Simon Francis’s recent article on the car market provides an interesting insight into the big challenge of how we buy our cars; a challenge for the manufacturers and dealers.
Some years ago I was asked to write an article for Campaign magazine about the advertising end of this complex process. I provoked the wrath of various marketing directors of car marques because I suggested only a very few sustain a consistent idea above and beyond short-term tactics of model launches. So ‘shifting the metal’ appeared to be the paramount goal ignoring the cumulative benefit of building a strong franchise for a particular marque.
The SMMT’s forecast for UK new car sales in 2013 is 2.25m, and, according to Parkers, there are 96 different marques to choose from! Also the UK market is growing whereas some mainland Europe countries remain in decline.
In Simon’s piece the top three influencers of car purchases were ‘car on road’, ‘TV ad’, ‘website’. Logically this makes sense. Our buying process, which is usually long on time, must begin with awareness leading on to evaluation. Also the awareness starting point might be the result of input and influence over years, not days or weeks or even months.
Past research I’ve seen has been useful also in understanding how buyers approach their big purchase. For example, advertising awareness peaks prior to and post a purchase. Equally we start to notice our shortlist on the road, weighing up looks, the drivers, detail such as wheels and colours. In psychology terms the first is termed ‘post-decisional dissonance’ (have I done the right thing?), so searching for confirmation of a good decision and the latter ‘selective perception’, checking out our peers and their cars.
As Simon points out it is a complicated business.
Dealing with the motor trade over the years, one of the major preoccupations is showroom footfall. Every car dealer wants some form of news to provoke showroom visits. Then they can get close to a potential customer and start the process of reeling them in. So at the top of the hopper of potential customers is advertising, a fairly broad brush and wasteful channel given each month on average 187,500 cars will be purchased. Which equates to, crudely, less than one per cent of the UK adult population; say less than half a per cent of households owning a car.
This means TV advertising should have a long term relevance and not be just a short term hit. Knowingly producing advertising that has a short shelf life is extremely wasteful.
A case in point at the moment is the approach Jaguar has taken. They have co-funded a dedicated ad agency in California called Spark44 to handle their £60m global ad budget. The output so far has been very mixed.
Their head to head competition of BMW, Audi, Mercedes, and now Porsche with the F-Type, all have decades of strong brand building that is embedded in the minds of their target audience. Jaguar is a re-invented brand and needs to build its credentials to at least parity, and further develop a clear differentiated positioning versus the big guns.
On current evidence Jaguar are committing the industry sin of producing work for different models with advertising that isn’t linked together. The F-Type advertising on and offline is a disappointment given all the hype in advance of the model launch. The idea of ‘Your Turn’ (below) left me wondering what that was all about. The Jeremy Clarkson review on his TV show was a far better piece of product promotion than the (expensive) TV advertising spot. The latest work for the XFR is equally disappointing, another bit of film of a car racing along winding roads.
What’s missing is their version of ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ or ‘Vorsprung durch tecknic’. What is their brand positioning where every bit of communication underpins the marque’s mission/identity?
The challenge here of course is the dilemma the Jaguar management have with their diverse target audience. However, as the good Bill Bernbach said, you need to stand for something to be distinctive.
Jumping to a direction for Jaguar, for a bit of speculative fun, I would be exploring the Steppenwolf classic ‘Born to be wild’ as a marque signature. It fits with the brand name, fits with the heritage of the marque, and fits with the models they are producing – and is a global iconic bit of music. The lyrics are spot on:
“Get your motor runnin’, Head out on the highway, Lookin’ for adventure’, etc., etc.
Despite the association with the movie Easy Rider I suspect it all happened too long ago for most of the people they are courting to remember or care. Whereas the German competition is essentially Teutonic efficiency, Jaguar can set itself apart by basing more on the emotion, a powerful aspect of car ownership.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have owned two Jaguar XKRs at different times, first the coupe and then the convertible. They were fabulous cars to drive in every respect but in both cases I changed them after a fairly short time, less than two years. I think the psychological niggle in my head was there wasn’t a Jaguar ‘club’. If the car of choice was the XKR you were not the same as someone who was driving a Jaguar saloon; they were different people. I feel different with a BMW or an Audi for example; every model is part of the marque’s ‘club’.
Returning to Mr Bernbach and his point about standing for something, I would humbly suggest Jaguar need to figure this out and develop a skewer that runs through the marque and the model range; it would certainly make their advertising investment more effective over time.
One of the points emerging in the article written by Simon Francis is how easy it is for a long list option not to make the short list due to the communication not being joined up – a result, no doubt, of the complex influences at play.
A final point about Jaguar is about the F-Type. I signed up for regular updates about the new model about a year before it was launched and received email news stories from time to time. Once it was launched this all stopped! Why have they not followed through since the launch?
Now if Jaguar’s marque was based around ‘Born to be wild’ they would have had me saving my pennies to put my name down for a new one in about three years; it’ll take that long to save the money.