Friday, January 30, 2009

Super Bowl Advertising: Recession Edition

Hyundai is set to launch two ads this Super Bowl Sunday: One for their all-new Genesis coupe and the second spot will feature their Hyundai Assurance ad which promises unconfident buyers the ability to lease a new Hyundai with the option of turning it in if they lose their job in 12 months.

So, what can we learn from past recession advertising? I thought I'd share some of the advertising done during previous recessions.

Ford Trucks Beating (1976): Ford advertised their latest truck in 1976 by demonstrating the beating it could take. A classic quality ad for people who wanted a product that would last.

Dodge St. Regis - Value You Can Measure (1979): Competitive comparisons galore with some plush interior, of course.

Thunderbird Spread Your Wings (1980): Optimistic, new thinking is part of this spot from Ford. It is feature rich with "Electronic magic" like road speed and warning lights, not exactly as impressive as Ford's latest electronic magic -- Sync. All of this to bring "a better idea for the 80s".

Audi Take Control (1991): Audi mimicked the do-it-yourself mentality of getting out of the recession with their 'take control' messaging.

Dodge Dropping the Cost (1991): Biggest truck sale ever with around $4,000 off several Dodge truck models.

And by far my favorite recession automotive spot, Chrysler's circus music, straw hat, wheelin' dealin' sale:

Chrysler Car Clearance Carnival (1975): Values! Values! Values! With guess what? "A lot of cars to move... It's a carnival of values." And don't forget the sweepstakes; nothing gets qualified, serious buyers in like a sweepstakes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Viral Fun? Four Guys Getting All Wet and Soapy

Mini Cooper's "Always Open" campaign for their new convertible is trying the viral video route by doing something every convertible lover wants to see - top down car washing. Whenever I get into my convertible I'm always tempted to press the automatic top button to see what will happen if I go through the wash sans top. Now I know. I'll get all soapy, wet and power dried.

Mini takes the fascination of convertible driving in a new direction as they show something that theoretically sounds fun and a bit rebellious as four guys video tape their drive through a car wash. The campaign team is definitely thinking this is something that could turn viral since it is video that probably wouldn't exist without marketing dollars influencing a local car wash owner to allow a drive top down. It, therefore, is unique video because I know I'm not going to payoff a car wash owner to try this at home. So unique yes. Viral?

This brings us to what makes a video viral. Unique helps, but it needs more to be viral.

Is driving a convertible through a car wash entertaining? It is, though, I'm sure the male demographic watching the Mini footage wishes it had some gender equality in the four seats. The marketing team knows this would definitely up viewer-ship, but at the expense of some negative press, especially from their 41% female owners (JD Power 2008.) Even so, they still could've included some women in the drive without it really turning into some salacious wet t-shirt contest brought to you by Mini. Editing people. Editing.

Is it funny? There are a couple moments. One guy takes a strong power jet washer hit and a back seat passenger puffs up while going through the drying cycle. Overall, it doesn't do much because it is so contrived and obvious the whole experience is a marketing stunt. Yet, it does have some interesting moments and is sure to get some circulation from the shear uniqueness of the content.

Is it relevant to the customer Mini is trying to reach? Absolutely. This is where the video is most effective. It shows the car in something other than city streets or with the wind blowing in your hair in the night sky. It's playful too which completely fits Mini's brand promise. Lastly, it is right with the messaging of the current campaign. The Mini convertible is even "Always Open" even in an unexpected car wash drive.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Looking Back to the Great Depression to Predict the Next Automotive Campaign

We are definitely in a recession. No doubt about it. Are we in a depression? No, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the greatest economic downturn in our history. Yesterday’s inauguration not only marked the beginning of Barack Obama’s Presidency; it also meant a ton of advertising from Pepsi Cola as they launched their Refresh Everything campaign.

The Refresh Everything launch gave a platform for citizens to share what they wanted to say to our new President. It combined some YouTube video upload functionality and came packaged with celebrity videos promoting everyone to engage with Pepsi’s call to share your words to the President. It was actually a decent campaign idea for a broad appeal product like Pepsi and linked the idea of the big change (aka “refresh”) everyone expected on January 20th.

It made me wonder what can we expect from automotive advertising as the recession deepens and marketing turns to use the language of the times? So, I went back into history via Google, of course, and found an example used during the height of the Great Depression. The Plymouth advertisement (above) ran in 1935 and used the headline "New Deal for Farmers" playing off of President Roosevelt's famous "New Deal" economic policy.

The Plymouth ad shows how little has changed in 74 years. "High-Powered", "World's Safest", and "Long-Life". Today's version: "0-60 in xxx", "5 Star Crash Rating", and "JD Power Quality Award". The "Saves 12% to 20% in Gas and Oil" line made me think of Toyota's latest ad for the Tundra where they claim less transmission fluid needs than their competitors.

So we have some language already in play in the economic environment: Change and Bail Out. I have already heard radio ads from a local mortgage company advertising; “it’s time for your own bail out with our refinance mortgage options…” It’s only a matter of time before Obama’s call for Change becomes a marketing campaign.

Drive Change. Get behind the wheel of Change. It’s time to change your keys. Change how you get there. Oh I can do this for hours, but I’ll spare you and wait for the Change language to make it into an automotive sales event or product launch.

I’m guessing GM will do it. They did “Keep America Rolling” after 9/11. The clock is ticking who will borrow Obama’s language first?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Is Smart the Right Product at the Right Time?

It was just announced today that the new Smart car fortwo surpassed the 15,000 units they expected to sale and not by an insignificant margin in a down market. They sold 25,000 units overall and had 100,000 people send in their $99 checks to reserve a Smart car in 2008.

The reservation approach was part of Smart’s marketing push to get people to pre-order a vehicle prior to the car’s launch in the United States. Smart did no TV and went with an online campaign approach, similar to what Mini did back when it launched its brand in the States. Apparently, if you are a stylish, European, small car you will launch with an online campaign and avoid the expense of TV since word of mouth is bound to drive your sales.

Smart is constantly hailed as a car for the consumer looking for high mpg economy in a world of unstable gas prices. But a lot of cars are being offered for this new shift to fuel economy conscience customers. Toyota has the Yaris. Honda has the Fit. The Yaris and Fit are not attractive cars. They are pure economical choices for a cost driven customer. Meanwhile, Smart and Mini offer high mileage choices but with the added benefit of being stylish and iconic.

After finishing a tumultuous 2008 in automotive sales and crazy up and downs at the fuel pump, it is interesting to see how a car is correlate to the gas pump. The Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris are definitely following the behavior of bouncing gas prices while the Smart and Mini keep a relatively steady, almost predictable, sales stream.

It really makes me wonder two things:

1.) Is stylish and fuel-efficient the perfect combination in today’s market?
2.) Do Mini and Smart simply sell a consistent number of vehicles because they limit supply so much that we do not see the sales swings found in higher production unit vehicles?

What are your thoughts?

Note: The chart's nameplate sales by month come from Automotive News and the gas prices come from the Energy Information Administration. Official Statistics from the US Government. 2008 Data on Average US Retail Gas Prices

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Now California Earthquakes will Set Off Laptops Too

It's always a challenge to do something different and relevant to your product's messaging. Toyota found an excellent way to connect safety with your computer's screen-saver so that it is relevant to the users experience and firmly establishes the safety messaging Toyota wants to come across with their new iQ vehicle.

The screen-saver software, available for a Mac computer, allows one to lock their computer using the Apple remote control mimicking the way one locks their car with a car alarm. Move the computer and it is set off. Press a key on the keyboard and it is set off. Click the remote again and the screen-saver is disabled. Checkout the demonstration in the video above.

I think this is an ingenious way to integrate a strong safety message. It also reinforces your vehicle's consumer benefit message every time the user "locks" their computer which displays the Toyota iQ product as a screen-saver, besides it's such a cool integration that you are likely to demonstrate it to others and thus promote additional downloads and familiarity with the product. more.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Honda’s Brand Image Campaign Begins with Failure

Scientists talking about teleportation and magnetic levitation -- is there still room for such lofty brand building campaigns in a depressed automotive market? This is what the New York Times asks about a new marketing push from Honda.

Honda: Dream The Impossible

Honda says it is a campaign “focused on [their] values as a company.” The intro video talks about how it takes failure to get to success. Seems if this worked we wouldn’t need automotive industry bailouts and GM would be the most successful company ever.

Company engineers, designers, and executives share their optimism and enthusiasm for Honda as a company. To keep interest from waning, the film producers also found it best to include some celebrities like Danica Patrick, Christopher Guest and science fiction writer Orson Scott Card., not exactly people that generate a lot of buzz, but still better than an engineer talking.

The whole effort is an attempt to raise brand favorability. What seems odd about this is that Honda is a very successful brand that obviously put this work together in late 2008 before anyone expected a big drop off in industry sales. In fact, Honda was having a pretty successful sales lead when people started dumping SUVs and looking for fuel-efficient cars as an alternative lifting sales of the Civic without any need for brand marketing.

Perhaps this is Honda’s attempt to be positive and show how struggle can lead to positive things, a much better approach than Dunkin Donuts trying to communicate a “Kin Do” attitude.

I really don’t think much about these brand-lifting campaigns (see the Lexus L/Studio blog entry,) especially when they are more about the company talking to itself than its customers and this series by Honda suffers this issue. There is very little about product or expanding my knowledge about Honda’s products. Instead I’m left listening to some pretty boring diatribes on inner self and trying things over and over again, you know the kind of stuff that makes you feel good about buying a Honda lawnmower or $35,000 SUV.

The web site must be at an early stage as it allows users to browse the content. Today that content is three documentary videos: Mobility 2008, Kick Out the Ladder, and Failure: The Secret to Success. You can filter content using 12 content filter types and by most popular (I’m guessing that would be what ever video plays as the intro) and recently updated. That’s it. There is no other content on the site other than Subscribe and Share links in the top navigation.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Hyundai Alleviates Consumer Uncertainty

Hyundai gets my award for Most Relevant Automotive Consumer Campaign. Ok, no such award exists but if it did - Hyundai would take it in a second. The Hyundai Assurance program promotes the idea of relieving car shoppers from the concern of job loss. What with Economists talking about a possible national 11% unemployment rate, it certainly is something very top of mind. Besides, who really wants to buy a car if one is concerned about not receiving paychecks weeks or months after adding a sizable car payment to one's monthly bills?

So, Hyundai came up with a program to let customers return a newly leased vehicle if they suffer a job loss. They teamed up with, a company that insures people from their commitment when "unforeseen life events occur." The "We've Got Your Back for One Full Year" message is concise, culturally relevant, and hits a macro economic issue that has dramatically deterred car sales. It also gets a company away from more money on the hood to try to entice buyers. The discounts going on today have hit $7,000 to $8,000 in December on truck products with tons of promotions across the industry like 0% financing, employee pricing, or both.

Hyundai essentially gets to the root of the problem -- Uncertainty. Price isn't the issue. "The question for consumers right now is what is going to happen to their income in 2009," Joel Ewanick, Hyundai Motor America's vice president of marketing, told Automotive News. "That's what is keeping them on their couches. No matter how big the rebate you put out, the real issue is fear."

Friday, January 2, 2009

Smug Shoppers Cutting Back

Oil has dropped considerably, losing 50% of its price since hitting $100 a year ago. A global economic crisis is setting in and consumers are cutting back on their auto buying in a dramatic way. This change has dramatically impacted hybrid sales. Yes, hybrids - the darlings of the automotive industry as consumers were supposed to move to green vehicles in a major way after seeing $4 plus gas prices in 2008.

Well guess what? Gas prices fell more than half in late 2008 and hybrid sales followed with a 53% drop in sales from a year earlier, compared to a 37% drop in car sales overall. Go figure, someone isn't as willing to pay a $3,000 - $5,000 markup for adding an electric engine to a gasoline powered car when their wealth is falling and their job stability is in doubt.

All of this change should shift how hybrid cars are marketed.

You have to wonder first if the hybrid message is losing its cache with the newer innovative technologies like Electric Vehicle (EV) cars coming in 2010 that will certainly be the focus, desire of the green consumers. I also question if hybrids will simply lose sales because its consumers are those in the lower $100k household income range that are being impacted considerably by the loss of value in their McMansions and stock portfolios and are already cutting back considerably on luxury labels like Coach, Williams-Sonoma, and Juicy Couture. Hybrids have come to be more of a status symbol than a true revolution in automotive design. Don't get me wrong, they are a step in the right direction, just not a major shift since they still require gasoline engines to function.

The marketing shift should focus beyond just green-minded consumers. I think Toyota has done well with their Lexus Power of h campaign, but it is solely tailored to a green consumer and does not extend beyond them. Certainly, green consumers are already aware of the hybrids and it is now more about reaching to the customer who isn't buying green products and showing them that hybrids aren't all flowers, blue skies and green valleys. It's about making hybrid a more intelligent choice (e.g. innovative technology, proven efficiencies) and showing hybrid isn't something that is just for wimps or smug greens.

It will be interesting to see how hybrid marketing evolves in the coming years, especially as hybrids start spanning different vehicle segments. Cadillac is definitely struggling with its Escalade Hybrid, but that doesn't surprise anyone. The good news is that cars like the Tesla Roadster (full electric) and the new Ford Fusion Hybrid aren't tin can econoboxes or vanilla looking sedans. Some style is finally coming into the green vehicle segment.