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 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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