OPINION: International car ads fail to achieve their true potential

Why do car ads produced for the international market rarely have the vision associated with their domestic counterparts? They’re too bland, Paul Richards argues

Why do car ads produced for the international market rarely have the

vision associated with their domestic counterparts? They’re too bland,

Paul Richards argues

Why are the majority of car commercials produced for international

screening so bland? Why are they memorable only for their weight of

spend, rather than their intrinsic interest? Whatever happened to having

a strong idea?

For example, rarely do you see an ad as well produced - one that’s

clearly had so much time, effort and money put into it - as the Vauxhall

Vectra film. It is 60 seconds of computerised, digitalised, how-do-they-

do-it production values.

But what’s it all about? What’s the big idea? The car for the next

millennium when everybody will be virtually bland? Or virtually bored?

Because if one thing is ultimately dull it is the vacuity of


Maybe it’s an ad for international use. That’s the first reason that

comes to mind. Or the first excuse.

Has it really come to this? Do clients and agencies search for a

compelling truth about their cars that will appeal to drivers from

Munich to Marbella, only to discover that the cultural barriers are so

insurmountable, the desires for fact or fantasy so different, that the

only recourse is pure imagery - thrilling in its execution but devoid of


Perhaps we are searching too hard. Maybe we should spend less on

international research projects and use more of that most valuable, yet

least valued, commodity, namely professional commonsense. I suspect that

anyone with experience of international car meetings must have

considered whether falling off a high building would be less painful,

and more practical, than, say, requesting 80 tamazapan from your general


The language of international marketing can be so cloying and abstract

that it leaves practical considerations such as what is the ad supposed

to say in its figurative wake. You know the language: interior

environment, compatibility, spaciousness, advanced X, Y and Z, and so

on. While these are all perfectly good words in their context, they are

not usually appropriate for use as that vital verbal bridge between

product understanding and the ad campaign, better known as the creative


Ads should have an idea behind them. Computerised images or glamour

shots of cars skidding, racing or driving down that same gorgeous road

in Scotland (or is it South Africa or New Zealand?) do not amount to an


But it doesn’t have to be like that. There are some positive examples of

the use of professional commonsense in terms of both strategy and

execution. Audi, Volkswagen and Renault have all shown how the

application of clear understanding and creative thinking can produce ads

that speak to the consumer. Fiat’s terrific UK work - the Coupe

commercial is a particularly good example - puts its blander

international ads in the shade. And many of the Far-Eastern and Japanese

entrants come up with relevant and distinctive ideas.

Perhaps it’s the rush for the mass market that produces poor work. Then

again, Vauxhall has a persuasive case history of quality ads, and a

growing mass-market share. It is Volvo that best sums up the dilemma of

Europeanisation. Its ads and sponsorship on satellite TV make a pale

contrast with its UK work.

While Volvo, like others, has realised the market benefits of a domestic

campaign, as opposed to the short-term, balance-sheet advantages of

minimising international production costs as international broadcasting

mushrooms, its work has also shown how easy it is to confuse people with

different messages.

Is a single message, however vacuous, better than different ones of

substance, and therefore a greater persuader? We should hope not, and

prove otherwise.


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