Reaction to the White House’s new vehicle sticker proposal: “If we get below a C do our parents have to sign off on it?”

August 31st, 2010

So said my 24 year old son when he saw the announcement that the White House/EPA was planning a major overhaul to the window stickers that appear on new cars to include a grade based on fuel efficiency and emissions.  To be fair, the EPA has put forth two proposals, one without a “grade:”

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and one with a grade:

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According to the EPA’s website the “EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are updating this label to provide consumers with simple, straightforward energy and environmental comparisons across all vehicles types.”

Fair enough, after almost thirty years with very little updating, it’s probably time to make some improvements to the industry’s new car stickers.  I’m all for providing consumers more and better information to enable them to make the vehicle purchase decision that is best suited to their needs and desires.  I doubt that anyone in the industry would disagree.

Here’s the rub, the option with the letter grade is a not too thinly veiled attempt on the Government’s part to pass a value judgment on your decision to purchase a vehicle. Read the rest of this entry »

Cadillac breaks new ground in auto industry marketing with an old idea.

August 6th, 2010

I was speaking with a colleague the other day and we were trying to think of an instance where an automobile manufacturer (or any brand for that matter) looked back into its own history and re-introduced a brand tagline that had been thrown in the bin.

We couldn’t think of any and we began to talk about what a mistake that was.  We were able to rattle off a number of instances, where great automotive brands walked away from positioning or taglines that perfectly encapsulated their brands.  Mercedes-Benz left behind “Engineered like no other car in the world.”  Volkswagen threw away “Drivers wanted.”  Chevrolet moved away from “Heartbeat of America.”  A few months ago, BMW, one of the most consistent marketers in the industry, looked as if they were moving away from “The Ultimate Driving Machine” in favor of  “Joy.”  In the case of BMW, this has been hotly denied and “TUDM” still appears at the end of the ads but it has certainly been demoted.

Why does this happen?  Why does it seem so difficult for marketers to realize that they have a real asset that needs to be protected and nourished?  A lot has to do with the constant pressure to increase volume and the find something new to “take the brand to the next level.”  The other factor is the constant churn of marketing management and agencies.  New marketing leadership needs to demonstrate that it is moving the business forward and that means doing something new.  Every agency is genetically coded to do something “new and unexpected” to burnish their reputation.  Bringing back an old idea can also be seen as a copout.

So it struck me this morning when I read an article in Advertising Age where Joel Ewanick was interviewed and he said that Fallon (Cadillac’s new agency) had developed the brand’s soon to be introduced tag-line: “The new standard of the world.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Audi makes a rare marketing misstep

August 2nd, 2010

In recent years, Audi has done a terrific job marketing its brand. Sales are up globally and will probably exceed 1.0MM units this year (WSJ 8/2/10).  In the US, Audi came through the recession on a tear and has never looked back.  Great products, great design, with quality that has improved and is now comparable to the best in the business. The Audi brand is aspirational and prestigious in most global markets. While it has lagged its competitors in the US, it has gained in prestige in recent years and many would say it has achieved the vaunted Tier-1 status in this country.

So why would one of the most well-regarded progressive luxury automotive brands in the world make the silly mistake of blatantly copying their nearest competitor?

A few weeks ago I was in the UK and I happened to walk by Leicester Square in London and was excited to see an Audi display in the park. I went over to have a look and discovered that the display was part of the UK’s introduction of the A1.

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The display was called “AreaA1” and it was getting a lot of attention from Londoners.  It was the first time I had the opportunity to see the A1 in person.  It’s a wonderful car and I hope the folks at Audi of America make the decision to bring it to the US.  It was so crowded, that it was hard to get a picture….at least a good picture: Read the rest of this entry »

www.momentoftruth.com—Buick on the cusp of a marketing breakthrough!

July 30th, 2010

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How many times have I sat in meetings with manufacturers and discussed the need to get consumers engaged with their brand in the digital space? Too many times to count and the concerns are always the same.  What if they say things we don’t like?  What if they say something untrue?  What will they expect of us?  How will we respond? Inevitably the lawyers weigh-in and the reasons “why not” stack up like cordwood.

So I think it noteworthy that Buick has found a way to get beyond the reasons “why not” and to give consumers an uncensored voice regarding the new Buick Regal at www.momentoftruth.com.  This is a terrific website with tons of information from a variety of sources, the company, general media, buff books, blogs and real consumers.  The use of Twitter and Facebook feeds, Youtube videos and Flickr is terrific and makes the site feel very credible.  The net effect is that you feel as if you’re getting a chance to see the entire body of opinion regarding the new Buick Regal in one stop.

GM is using technology that searches the web for mentions of the Buick Regal, aggregates it, edits out the profane and posts the rest. The result is really fun and full of interesting commentary.  It’s not quite a dialogue with consumers but it’s a step in the right direction.

I admit that I had to wade through a lot of positive comments to find the few negative ones, but they’re there.

Good for Buick, maybe the reality is that most of the response to their new vehicle is positive!

How “naughty” do you want your Volvo?

July 29th, 2010

Volvo has, since the ’70s  all but owned “safety” in the automotive segment.  Not a bad place to be…do you know anyone who’d prefer an unsafe car?

Brilliant work by Scali, McCabe, Sloves took Volvo from the choice of professors in tweed jackets to the boomer choice for family hauling. The Volvo wagon was a staple in the suburbs on both coasts.  Volvo was even featured in the movie “Crazy People” where Dudley Moore played an ad man who decided that being honest was a good idea and suggested that Volvos were “Boxy but good:

While the brand became part of popular culture and owned safety, it has struggled with that one-dimensional view for years. Volvo has its loyalists who love the brand and it’s products but it also has more than its share of detractors for whom the truth of “boxy but good” was a real barrier to purchase.  The challenge has always been how do you retain and nurture the safety reputation while also convincing a broader swath of the car buying population that the brand is cool and emotionally appealing. Read the rest of this entry »

Corvette vs. Jeep Grand Cherokee. Ads not product.

July 22nd, 2010

We wouldn’t expect one of the buff books to have a comparo between the 2011 Corvette and the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee but in marketing circles there’s an active discussion going on comparing their new advertising.

Chrysler’s new ad for the Jeep Grand Cherokee first appeared about a month ago and seeks to stir Americans’ pride in our heritage as builders and innovators:

Chevrolet’s new ad for Corvette appeared last week on the All-Star game and draws a parallel between our country’s space program and the 2011 Corvette:

Some critics have gone as far as saying that Chevrolet should not have aired the Corvette commercial because it was too similar to the Jeep spot.  There are certainly similarities between the executions. Read the rest of this entry »

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee: “Imagined, drawn, carved, stamped, hewn and forged here in America.” Sort of.

July 12th, 2010

Jeep is introducing the 2011 Grand Cherokee and it seems it is quite a vehicle:

“The newest generation of Jeep’s iconic luxury SUV can still rock-crawl with the best of them, but it looks a whole lot nicer doing it, both inside and out.”  AutoWeek  7/5/10

The new advertising is impressive and seeks to re-invigorate some distinctly American values:

Let’s face it, as Americans we are feeling a little down.  The worst recession in generations is a big part of the problem.  Nagging unemployment, a recovery that is sputtering and concern over the looming deficit are not helping.

So I think Jeep’s strategy of appealing to values we all hold dear makes some sense. What American isn’t proud of our heritage as a “nation of builders, craftsmen, men and women for whom straight stitches and clean welds are a matter of pride.”  We built the railroads, invented the airplane, built the Empire State Building, and created the original Jeep.

The idea that “the things that make us American are the things we make” strikes an emotional cord.  A cord that makes us feel proud, and right now a little pride would help.  The Jeep Grand Cherokee is something we can all be proud of because it was “imagined, drawn, carved, stamped, hewn and forged here in America.”

Powerful stuff, beautifully executed, leaves the viewer saying “yeah, bring it on.”

Only two things bother me about this commercial. Read the rest of this entry »

SAAB is re-building its brand after years of neglect.

July 7th, 2010

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Now that SAAB has shed the shackles of General Motors they are getting on with the business of re-building the brand.

Two weeks ago they announced (NYT’s 6/22/10) that they have hired a new head designer who has said that: “We want to return to the Saab DNA.” Just last week they announced (Media Post 6/29/10) that they were ramping up marketing investment, going back on TV and in print with a new campaign.

After years of being part of GM where the SAAB brand was neither appreciated nor nourished it appears to be getting it’s footing back. The SAAB brand has always stood for independence and a willingness to break convention.  SAAB has always had a devoted group of loyalists, some of whom played a vocal role in the brand’s most recent resurrection, PGM (Post General Motors).  Historically, SAAB has had all the foundation stones of a great automotive brand; a point-of-view, good interesting product, a genuine enthusiast group willing to proselytize, a group of loyal owners and marketing that conveyed its essential character.

As part of the GM stable of brands, SAAB’s essential character became a barrier to increased sales volumes.  “Different” didn’t mean special or unique, it became “quirky” or “weird.”  As we all know, very few people buy “quirky” or “weird.”  So SAAB product became less distinct, not necessarily bad, just less unique.  SAAB’s marketing also became more expected, more traditional.  Consumers were subjected to campaign after campaign that hung its hat on the idea that SAAB also makes jets…as if that was ever what the car company was about.

Last week this all changed.   Read the rest of this entry »

Jeff Zwart will race a purpose built Porsche GT3 at Pikes Peak

June 23rd, 2010

Here he is on a testing run:

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Press release from Porsche: Read the rest of this entry »

Hyundai Equus. Can Hyundai succeed with a D-class model?

June 22nd, 2010

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The D-segment of the luxury market is tough.  The best luxury manufacturers in the world bring their best technology, design and engineering to the table and the result is the world’s best 4-door sedans: BMW 7-Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Lexus LS, are perennial best sellers.  It’s tough to break-in, Audi has struggled for years to build volume in the segment with its A8 despite having what many would say is the best product.

So what makes Hyundai think they can introduce the Equus into this rarefied air and succeed?

Let’s get one thing out of the way.  From a product perspective, the Hyundai Equus will be a very able competitor to the best luxury sedans in the business.  Hyundai has demonstrated that they build exceptional quality cars at multiple price points, the most recent being the Genesis, a near to mid luxury entry.  The Equus is already getting good reviews and at $55,000 will offer D-class luxury at a very reasonable price.

The issue for Hyundai is not the product or the price. Read the rest of this entry »