OPINION: Cowen on ... Vauxhall Vectra

Generally speaking, it's not a great idea for too much of a new car's internal engineering to be visible to the consumer's eye as he or she wanders through the showroom. Unfortunately for Vauxhall, a similar rule applies to the advertising of a new model.

Sure, it's important that the strategy and the mechanics of the marketplace have been thought through. However, we'll never be truly convinced by the resultant advertising if these rather dry considerations aren't bound up in the kind of seamless, sleek idea that offers something to our imagination.

For the relaunch of the Vauxhall Vectra, Lowe has crafted a slick enough advertising package. There's a high concept, courtroom drama scenario, a heavyweight Hollywood actor snarling at the camera and high production values all round. However, these are nowhere near enough to disguise the all-too clear concerns of client and agency. In fact, Ed Harris' script feels like it's been cribbed directly from the marketing director's comments in the briefing meeting.

The entire purpose of this campaign - spelled out in the initial spot and, I can exclusively reveal, rammed home with all the subtlety of an SUV in the rest of the campaign - is to prove, via our Ed, that the new Vectra is a genuine improvement on the old one. Not all that exciting is it? But then, that's the problem. There are plenty of good reasons why the idea of the car improving is an important message for Vauxhall to get across but they're not reasons that are important to the man in the street - or even the man in the showroom.

The Vectra is an important model for Vauxhall in the lucrative upper-medium sector of the car market. As such, the most important individuals in the eyes of its marketing department are the fleet buyers that contribute hugely to its sale - and the dealers, whose powers to choose what marques they display in their showrooms are on the increase.

Vauxhall must convince both of these groups that the new version of the Vectra is worth extending existing relationships for - and that they shouldn't be distracted by new models on offer from rival manufacturers. This explains why, for all its gloss, this campaign feels like a trade ad that's somehow made it on screen in front of a mainstream consumer audience.

To that audience, the less-than gripping technical detail that Lowe weaves into its elaborate scenario comes over as small-minded obsession with the kind of minor issues that hardly initiate our choice of vehicle. There's one breathless speech from Harris, later in the campaign, in which he asks the jury to imagine an indicator that "gets louder the longer it flashes".

This is potentially inspiring stuff for anyone who's ever sat there and agonised about the lack of thought that goes into their indicator signals but for the rest of us it's likely to inspire nothing more than a shrug.

There's a vague attempt to convince that these minor improvements are merely the tip of the iceberg - evidence of a concern for drivers that runs throughout the organisation.

However, this kernel of an idea is never allowed to develop into anything remotely convincing and as a result we're left, at the end of the campaign, with a spattering of product details that feels strangely unenthusing.

This wouldn't matter if the decisions of dealers and fleet buyers were made solely on the grounds of technical specifications and price and wholly ignored their subjective judgment of what other people want to drive. But this isn't the case - and Vauxhall knows it. Otherwise this campaign would probably have been restricted to the pages of Auto Trader.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Case dismissed.
File under ... T for trade (masquerading as consumer).
What would the chairman's wife say? What do they do to the car if it's
found guilty?


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