Archive for April, 2010

What to do about automotive marketing?

Friday, April 30th, 2010

What a difference a year makes.  It’s 2010 and the auto industry is beginning to recover.

After an incredibly tough 2009, consumers seem to be coming back.  For the first time in recent memory, Americans’ perception of domestic automobiles seems to be on the mend (Business Week 4/23).  Ford’s bet that Americans will buy smaller, fully featured automobiles looks like it may pay off.  GM’s product plan created by soon-to-retire Bob Lutz is leading a resurgence for the General.  Hyundai and Kia, supported my excellent product quality, have taken advantage of recessionary sensibilities and grown share of market.  Audi , Subaru and Mini have come out of the recession on a tear.

On the other side of the ledger, Toyota continues to struggle with recalls and concerns about quality.  This has led to unprecedented incentives by Toyota and the predictable response by competitors to match them.  So a good number of consumers who had been sitting on sidelines during the recession have come back to dealerships looking to for a good deal.  After 2009, it’s a relief to see traffic in the stores but at the same time if the incentives continue that will not be good for the industry long term.  In 2009, some progress had been made at reducing the use of incentives, but the moment Toyota jumped in to defend its franchise, that opened the floodgates again.

So the good news is that customers are returning to the stores, but are they coming back for the right reasons?

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GM paid back the $6.7B loan, bring in the marketing guys?!

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

I know we live in a world dominated by spin and soundbites but there is something cynical about GM making a big deal about repaying the “loans” and “early” no less. GM has the marketing & PR folks going 24/7, they’ve even made a commercial:

I think it’s great that they have repaid the loan and are showing progress, but this PR/advertising effort seems a little misplaced. Does GM think that we’ve forgotten that the taxpayers provided another $43B for which the government got stock and now owns 60% of the company?

It’ll be one thing when there’s a public offering, the government sells it’s stake and gets its investment back plus interest. That will be something to crow about. In the meantime making a big deal out of the fact that they paid us back roughly 15% of what we put in feels a bit like they’re trying to “sell” us something.

Rather than “sell” us that they’re succeeding, just get on with it, and when they’re no longer Government Motors, bring in the marketing guys.

In the meantime, marketing should be working on clearly positioning their remaining brands. That will help sales and create value for the shareholders.

“Old News” that’s worth hearing again, or maybe for the first time…

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

When I first saw this Acura commercial it got me thinking about what constitutes “old news” versus something relevant and important:

This Acura commercial is about crumple zones and their ability to absorb energy in a crash while directing it around the passengers ensconced in a safety cage.  It’s a nicely executed commercial that provides people with information that gives them confidence that Acuras are safe.

But it isn’t new and it certainly isn’t exclusive to Acura.  Many of us would say that crumple zones are “old news.”

In 1952, Mercedes-Benz received a patent for a crumple zone in an automobile.  Up until that point rigidity was regarded as the key to protecting passengers in an automobile accident.  The 1959 Mercedes-Benz W111 series included crumple zones and was actively crash tested by the company.

I can still vividly remember the first time I actually saw a crash test.  It was at the Mercedes Benz Safety Center in the Sindelfingen plant outside Stuttgart.  I was amazed at the devastation created by a thirty mile an hour off-set crash.  Right then and there I learned the value of a crumple zone.

Today, every automobile manufacturer uses crumple zones to make their cars safer.

Yet here is Acura, using their version of a crumple zone to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

If every car has crumple zones, then what’s differentiating about Acura’s? (more…)

Everything “Old” Is “New” Again by Curvin O’Rielly

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Curvin O’Rielly has been kind enough to allow us to publish this article on McNaughton Automotive Perspectives.  For those of you who don’t know Curvin, he is one of the most respected copywriters in the advertising business.  Among his automotive  accomplishments was the creation of the Saturn brand with his colleagues at Hal Riney and Partners.  As you will see, Curvin’s perspective on automobile advertising is both timely and timeless.

Everything “Old” Is “New” Again

By Curvin O’Rielly

In 1982, when I was a young creative director at BBDO in New York, I was asked to write an article about the automobile business for Magazine Age.

The article was well received. I even won an American Business Press award for it. The question is, has it stood the test of time?

Well, some of the details I included in the article are as dated as the wide ties we used to wear (the ones you’re saving, hoping they come back into style again), or the disco music we used to listen to (admit it; you boogeyed to disco), or the haul-ass iron we used to drive, the cars with more horsepower than their suspension systems and brakes could reasonably handle (unless they were well-engineered vehicles from Europe).

What’s still true about my article, unfortunately, is that the automobile industry is once again in deep trouble. This time, it’s poised at the abyss, owing in part to the economic tremors that came close to causing a complete meltdown. At the abyss, too, because it was smart (or so it prided itself) but then not smart enough. I mean, surely those at the wheel had to have seen all the danger signs on the road they were heading down, just as they had to have known they were racing toward a disaster of epic proportions.

That said, here are the observations I made 28 years ago, with some minor rewrites here and there.

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Is Mini moving out of its niche? How to avoid the automotive equivalent of a comb-over.

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

An article in the April 2nd edition of the New York Times was headlined: “Despite Expansion, Mini Says It’s Still a Niche” and confirmed something that had occurred to me at the New York Auto Show.

In New York last week I saw the new Mini crossover, the Countryman, for the first time in person.  All the Mini design cues are present in the Countryman and I think you’d be hard pressed to say that it wasn’t part of the Mini family.  But I was struck by how “big” it seemed, it didn’t seem small and taut the way all the other models do.  Part of the difference was that the Countryman’s ground clearance is higher, so its stance is really quite different than the other Minis.

This got me thinking, at what point does a marque go too far and begin to lose its essential character?  Has Mini gone too far with the Countryman?

I suspect this is a little like losing your hair.  Little by little your hair recedes, almost imperceptibly, you make little adjustments as you go, thinking no one will notice, until one day you end up with comb-over and people are snickering behind your back. Little by little automotive brands seem to lose their way. (more…)