As the role of the automobile has evolved from a basic transportation solution to a social statement and, more recently, a fashion item, so too have the automotive marketing and promotion strategies changed in recent times. The role of advertising has become so critical, that the success of a new model can be as dependent on the effectiveness of the ad campaign as it is on the attributes of the car itself. Glen Smale, author of a brand new report from ABOUT Automotive assesses the role of marketing in the automotive industry.

Over the past century, the automotive industry has been confronted by greater challenges than most other industries. It is not only the frequency of these market stimulations that has challenged the automotive industry, but the extent to which the industry has had to develop in order to include them. Along with the associated massive capital outlays, this is something that could never have been envisaged in the early twentieth century.

Marketing alone, at the turn of the twentieth century, would not have convinced the public of the merits of car ownership, rather, it was through motor sport that the application of the motor car became fully known. The public's enthusiasm for this new-found mode of transport in society did the rest, and the industry has had to work hard at trying to interpret the market signs in order to satisfy the demands of the consumer ever since. As a result of this growth in demand for the motor car, advertising in the auto industry has had to keep pace with an ever-changing landscape of new products and customer's expectations.

Manufacturers wanted to attract the attentions of the younger generation who were bursting onto the scene in the 1950s, offering them a fun way of living with a sporty set of wheels. The way in which manufacturers advertised their vehicles in the market place had as much to do with anticipation as it did the product itself. Teaser ads were common and frequently the local dealer would run an ad in the local paper counting down the days to the unveiling of the new model in the dealership. Now you just pick up the latest car magazine off the supermarket shelf to find out what is new.

In the beginning, vehicle manufacturers did not just sell the public a piece of metal, they offered the driver the freedom to do what had previously only been a dream. As car buyers became more demanding, manufacturers had to recognise what those growing needs were and create a motoring solution for the market that was not only practical, but also attractive. Ford must be credited with creating one of the most significant motoring products in recent time in response to just such a market need. When the Mustang was launched in 1964, a huge amount of market research had been carried out examining the mood of the buyer, and this paid off.

The 1980s saw cars getting smaller and much more conservative in their design as the Japanese manufacturers began to establish themselves around the world. The 1990s ushered in the age of 'social responsibility and correctness' which saw manufacturers push the recycling aspects of their products.

The job of the advertising agency is to identify what aspect of the car is going to appeal to the public, and to focus on that in the ad. It is a simple enough task, except when the public's taste is in a constant state of change. The battle that manufacturers face year after year in preserving a certain brand image, is how to maintain the product qualities that have been built up over a long period. In order to remain appealing to the same age group or market segment, the manufacturers have to keep modernising their products to stay fresh. However, today, it is undeniable that manufacturers are increasingly advertising their products to fit in with a younger lifestyle, to which the older generation naturally aspire. Fiat recently launched an ad campaign for their Stilo Abarth, successfully capturing the performance potential of this model - but this was cleverly done in the print media ad by setting the car against a typically '70s background, complete with groovy colours and period costume.

Image courtesy Leo Burnett / Fiat UK

In the last decade, the automobile playing field has changed again, this time in one of the biggest ways possible. As consumer and financial barriers tumble and the Internet grows in terms of accessibility and speed, new markets are opening up all over the world, in areas where it was previously never thought possible. Another fast growing sector of the automobile market is the female sector. Females buy a car for the same reason a guy does, because it is stylish and macho and shows them off as being trendy and chic and part of their accepted peer group, and they should therefore not be treated any differently than male buyers when advertising to that group.

The 24/7 way of life that is prevalent in most sectors of life today, will continue to put pressure on the effective delivery of the product message and this will significantly alter the way in which cars are marketed in the future. How the manufacturers and associated creative media agencies respond to this constantly shifting target, will make for interesting times ahead. There is really only one thing that is certain in the automobile market - change is constant.

In the period between the Wars, print ads were very artistic, stylish and produced mostly by hand. Post-War, ads pushed the technical and performance aspects of the cars as mechanical advancements made during the period of hostilities were sufficiently great to have made cars vastly better and much faster, and so these factors were communicated to the market. Ads continued to follow trends based on the eras of awareness and in the 1960s the message was performance; 1970s was the energy crisis and therefore smaller cars; 1980s was consumerism and the 1990s-2000s was all about safety, green-ism and recycling.

With the emergence of new markets, cultural values not familiar to the Western world have to be rapidly understood and successfully incorporated into future marketing campaigns.

Further details of this report, which looks at some of the factors that have influenced, or been influenced by changes in the market; changes in tastes, lifestyle shifts, brand loyalty, economic fluctuations, technology and much more, can be found by following this link.