CAR REPORT: Motor Mouthpieces - There’s now a car for almost everyone, so advertisers and media planners have to think laterally to reach that niche. Richard Cook looks at the sector’s new titles and the quest to cut through television clu

A decade ago it all seemed rather simple. Vauxhall offered just four car brands to the eager UK market, while the biggest player, Ford, marketed a similar number. And in the manner of most major manufacturers in those innocent, not so far off days, both offered simply their own branded versions of what were the small car, the medium-sized car, the family car and the executive saloon.

A decade ago it all seemed rather simple. Vauxhall offered just

four car brands to the eager UK market, while the biggest player, Ford,

marketed a similar number. And in the manner of most major manufacturers

in those innocent, not so far off days, both offered simply their own

branded versions of what were the small car, the medium-sized car, the

family car and the executive saloon.

Appropriately, the advertising choices adopted to promote this modest

selection were all quite straightforward - heavyweight TV spots to show

off the cars’ curves and metal and posters to get the motor close to the

actual traffic on the roads. These would be supported by tactical press

ads to communicate dealer offers and, invariably, this would all be

topped off by a presence in the specialist car titles, the likes of What


Innovative media planning on a car launch meant little more than opting

for, say, a tactical radio presence as well.

Nowadays, it’s all a little bit more complicated. Vauxhall offers no

fewer than nine car brands in the UK market, including some marques that

could best be described as niche. The Tigra, for example, is aimed

primarily at women and not envisaged as a huge volume brand or,

consequently, as a big spending advertiser. Similarly, Ford is preparing

to launch its tenth and 11th models at the end of this year and the

beginning of the next. Its models will then stretch all the way from the

mass market Focus to the luxury Lincoln, the Galaxy people-carrier and

the sporty, award-winning Puma. In addition, the birth and development

of smaller marques such as Daewoo, Hyundai and Kia has contributed to a

baffling assortment of car choice for consumers and increasing clutter

for advertisers.

’Clutter and the opportunities afforded by media fragmentation are two

of the biggest concerns for car advertisers at the moment,’ explains

Optimedia managing partner, Philip Talbot, ’And notice that I said the

opportunities of fragmentation. Because, increasingly, the media car

market is all about thinking laterally to get the best out of the

available media. When we launched the Renault Clio campaign just before

the World Cup there was no way we would abandon TV simply because there

was lots of car clutter at that time. What it meant in today’s market,

unlike in the past, was that we had to invest a certain amount of time

in alerting people to the fact the campaign was going to be running at

that particular time. In the end we used the media fragmentation to our

own advantage.

’The fact is that Saturday and Sunday papers are ridiculously thick but

they all have a TV section. So we just took a strip ad on all the

programme listings guides for Saturday and Sunday papers to promote the

TV spot.

In addition, we used radio, which is conventionally dismissed as a

device for promoting price offers, to run a teaser campaign for the

Nicole wedding.

It helped that we had seven years of creative heritage to work with, but

it does show how important it is in the TV marketplace for advertisers

and their agencies start to think laterally.’

One immediate consequence of this need to stretch the media planning is,

naturally enough, a change in the media mix. But just as importantly, so

too is the way that mix is put to use by car clients and their


What hasn’t changed is that for all the fragmentation, cost inflation

and clutter, TV remains the dominant medium. But it’s no longer the

be-all-and-end-all of every car advertising initiative. And the way even

TV campaigns are planned is changing to encompass the new realities of

the car market. Renault, for example, first promoted the Espace by using

only cable and satellite TV channels, while Ogilvy & Mather had to be

more flexible than usual when it launched the Ford Ka.

Part of this was forced by the relatively modest launch budget of just

pounds 2 million over three months, but because the Ka was really aimed

at a relatively narrow target audience, the resultant TV campaign could

rely more heavily on planning than on spend. They didn’t buy a package

of ratings but instead selected appropriate programmes, targeting

Channel 4 shows like ER and Friends, and buying four to five teaser

spots a week for the first five weeks of the campaign. In addition, the

ad went straight to the cinema, not for the awareness figures that

traditionally have been the sine qua non of almost any car launch, but

so that the campaign reached what marketers refer to as early adopters -

the style leaders who might be prepared to try an unusual product like

the Ka.

Whether this campaign was deemed to be a success or not - and the fact

Young & Rubicam is now handling the account suggest that there was at

least some debate about that - it was at least indicative of some of the

changes continuing to inform the car advertising market.

’The changes have really been at the margins but they have been there,’

points out Gary Birtles, joint deputy media director at Western

International Media. ’TV is still by far the most potent brand builder

but other media have managed to grow in importance for car advertisers.

Outdoor, for instance, has been a prime beneficiary of the fact there

are now so many more smaller manufacturers and niche brands that don’t

necessarily have the budget to warrant a heavyweight TV presence.’

Here, too, the recent emphasis has been on using the medium in a more

lateral and creative way. Renault has, for example, pioneered the use of

six-sheet posters to create a more intimate connection with consumers

than the traditional 96-sheet and 48-sheet sites used to show off

gleaming metal at its beautifully photographed best.

Another big beneficiary, though, has been in the consumer magazine


’Car companies have excellent information about their customers nowadays

thanks to improved data-collection techniques,’ says Talbot, ’so they

can be much more precise in their targeting’

’It helps that there has been this explosion of male-orientated consumer

mags,’ adds Birtles. ’ The success of the likes of FHM has given us

access to men in large enough numbers to make it an attractive

proposition to advertise. Previously, the only option was the review

section of the newspapers and then, of course, you are buying a lot of


It’s a fact not lost on the specialist car magazine market, which has

been quick to realise the attractions of developing car magazines with

at least some lifestyle features. Emap’s Max Power has stormed ahead to

a circulation of around 200,000 on the back of astute positioning that

never manages to underestimate the limpet-like attraction between men

and fast cars. Revs, the magazine launched by Emap to exploit the

success of Max Power increased its circulation by more than 10 per cent

in the past year to just under 70,000. In fact, nine of the ten

best-selling car magazines have put on circulation over the past


Among the middle-of-the-road monthlies, Top Gear and What Car? made

impressive circulation gains in the latest ABC returns and both are well

established with advertisers.

In the weeklies market, which advertisers use almost as a trade press,

Auto Express has gone from strength to strength since Dennis acquired it

from United Newspapers in November 1996. It has overtaken AutoCar to

become the top-selling weekly, improving 24 per cent over the period

and, according to its publisher, is still putting on healthy sales.

Launches in the sector include Haymarket’s picture-led Formula One

title, GPX, which debuted in July.

The title is an attempt to attract a younger, 16- to-24-year-old

audience and the mainstream youth advertisers that seek them, rather

than a serious alternative for the car manufacturers. The other major

entrant, Future’s Red Line, is also likely to receive short shrift from

the car companies.

A publication that some newsagents will be tempted to keep nearer the

top shelf than the motoring section, it is hoping to prosper on a diet

of youth advertising for computer games, scooters and peripheral car

products rather than any traditional automotive branding ads.

’ The car market is worth pounds 500 million a year, let’s not forget,’

Carat’s client services director, Colin Mills, points out, ’and there

are a lot of publishers out there hoping that just a tiny fraction of

that can be diverted their way. There has always been this strange

mentality that links car enthusiasts and scantily clad girls - there’s

even the Men & Motors satellite TV channel, for example. They are never

going to be important for the media strategy but they are all hoping to

pick up some revenue at the margins.’

The other major change in the sector has been the emergence of customer

magazines - the Ford Magazine now distributes close to a million copies,

re-inforcing the brand message and helping the manufacturer further

refine its customer information.

But it’s not just the specialist magazines that have assumed an

increased prominence in the car market. As car companies’ databases

become ever more sophisticated, so do the opportunities for a more

targeted approach from their agencies. Women’s magazines have been a

major beneficiary of this particular development.

’Basically, the attraction for car clients of women’s magazines is that

we do two distinct jobs,’ Good Housekeeping’s director of advertising

sales, Carlo Bertozzi, points out. ’Obviously we enable advertisers to

talk to the woman who is buying the car herself, but also they get the

chance to influence the purchasing intentions of that woman’s other


And, increasingly, car manufacturers are having to advertise

specifically to women, not least because the dealer networks seem not to

be female-friendly at all. The proof of how seriously they are starting

to take this market is that, for the first time, they’ve started to

devise campaigns where the creative is actually tailored to the

editorial environment and to the women readers.’

In fact, Good Housekeeping is running ads for seven car companies in its

August issue, including one for Nissan that illustrates this new


The ad resembles a traditional perfume scent strip while the copy

promises something called Sans Fleurs. Once the strip is opened, though,

the offering is seen to be for a product benefit of the Nissan Micra

that is ’not to be sniffed at’.

The problem, though, is that as individual advertising agencies

successfully demonstrate a new way to use additional media choices, so

their rivals start to imitate them, ensuring that clutter remains a

constant difficulty.

’Everywhere you turn, even if it’s the most apparently unlikely of media

choices, you will find that at least ten other car companies are there

as well,’ Mills says.’ Everyone gravitates to the same places and you’ll

find if you turn to something like the Mail on Sunday’s Night & Day

supplement, there’ll be four or five colour car spreads in the first 30

pages. That sort of clutter encourages advertisers to experiment.’

For some car advertisers, experimentation is taking place across the

full range of the consumer magazine sector, for others it is contained

in below-the-line extravaganzas or on the internet, or even in some

high-profile sports sponsorship initiatives. For all of them, the move

next year to a new licensing system where registrations will be issued

at six- monthly intervals is going to make more changes inevitable. The

idea is to spread the current annual August peak in new car sales over

the whole year to make life easier on the manufacturers. The result may

be a change in the levels of car clutter for advertisers throughout the


But no-one needs doubt that they will adapt; after all, they’ve already

had to change so much.


                            June 97-May 98      Previous

Rank   Title                       pounds           year

                                                  pounds    % change

1      RADIO TIMES               6,416,128     5,850,861         9.7

2      WHAT CAR?                 4,278,817     3,377,460        26.7

3      AUTOCAR                   3,265,801     2,678,762        21.9

4      TOP GEAR                  3,238,132     3,048,398         6.2

5      ECONOMIST                 2,040,130     1,516,530        34.5

6      AUTO EXPRESS              1,876,841     1,425,741        31.6

7      CAR                       1,755,503     1,391,938        26.1

8      VOGUE                     1,351,185       596,610       126.5

9      GQ                        1,269,459       892,535        42.2

10     ESQUIRE                   1,107,752       788,449        40.5

11     COSMOPOLITAN              1,085,250     1,016,314         6.8

12     GOOD HOUSEKEEPING           916,957       932,331        -1.6

13     ELLE                        781,484       488,320          60

14     READER’S DIGEST             764,295       806,950        -5.3

15     NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC         680,070       489,900        38.8

16     TIME INTERNATIONAL          677,148       784,324       -13.7

17     FHM                         654,774       287,798       127.5

18     MARIE CLAIRE                630,078       581,776         8.3

19     VANITY FAIR                 594,943       419,368        41.9

20     COUNTRY LIVING              549,897       441.499        24.6

Total                           33,934,644    27,815,864

Data is supplied by Media Monitoring Services. Consumer magazines are

costed at ratecard and exclude newspaper supplements.


Rank  Car brands                June 97-May 98      previous    % change

                                        pounds          year


1   ROVER - CAR RANGE               17,300,347        92,141    18,675.9

2   VAUXHALL - CORSA RANGE          15,098,756    10,382,273        45.4

3   VOLKSWAGEN - POLO/POLO RANGE    13,129,439     7,596,273        72.8

4   PEUGEOT - 106/106 RANGE         13,085,884     7,203,190        81.7

5   CITROEN - XSARA/XSARA RANGE     10,467,287             -           -

6   FORD - MONDEO/MONDEO RANGE       9,318,407    10,122,486        -7.9

7   RENAULT - CLIO RANGE             9,272,395     9,708,502        -4.5

8   RENAULT - MEGANE SCENIC          9,219,689     5,234,115        76.1

9   RENAULT - MEGANE/MEGANE RANGE    9,213,576    14,938,400       -38.3

10  FIAT - BRAVO/BRAVA               8,773,970    11,453,259       -23.4

    Total others                   218,780,292   239,229,305

    Total all brands               333,660,042   315,959,944

Data is supplied by Media Monitoring Services.


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