Insider Opinion: Big Dog: the problem with marketing
On one route for my nightly walkies, I waddle past the door of a marketing agency that used to do a lot of automotive work. You may rest assured that I always make sure I save a piddle for their front step.
And why this bad feeling for advertisers and marketers? Because they help push some simply awful cars onto unsuspecting and vulnerable people, like drug dealers at the school gates, while also, through incompetence and stupidity, failing to inform the world of terrific products that could change the way we think.
Now there are too many examples to list of the lousy pushed on the poor (or rich), so anyone involved in selling Ladas or Daewoos, or Escorts should hang their heads in shame. We might have all done it because it was our job, but just obeying orders hasn't been a get out clause since 1945! Haven't we all at some point wanted to walk onto the motor show stand of the company we work for just before the press conference, and yell at the assembled bunch of semi-literate hacks: "No, we might have given you lots of free booze and flown you to beautiful places - but its rubbish! For God's sake tell the truth for once; it's a 607/Ferrari 360/Jeep Grand Cherokee and it really is hopeless."
But we don't, of course, so like it or not, we are complicit in a fraud that takes thousands of dollars from unsuspecting people and gives them something we know to be lousy in return. The only good thing is that eventually even the most naïve get the message and all the advertising and marketing in the world can't save the day - Rover and its 'Sterling' troubles in America in the late 1980s surely proved the reality of this.
But the less obvious, far more dreadful crime of the marketer is to undersell something that really is rather good. And the classic example of this at the moment is the Peugeot 1007. Designed for a world full of ageing urbanites, the 1007 is surely one of those products that could have been iconic. For the first time in decades a breath of fresh air was offered to an older generation who like to sit up high, have a small car with space for the grandkids. It offers unparalleled access, while bringing the same benefits to the hard-pressed parent on the school run, suggesting broad market appeal.
If ever a car needed to be advertised to show its features this was it. So what did we get? A young bloke being attacked by a giant spider! What on planet earth was this rubbish about? Where were the brilliant doors, the great access, the easy parking? No, we got some demented imbecile in marketing yelling "Bugger the car, bring on the spiders!" Peugeot seem surprised it isn't selling, but I can tell them why - no one knows the thing exists. The average mum on the street has as much knowledge of the Peugeot 1007, yet alone its advantages, as I have of the outer reaches of the solar system! Though I guess the kids might have arachnophobia.
And before you start shouting it's all in the road tests - please get real. The proportion of customers who read car magazines is so small as to be almost immeasurable, while their understanding of what's written would be less. Turn in and oversteer? Guinea pig breeding is more understood by the sort of consumer who wants practical family transport; so the 1007 might not be brilliant on a twisty back road, but here's the big news, the customer doesn't care!
Even where the product is just simply better, the imbeciles in marketing and at the agencies can't get it right. The new Ford Focus looks, well frankly, like a Labrador mated with a Poodle. Now a labradoodle is in fact a really wonderful dog, but it sure looks odd and the Focus is just that. By any reasonable standard it's a damn fine piece of kit, and compared to its main competitor it's more comfortable, better value and nicer to live with. So Ford tells us this? Don't be silly, we get some idiotic advert with a lunatic designer which shows us none of the things that make the thing a better bet than the Astra, but gives us lots of loving shots of the outside. The sum total of the advert seemed to be - buy this ugly car and become a jerk!
But Ford marketers seem particularly prone to this kind of stuff. I mean look at the launch of the X-Type. Instead of great driving, great value, four wheel drive and heritage, we got surreal visions of bodies and rain that no one seemed to understand. Or they did - so that made sure they didn't buy a Jag! Like many companies Ford seems committed to paying huge agency fees to strange people in roll necks, 'cos the people in Ford who sign off this rubbish are, yep, you've guessed it, strange people in roll necks. It's a car you're advertising for God's sake, not a religious cult!
That's why in the UK, the advert for the Vauxhall Zafira surely must be the best out there. It wittily runs through the features and tells the customer that it has seven seats, masses of space, overhead storage and a glass roof. If you were looking for a car with these features, you'd be reaching for a pencil to write down its name. From a marketing point of view, job done!
- Big Dog
The strong views expressed in this column are exclusively those of Big Dog and are not necessarily reflective of those of the publisher, editor or other members of the just-auto editorial team. just-auto gives Big Dog an occasional platform (and dog biscuits).