How much of car advertising is wasted?

Lord Leverhulme is credited with saying “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, the trouble is I don’t know which half”. (I think he nicked it from John Wanamaker, a US store merchant, nickname ‘Wanamakerlotofmoney’.) Applied to car advertising I would venture it is more like 70/30.

Jerry Judge has written an interesting piece for regarding the approach most car manufacturers take advertising their products. Jerry’s point is about the ‘comfort zone’ they tend to gravitate towards, i.e. the lingering camera following a car navigating bendy roads in an attractive location. As he suggests, a cliché all too easy to forget.

The wider point I’ve never understood is the general lack of consistency from campaign to campaign. As a devoted petrol head I genuinely can’t recall 90% of car advertising, it all merges in to one big set of images, with the exception of a few.

Given most people change their cars between three and five years it begs the question of target audience at any point in time? In the trade they talk about ‘shifting the metal’ given the factory is churning out vehicles continuously that need passing on to new car buyers. So the target audience is c. 0.3%  of the population considering buying a car this month, let alone the c. 3.0% in a full year? Conversely, this month  99.7% of the population will not be buying a new car. On average, flattening out the annual new registrations of 2m across twelve months, c. 167,000 new registrations will be logged in January; and my guess it will be less as people wait for the new registration year in March.

Returning to advertising then this suggests almost all of the money spent is focused on today, chasing a tiny percentage of the population. This might explain the lack of consistency from one ad campaign for model A to another campaign for model B both from the same parent marque. It must mean most advertising is ‘disposable’; it serves its purpose for a short time and then is binned. With little or no enduring equity in the brand.

Very few appear to sustain a longer term thought, both linking individual model advertising and building longer term propaganda for the marque. BMW did for many years with  “The Ultimate Driving Machine”, Audi do with “Vorsprung durch Technik” both exceptions to the rule. VW recently adopted “Das Auto”. All German, interesting.

The point Jerry Judge makes is about being brave and being different; I agree with him but I would add the point about consistency. MINI pulls off both, all down to excellent art direction which they follow through on to their website seamlessly. I can’t recall anything of note from Ford/Vauxhall/Renault/ et al.

I don’t believe anyone buys a new car on a knee jerk basis. It’s a big old purchase and surely we all think about it for a long time? We form our short list way before we are in the zone of parting with our hard earned cash. The role of the marque must be a big consideration that influences our feelings and thinking. As an example Jaguar launch the F Type this year and they have been sending me email updates for at least a year. Whetting my appetite based on the empirical evidence that Chinese water torture works.

Having worked with several car manufacturers I totally get the serious commercial issues surrounding the management of mega investment in manufacturing and stock. However I also feel the urgent drives out the important when it comes to the longer term brand management of the marque. Advertising is a good barometer of the balance between brand management and sales management.







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