CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/CAR ADVERTISING - Why are more car makers marketing the marque? Is umbrella branding the best way to boost poor car sales?

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.

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

car models.

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

Lintas, says.

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

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

latest campaign.

’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



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