Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Flying Trucks, Surfing Cars

I live in the automobile capital of the world. Oh, I know that some would argue that Detroit, Michigan, is the Mecca or all things automotive, but that's not true. Detroit may be where they used to make a lot of cars, but Los Angeles is where people live in them every day. The average Angeleno spends a minimum of two hours a day in something with wheels, usually surrounded by loud music, snarled traffic and cup-holders jammed with fast food.

Not surprisingly, the car has long since evolved from a transportational issue into one of status. Out here on the west coast, you are what you drive. In fact, entire relationships can be won or lost simply on your make, model and year. Ask any strapping young buck at the bar and he'll tell you that it's easier to snag a starlet with a red Ferrari than a rusted Buick.

All that isn't terribly new. Ever since the cavemen traded in their clubs for cash, wealth has become the aphrodisiac of choice. Believe me, men don't build tall buildings and great bridges out of love for their fellow man. Frequently, it's out of love for their fellow women.

But I digress.

Back to the automobile, where you might find the likes of American, Asian and European brands competing for the affections of the American consumer on a daily basis. You can't turn on a television, listen to a radio or open a print publication without being assaulted by perhaps the largest category advertiser on the planet. Cars are big ticket items, and as such, dominate the airwaves with their attempts to lure us into their showrooms.

Strange, then, why so many of their ads are so wildly oblique. Query the folks to whom these ads are targeted and you scarcely find one that can name any reason why they would choose one brand over another.

It's no wonder. For the life of me, I can't figure out why trucks are shown leaping through the air, flying over cactus, dusty roads and a mouse type disclaimer advising, "Trained professional on a closed course...do not attempt." Huh? If I'm not supposed to get all four wheels up in the air, why are they selling it that way?

I also don't understand the compulsion of hosing down blocked-off city streets and having late model sedans spin 360 degree circles. Is this supposed to turn me on? Am I supposed to envision myself dropping off the kids at carpool by hooking the steering wheel and fishtailing in front of the cafeteria? If anything, showing the car hydroplaning through two inches of street water communicates that this crate can't hold a straight line in even the lightest of rain.

What's going through the minds of the geniuses creating this kind of advertising? Nothing, mostly. There's no brand message. No reason to choose this truck or that car. In fact, all that really comes through is the last five seconds of the ad, where big white letters and a booming announcers' voice let me know that the manufacturer is offering still more cash back and even better rebates. That's what happens when entire generations grow up watching MTV and thinking that with enough music and airplay, anything can be a hit.

No wonder car sales are sucking wind.

Here's a nifty idea: How about giving consumers a reason to buy the car? How about hiring people who actually know how to write compelling brand strategies so that the millions of viewers can understand how to evangelize the brand? Radical, eh? Think about it. The thought of people watching a TV spot just one time - and actually comprehending it. Sales going up. Customer acquisition costs going down. Consumer loyalty increasing. Competition decreasing.

Is it as exciting as jumping trucks over sand dunes? Nah. At least, not until you read the next year's annual reports. Then you could see white men in business suits jumping up and down with glee, blowing their newfound bonuses on - what else - brand new red Ferraris.


Blogger Cannell said...

It makes me think that automobile builders don’t really have anything new, better or different from each other, and thus they turn to Hollywood special effects to make up the difference. I also think that you could look at almost any other product that sells directly to the consumer and find similar marketing practices.

In the web design world, my world, this is known as the WOW FACTOR, and it has a much stronger appeal than does a common sense web design. Rob, you have touched on this subject yourself, at least in terms of traffic to a web site versus real sales.

Logic is a poor contender against emotion.

We humans like to think that we are rational and cognitive and, therefore, we make sound decisions based on logic and common sense. The reality, though, is that our emotions are much more compelling than logic ever was, or will be - at least for the foreseeable future.

Why would anyone want a car that offered stability on the road when you could have a car that strokes your vanity? Why would anyone want a web design that was easy to use and a helpful source of information when you could WOW visitors with your checkbook instead of putting your thinking cap on and providing real content?

It’s all about emotions

As long as we fail to see the real hook in the advertisements we are going to get caught – every time. There isn’t a lot that any marketing team can do to protect their market from this type of manipulation except to try and educate their markets. But educating a market represents a new set of problems to deal with.

People resist change

This is most evident in social and political arenas. People may clamor for reforms and new directions in political policy, but it is political suicide for an elected official to enact radical changes because people won’t put up with it. Transfer this habitual behavior to marketing and sales and you find it takes a lot of mass advertising to budge significant numbers to start a new trend.

An irresistible force meeting an immoveable object

Educating your market is not an easy thing to do if you are trying to change their habitual behavior and have them use cognitive and rational skills in favor of that gut response and sexual appeal. We all have fantasies and they are much more compelling than reality, and education is hardly an irresistible force. Educating a market is asking them to GET REAL, and this can be a painful process compared to the comfy illusions they have grown to love.

How to give logic some sex appeal

The key, in my mind, is to look at logic as something sexy or something that leads to a sexy conclusion… like increased sales and repeat customers. No doubt, for every business, product or service the approach would have to be somewhat unique. What would remain consistent would be the mindset, or focus, that drives the sales copy because it would need to come from the head as much as from the gut. The real art here is to marry logic with emotional motivation that is based on reality. I wish I had that skill myself.

9:50 AM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

I agree with just about everything you've said. But why do manufacturers and advertise have to lean so heavily on gimmicks and hyperbole, when the truth works so much better?

Truth is that it's a reflection of our socity as whole, taking the easy way out, relying on sensationalism even when it isn't warranted.

Hey, I love Eva Longoria as much as the next guy, but no matter what she endorses, it's pretty clear it has nothing to do with the product. She's there for titillation, nothing more. If I'm spending tens of thousands for a car, I think I'm entitled to more than cheap gimmickry or sexual provocation.

The ad industry can do much better. I remember a time when it used to. Today, the grandsons and granddaughters of the real masters haev nothing left in the way of resourceful, strategic and compelling messaging.

The companies buying the ads dont' know much more, either. Thongs and belly shirts don't require much effort. Turning people into evvangelists does.

Thanks for your very thoughtful post.

9:01 PM  
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11:52 AM  

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