Archive for the ‘cars’ category

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.

GM: Does Better Advertising Signal a Better Company Tomorrow?

June 3rd, 2009

I just saw the first ad from the new General Motors “Reinvention” campaign, and I have to admit that I’m surprised–and impressed! (Check it out for yourself: Whether it will ultimately prove effective is impossible to say, as the odds are certainly not in GM’s favor. But if the refreshingly candid approach taken by this ad is any indication of the attitude that resides within the halls of this once-great company these days, I’d say their odds of making a successful comeback are greater than I would have thought.

The goal of this extremely well-written ad is to convey that GM gets it–that they realize they need to make big changes, and that they’re determined to get back on track. It begins with one of the most brutally candid lines you’ll ever hear in advertising:  “Let’s be completely honest–No company wants to go through this.” The challenge is for GM to admit they need to change without being overly apologetic, as it’s essential that this ad inspire confidence.  Upon first viewing, the ad seems to strike the right balance. Rather than simply saying “We messed up,”  it takes a subtly-but-significantly different tack by saying that things that made sense in the past do not make sense today. In doing this, GM reminds us that they were once a great company that made smart decisions, which suggests that perhaps they can once again be able to attain that level of greatness and intelligence. In short (althought the ad doesn’t say this), “We’ve done it before and we can do it again.”

There are some other verbal gems in this 60-second ad created by the Deutsch, Los Angeles ad agency, including, “This isn’t about going out of business. It’s about getting down to business. Because the only chapter we’re focused on…is Chapter One.”

As someone who has ranted several times about GM and its advertising during the past few weeks, it’s hard for me to believe that I just wrote the above paragraphs. And it’s clearly naive to think that a 100-year-old company plagued by decades of mismanagement is suddenly on the right track simply because of a well-written new ad campaign. Still, something tells me that the badly-damaged aircraft carrier that is GM is not only going to stop taking on water, but it just might start turning itself around as well. Either way, it’s going to very interesting see what Chapter Two holds.

Great. Marketing. Insight.

May 20th, 2009

One of the best TV commercials I’ve seen in a long time is the new “Beach” ad for the Honda Insight hybrid. If you haven’t seen it, please be my guest:

Everything about the ad is smart, which makes particular sense given that–in my opinion, anyway–driving a hybrid is a very smart thing to do. (My wife drives a Toyota Prius.) The visuals are very clever and engaging, and the background music is wonderfully infectious. In fact, it’s so good I had to find out more about the song. It’s title is “Honey Tree,” and the musician goes by the name of Mostar Diving Club.

Honda got everything right: The car looks great, the name is strategically appropriate, the tagline –”The hybrid for everyone”–nicely reinforces the car’s relatively low price, and the “clean and green” logo is–pardon the pun–a natural. Add it all up, and not only are you aware that there’s a new hybrid in town, but you come away feeling it features state-of-the-art technology and is fun to drive.

Were this a General Motors car (yeah, right!), the ad would surely focus on attacking the Prius. But it’s a Honda, and so it focuses on selling itself–and quite entertainingy at that. After all, when you’re smart enough to develop a product that has a good story to tell, you don’t need to resort to trashing your superior competitors.

How’s that for great marketing insight?

GM: Godawful Marketers

April 6th, 2009

Is it any wonder GM is about to choose between going bankrupt and becoming a ward of the state?

Smart companies use their advertising to creatively persuade you that their innovative products can solve your problems; dumb companies use their advertising to try to fool you into thinking that their imitative products are as good as their competitors.  And really dumb companies take cheap shots at their competitors.  The latest Chevy ad sets a new low–which is saying something, by the way–by comparing several of its vehicles to Honda’s on mileage and then poking fun at the fact that Honda also makes lawnmowers. The smirk on spokesman Howie Long’s mug is pathetic, leaving you wondering (a) why Chevy is feeling so cocky, and (b) why it thinks unfounded cockiness is an appealing trait.  Incidentally, this ad falls on the heels of a Chevy truck ad in which Mr. Long belittles an innovative feature on a Toyota truck.

As any marketer worth his or her salt knows, companies that aren’t clever enough to find something positive to say about themselves will resort to saying something negative about their competition.  Detroit has been taking potshots at their overseas competitors for years, and for virtually all of those years Detroit’s market share has continued to plummet.  Hmmmm…Does anyone else see a pattern here?

As a taxpayer, the last company I would want to own is General Motors.  On the other hand, if Honda were to become available…