaining that I’d bought the car seven years ago.  No running to the general manager for approval.  He simply did the right thing and treated a customer fairly.  In a perfect world, that wouldn’t be newsworthy, but in an age when so many companies fail to empower their employees to make decisions that will make customers feel truly valued, this experience was a very refreshing.

The result is that I’m more loyal than ever to Audi in general and The Audi Exchange in particular.  In fact, I’m so loyal I might even write a blog post about it!

GM’s Mr. Ed Has No Cred

April 30th, 2010

I think it’s fair to say that for decades General Motors has been fairly widely perceived as an ineptly-managed, money-losing manufacturer of unattractive, poorly-performing vehicles.  Moreover, most of its executives–from Roger Smith (memorialized in “Roger and Me”) through Rick Wagoner (memorialized not only for taking a private jet to the 2008 congressional hearings but for being so bad at his job that the President of the United States effectively fired him)–have come across as being woefully out-of-touch with the desires and morals of the American consumer.  If any company is in dire need of an image makeover, it’s GM.

The good news is that–thanks largely to the legendary and recently-retired Bob Lutz–the designs and quality of their vehicles are greatly improved.  The bad news is that sales haven’t responded as positively as had been hoped.  And I think one big reason is that the company is doing a lousy job of telling its story to the public.

What’s worse, their latest TV commercial is a serious step backward.  The first problem is that the star of the commercial isn’t their new technology or stylish new designs, but Chairman Ed Whitacre.  While the jury is still out on the job he’s doing leading GM out of bankruptcy, the jury is in on the charge that he reinforces every possible negative stereotype about GM.  And the verdict is: “Guilty!”

If GM’s message is that it’s transformed itself into a hip, exciting, state-of-the-art innovator, it couldn’t have picked a worse spokesman than a largely unknown 68-year-old in a Brooks Brothers suit and a monotonous Texas drawl.  In 1981, Lee Iacocca was the exact right person to star in Chrysler commercials; Chrysler’s stability was very much in question, and  car industry legend Iacocca gave the company instant credibility.  In 2010, Ed Whitacre could be the exact wrong person to star in GM commercials; America knows little about him, other than that he looks and sounds like just another out-of-touch GM executive.

And what makes the situation dramatically worse is the revelation that Mr. Whitacre’s boasting about GM’s repaying its government loan is misleading at best and dishonest at worst. For Mr. Whitacre to bless–let alone star in–this commercial raises huge doubts about both his judgment and his ethics.  So at a time when GM desperately needs to rebuild its long-eroding credibility, this ad could–and perhaps should–send GM’s brand equity plummeting to an all-time low.

GM founder Alfred Sloan once infamously said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.”  If that’s true, then I think I speak for all Americans when I say that Mr. Whitacre needs to remove himself from GM commercials, and maybe from its executive suite as well.

How Do I Like Kia Now? Don’t Ask.

April 20th, 2010

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t like Kia’s latest TV commercial when it debuted on the Super Bowl, and I don’t like it any more now.  After almost three months on the air, this spot still makes no sense to me.

First of all, the kid-oriented but rather bizarre characters are irrelevant at best and distracting at worst.  If their role is to reinforce the kid-friendliness of the car, showing them cruising the Las Vegas strip and partying in a bar, with monotonous rock music blaring throughout the commercial, pretty much defeats that purpose.

Second, other than demonstrating a push-button ignition, the spot does little to showcase the car or whatever pseudo-innovative features it presumably has.  Having seen the spot several (i.e., way too many) times, I still struggle to recall what the car even looks like.

Finally, the spot does a horrendous job of brand identification.  You never hear the names of the brand or the model, and you only see them a few times, and very briefly at that.

But none of this is surprising.  With the notable exception of Southwest Airlines, companies focused on selling products on the basis of low prices rarely deliver creative or strategically sound advertising.   And while customer surveys indicate that Kia’s vehicles are  actually  a pretty good value, their advertising is no bargain.

Hey, Kia–How do you like me now?

CarMax Ads Dramatically Stupid

March 2nd, 2010

I’ve never been a fan of CarMax‘s advertising campaigns, but their current effort hits a new low. It’s so bad that no one has bothered to put it on YouTube, which means that I can’t give you a link to view any of the campaign’s ads. It’s probably just as well; asking you to view these ads is tantamount to someone handing you sour milk and saying, “Here–Does this taste funny to you?”

If you’re fortunate enough to not have been assaulted by these ads, here’s what you’ve missed: each ad features a different dog or other animal watching a CarMax commercial and turning toward the camera; when the image freezes, a harsh musical chord is struck, and the words “Dramatically smart!” are splashed across the screen.

Duh, gee, I get it; they’re telling us that becoming a CarMax customer is a dramatically smart thing to do! Why, however, is dramatically less clear. Even though I’ve probably seen at least 10 of these commercials, I honestly cannot recall a single thing that is said about CarMax or why you would want to give them your business.

There is nothing the least bit clever or engaging about any aspect of these commercials, and they were executed as poorly as they were conceived. (For example, once the image is frozen, it seemingly takes forever before the words “Dramatically smart!” appear.) It is absolutely astounding to me that the marketing powers-that-be at CarMax could have determined that these ads would interest or in any way impress prospective customers.

As I often ask whenever I see a major corporation with such ill-conceived advertising, “If they’re this clueless when it comes to advertising, what other things are they getting wrong?”

The only thing that makes sense about these ads is their use of dogs, as this campaign is a real woofer. (I know, that was a predictable joke, but thinking and writing about this campaign has apparently dulled my own creative senses. Woof!)

Toyota PR Efforts in Need of a Recall

February 6th, 2010

The public relations challenge currently being faced by Toyota is perhaps the greatest one faced by a major corporation since the Tylenol catastrophe in 1982. But while Johnson & Johnson deservedly received rave reviews for its forthright and expeditious handling of their situation, I have been far less impressed with Toyota’s response to date. In particular, I don’t think they’re giving the public the sense that they’re moving as quickly as possible to fix the cars on the road, or that they’re passionately determined to discover and address whatever flaws in their manufacturing processes allowed these problems to occur in the first place.

I give Toyota USA president Jim Lentz good marks for making himself available to the media, but low marks for his performance in front of the cameras. He comes across as a nice, mild-mannered, slightly nervous guy, and I don’t think that’s what consumers want to see. I think they want to see a leader with a passionate sense of urgency. Imagine how Lee Iococca–in his prime–would have handled this. I’m pretty certain he would have left viewers thinking, “Wow! There’s going to be hell to pay at Toyota until every single problem has been fixed, and I don’t think we have to worry about this situation ever happening again!”

In much of his Today Show interview with Matt Lauer, Mr. Lentz came across as a politician who had been coached–as he surely was–to not give any direct answers. While I realize that he has to be careful of what he says for legal reasons, that’s hardly an approach likely to build trust with your audience. What’s worse, in other parts of the interview he ignored this coaching and made self-incriminating statements without appearing to realize it. For example, he acknowledged that Toyota had known about one problem since October, but he didn’t go on to say what they’ve been doing to address the situation since then. As a result, he left the viewer with the (presumably inaccurate) feeling that Toyota simply ignored the problem–and put its customers at risk–for several months.

On February 5, Toyota uploaded a video to YouTube showing Mr. Lentz at a Toyota dealership announcing that repair parts are now being delivered to service departments. There are several problems with this piece. First, Mr. Lentz looks very unnatural walking through the service area, awkwardly gesturing repeatedly with his left hand like he’s dribbling an invisible basketball. Second, behind Mr. Lentz we see dozens of Toyota cars being repaired for unrelated problems, which doesn’t exactly reinforce the notion of Toyota’s high quality. And third, the video ends with a repairman making a repair to a faulty accelerator pedal. Inexplicably, there’s no narrator to explain what he’s doing, and he looks rather unsure of himself as he installs a part that presumably will correct the problem. It would be nice if there were a straightforward, impressive “before and after” demonstration, but there isn’t. In fact, I was left wondering, “Is that the fix? Seriously?”

Don’t get me wrong; Toyota is in a no-win situation, and it’s going to be difficult for them to look good no matter what they do. But an effective public relations effort can minimize the damage currently being self-inflicted upon the brand equity they’ve worked so hard to build over the past several decades. Unfortunately, the quality of their damage control is not much better than the apparent quality of their accelerator pedals.

The Bad Samaritan

September 15th, 2009

Have you seen the TV commercial where a guy picks up a stranded taxi driver and drives him to a service station? It seems like the kind act of a Good Samaritan, until the jerk driving the car decides to show off by taking an alternative route with numerous tight curves that allow him to bounce his poor passenger around in the back seat like a rag doll. The car owner’s snide smile and obnoxious behavior is essentially saying, “Hah, hah!  I drive this really hot car and you’re just a poor schmo driving a broken down taxi!”

The ad’s intent is presumably to demonstrate how impressed the taxi driver is with the car’s handling, but instead it just leaves you feeling sorry for the guy–and hating the guy who just gave him the joyride.

But this commercial isn’t just obnoxious; it’s also ineffective, and in three ways. First, in the “action footage,” the car appears to be going about 20 mph, which hardly wows the viewer. Second, the car’s design is squat and boring, which is a bad fit for the “hot car” positioning this ad is inexplicably shooting for. And third, it does a lousy job of communicating the brand. (The manufacturer is Suburu, by the way, although I’m still not sure what the model is even though I’ve seen the commercial at least six times.)

Effective marketing communications call attention to the brand, make you feel good about that brand, and impress you with what the product can do for you. This commercial fails miserably on all three counts.

If Suburu really wants to be a Good Samaritan to consumers–and its shareholders–it should park this commercial in the garage.

Taurus: A Hot Car By Any Other Name

September 13th, 2009

Ford CEO Alan Mulally made an executive decision over a year ago to resurrect the Taurus brand. While that might not be a mistake per se, what was a mistake was attaching that brand to a very stylish high-performance car that sells for up to $47,000.

The Taurus was a fairly strong brand over 20 years ago, as the then-stylish car won many design awards and for a time was the largest-selling car in America. However, for many years following its late 1980s heyday, the Taurus brand was attached to a series of uninspired models that, despite frequent deep discounts, sold so poorly that the brand was eventually unceremoniously retired.

Thus, while there is certainly some equity in the Taurus name, I suspect it has as much negative equity as positive equity. While I find the new design quite attractive, I would be much more interested in it if it had a new name that was as impressive as the vehicle itself.

Moreover, this seems to be a major opportunity lost for Ford. At a time when Ford, like its domestic competitors, is desperately trying to convince consumers that it has learned from its error-prone past and is now making better cars than ever before, why look backward and associate yourself with an era when your reputation was at or near an all-time low?

Under Mr. Mulally’s leadership, Ford has been by far the most successful of the Big Three U.S. car manufacturers from a financial standpoint, and was the only one of the three to avoid a government bailout. But Mr. Mulally’s financial instincts appear to be much greater than his marketing instincts. Thus, while the attractive new Taurus may experience some degree of success, I have to believe that it would achieve considerably greater success with an attractive new name.

In other words, when Mr. Mulally mandated that the Taurus name be brought back from the dead, someone at Ford should have had a better idea.