Who Gets "It"? Not Car Advertisers

Try a simple test: cover the logo of a range of car print ads, or try to remember the car commercial that came on screen 15 minutes ago, and see if you can tell who the advertiser is.

Chances are, you can't. If you've seen one windy road, one off-road or even one happy family watching DVDs in their new SUV, excuse me, CUV, you've seen just about every car ad out there.

When Lexus came out with its teaser campaign 15 or so years ago, it was considered industry-changing. Not showing the car, just the experience. And the cars sold. Fast.

So where has the creativity gone? the ability to stratify the value proposition?

I bought a Hyundai a year+ ago, and was then treated to Hyundai's thinkaboutit.com ads that did their best to invoke emotion about, and intellectual reasons for, the advantages of this car. Having just bought one, I wanted reinforcement about my decision, that it was a good, solid car that satisfied on many levels. All I got was bewilderment. And then a few months later, in Connecticut, those ads were replaced with "2,500 cash rebate!" "buy now" and "super sales daze". Sure, they're pretty and have won awards, but just as I was wanting to believe in those messages, they changed on me.

Then recently, I saw a Ford ad for a model I don't remember...but what I do remember, was that Ford said its car was equal to Toyota in safety. I believe Rule #1 in ads is to not mention a very strong competitor, especially when it comes to cars. And lo and behold, Ford just lost another $8.7 billion...this quarter.

So now I have a 2008 Honda Accord (the result of my recent accident) and I bought it because, like the Tide ads from my younger years, everything I have seen from them for as long as I can remember, has been focused around how solid, dependable and trustworthy a Honda is. Could have bought a new Hyundai - I liked the car for what it was, just not great mileage - but I didn't have long term confidence in what they were saying. Yes, what the manufacturer says means something to me. And I drove one for over a year.

I don't particularly like Honda's Mr. Opportunity campaign, but when I see those ads, I don't wonder why I bought one. Looked at Saabs, Audis, Acuras and Toyotas, but Honda had more meaning to me. And the ride was just as good.

Takeaway: don't be like everyone else, define what your value is, and then drive that fact home as creatively, differentiatedly, and relentlessly as possible. It's what separates the winners - confident, focused, a customer sounding board, aware of the big picture - from the others.

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