Car advertising is big business. Accounts can still make or break
an advertising agency, and the creative for such accounts is generally
sexy, streamlined and slick - it’s also notoriously expensive.
But car advertising does have a famously low brand recall among
Agency ad tracking suggests that consumers find car advertising
difficult to remember, with very little brand recognition of different
Perhaps in response to this, industry watchers have seen the start of a
shift in the ad strategies of some car manufacturers.
Could it be that some car companies feel that their huge marketing
spends in the past have failed to deliver? That all this money is being
put to waste?
These days both Vauxhall and Daewoo are favouring ’marque’ advertising
’hold-all’ campaigns that focus on pushing the brand of the car
manufacturer, rather than the separate car models. And BMW and Mercedes
have also used such tactics of late, while last week Mazda announced the
launch of its first brand campaign for eight years, through J. Walter
Ford is also understood to be planning similar catch-all advertising in
the future. The company’s European chairman, Nick Scheele, recently
stated in a Sunday Times interview that the group’s advertising, which
has generally been model-focused rather than brand-focused, has resulted
in the brand starting to lose its identity.
There seem to be a number of forces that are driving this trend. The car
manufacturing industry is not in great shape. Over-capacity is a problem
- car factories are producing too many cars for too few people - so
pressures to increase profits are higher than ever.
Pressures on car manufacturers to increase their profit margins are
dictating that they get a higher return from their advertising spend,
which accounts for one of the biggest adspend sectors in the market -
worth pounds 700 million a year. An agency insider suggested that
hold-all campaigns can save a car company as much as 25 per cent of its
normal advertising budget.
The Korean car manufacturer, Daewoo, was the first car brand in the UK
to focus on marque advertising with a campaign through Duckworth Finn
Grubb Waters. A very young brand in the UK, Daewoo had the advantage of
building a customer brand from scratch. ’They are very focused on their
customer values and service rather than specific car features,’ Julie
Christian, the marketing director at Duckworth Finn, says.
Alison Moran, the marketing director at Daewoo, says that the company
recognised a lack of faith in car dealers generally as well as the need
for good customer service in the UK car industry when it entered the
market five years ago.
’Rather than the tired old images of cars driving through burning fields
of corn, we recognised customers wanted customer service as well as
value for money,’ Moran says.
But is this change in direction really a sign of more concern for the
customer by car manufacturers, or is it more to do with the fact that
such generic car brand advertising is much cheaper?
Vauxhall is in the throes of a campaign put together by Lowe Lintas &
Partners featuring the comedian Griff Rhys-Jones, which has been running
since the beginning of the year. ’The idea’s not about models, it’s
about Vauxhall generally,’ Paul Hammersley, the chief executive at Lowe
Vauxhall’s marketing director, Dean Barrett, admits: ’Apart from
anything else, it gets extremely expensive if you try to build up each
model as a separate brand.’
But one industry source has doubts about the effectiveness of this
developing trend in advertising: ’People don’t buy a range of cars, they
buy one car.’ The source adds that advertisers are focusing on the
marque branding because it’s cheaper and requires less work.
But Barrett is convinced brand is paramount: ’The ’Vauxhallness’ of the
advertising is cutting through. If you concentrate on individual
products when you have an umbrella brand, then you’re in danger of not
pushing your umbrella brand to the consumer. It’s important not to let
model brands take over.’
Car advertising might be focusing more on generic branding than its
individual cars, but it’s not passing over its distinct brand models all
’People will, eventually, want to know something about the car itself,’
Hammersley says, ’so Vauxhall will continue to run tactical advertising
on posters and press.’
Pricing has been a big issue for Volkswagen, but it’s the price of cars,
not the cost of advertising, that has been its major concern. The
discrepancy between car prices in the UK compared with on the Continent
is a hot topic - the ’great British rip-off’ is eating into UK car sales
and is also fuelling the growth of online car dealers such as Virgin
Cars, OneSwoop and Direct Line’s Jamjar.com.
Paul Buckett, a VW spokesman, says: ’All of our advertising now focuses
on affordability - a VW isn’t as expensive as you thought, go and have a
look for yourself.’
Vauxhall was the first car manufacturer in the UK to put some of its
models up for sale across the web, and it has incorporated this into its
’One of our ads which featured our online car buying portal wasn’t just
about online selling, it was designed to improve how people feel about
Vauxhall as a brand as well as to demonstrate we are on top of things in
terms of the internet,’ Hammersley says.
But it will be a while before online car dealers begin to threaten the
foundations of bricks and mortar dealers; consumer confidence online has
a long way to go. Suzanne Butler, the head of marketing at Autobytel,
which matches customers with car dealers, also pointed out that there
will always be those car shoppers who want to kick the car tyres and
have a chat with a salesman.
’However, as we move more online, advertising will have to be more
benefit-driven for the consumer to differentiate itself,’ Butler
CAR ADSPENDS: UK
June 1999 to May 2000
Renault pounds 66.1m
Vauxhall pounds 59.4m
Volkswagen pounds 48.5m
Ford pounds 48.4m
Peugeot pounds 47.1m
Rover pounds 45.9m
Toyota pounds 42.3m
Fiat pounds 33.6m
Nissan pounds 31.7m
Citroen pounds 28.5m
Source: AC Nielsen