Joint industry marketing initiatives are, to say the least, often
fraught with difficulties. If a camel is a racehorse designed by a
committee, then just think how much potential there is for the creation
of a dog's breakfast when those committee members are ferocious rivals.
Rivals such as Ford, DaimlerChrysler and General Motors, for instance.
Or, staying with a transport theme, ferocious rivals such as British
Airways, KLM, Air France, Alitalia and a handful of other European
Last week, the airlines unveiled revamped plans to develop a joint sales
and marketing initiative called the Online Travel Portal; and although
the car manufacturers - which are already joint venture partners in
Covisint, an online procurement and information network for their
manufacturing partners and suppliers - were more coy about their
intentions, they are also thought to be bringing forward plans for a
consumer marketing portal.
Both groups are looking for agencies to handle consumer advertising
Which will be nice for the ultimate pitch winners. But will they
struggle to make sense of the briefs they are given? In short, do these
initiatives make any sort of sense?
On the face of it, these are two very different initiatives. One
apparent motivation behind the Covisint portal (and plans are in their
early stages as yet) is a desire to reinforce the industry's public
But it is assumed that it will also have a more direct consumer
marketing role - news, features, road-test reviews of the products. It
could look like an online magazine. Which, in turn, would locate it near
the front line as far as direct sales are concerned.
The Online Travel Portal will be unashamedly commercial - and that will
not surprise those who have argued all along that travel will ultimately
prove one of the most fruitful e-commerce sectors. How they share the
same platform, though, will be interesting.
On the face of it, we have to assume that retail will be a minor
consideration with the car portal. The car industry - manufacturers
themselves as well as intermediaries - have made heavy weather of
selling directly to consumers via the web. Or even generating sales
leads, come to that. One of the main reasons why that is so is that they
are, according to one observer, scared to death of alienating their
So it's going to be an exercise in vanity publishing, isn't it? As one
source puts it: 'It could look really lame and apologetic or it could be
sexy. It could be a dull corporate facade with options to click
immediately through to Ford.com or whatever. It's up to them, obviously,
but you'd think they have some ambitions for it if they're contemplating
a consumer campaign. I don't think anyone should be surprised that major
manufacturers are toying with this idea.'
Could this sort of development worry media owners either on- or
For example, media owners such as Emap, which has a number of automotive
media properties. Tom Toumazis, the managing director of Emap
Advertising, comments: 'This isn't new. We've seen a number of FMCG
companies developing content on their sites in the hope of building a
regular audience. It hasn't worked. The big question is whether this is
presented as a public relations exercise or as a media brand. Can
consumers rely on getting impartial advice from a site funded by car
manufacturers? When they buy Car magazine, they know they are getting
impartial advice. Will this be seen as a media property? If so, then
good luck to them. But it's a very competitive world and this is not
their core area of expertise.'
On the other hand, perhaps there's more to all of this than meets the
eye. One source close to the car industry certainly thinks so: 'Yes,
much of this doesn't add up. In both instances we're talking about
competitors coming together and, of course, your first instinct is that
it can't possibly work. But you have to scratch the surface and in both
cases you'll find e-commerce if you do. Competitors are coming together
because they're preparing to do something radical and they want safety
in numbers. In both cases their agenda is all about challenging the
existing systems of distribution. They want to cut out the middleman -
agents in one case and dealerships in the other. The car site may look
like a lot of things - for instance, an online media property and a
search engine that will allow you to compare specifications. But
distribution is the agenda. They're looking to the long term and I
wouldn't underestimate what they're doing.'