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Is auto advertising selling too much of the same?

07-December-2012
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Is auto advertising selling too much of the same?

The world remembers Honda Accord’s epic ‘The Cog’ ad, which portrayed the beautiful marriage between animation and design, one cannot forget Audi’s ‘Ugly Duckling’ story that tells us how far cars have come in terms of design and it would be injustice if we don’t mention BMW’s stunning style of differentiating itself through the common phrase ‘It’s only a car.’ There is one thing common among these ads – the element of brilliance.

In this hyper-competitive sector, it’s important to create bold ideas that are jaw dropping and help loosen the purse strings. It is often the communication that creates distinction between car brands in the consumer’s mind. Car advertising has evolved over the years and has become more relaxed as compared to a few years ago. The automobile category is the top spender in the world and Indian automakers spend around Rs 1300 crore on mass media. Hence, winning the creative mandate of an automobile client is an adrenaline booster for agencies. But the intriguing question is – are we innovating enough?

Anup Chitnis, Executive Creative Director, Ogilvy India said, “In the main medium, we are not innovating enough; we are still selling one proposition or one story. However, the digital space has seen a lot of innovations.”

The element of risk-taking has taken a backseat and there are very few brands that have intelligent insights. Sometimes, it is difficult to distinguish one brand from the other on the basis of TVCs. Tata Nano faced several bumps because of projecting itself as the cheapest car. It was a communication disaster, due to which the brand faced huge identity crisis. However, the new insight that aims to position Nano as the next Indian youth car in the small car segment tries to make up for the loss. Ford’s way of showing a frustrated fuming wife for its largest selling Ford Figo to Mahindra XUV’s style of depicting ‘May your life be full of stories’ was not appreciated a lot by the creative fraternity.

Sajan Raj Kurup, Founder and Creative Chairman, Creativeland Asia said, “A fresh, clear and single-minded approach always helps in creating good car advertisements. Understanding the car and understanding the intended consumer is particularly important. Because if you don’t get that right, there’s no way you can get the communication right.”

Some brands have tried to take the road less travelled but they haven’t managed to garner enough eye balls. The ‘Fiat Linea and Punto 2012 Ocean’ campaign that shows a film shot underwater depicts how the two cars are assembled against all odds in a challenging environment. Industry experts, whom exchange4media spoke, felt that the film was a deliberate attempt to move away from the real space and was not relevant. However, Nissan’s attempt to break the clutter with ‘It’s a caaar’ campaign for brand Sunny, to mark the Japanese company’s foray in India’s mid-sized sedan segment, struck a chord with the audience. The ad used humour to make viewers aware of the car’s features without too many details. Experts felt that the ad was creative and freshly executed.

Hyundai’s attempt for EON is surprisingly different from its previous ads, which had Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan truly in love with the car. The campaign ‘Indian will be on’ is trying to woo a younger lot of consumers. However, a lot of brands are talking to the young nowadays and who emerges as a clear winner remains a big question.

Satbir Singh, Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer, Havas Worldwide India said, “A lot of car advertising that we see is created by dealers themselves with little or no control from the marketing team. These are primarily sales pitches aimed at getting daily walk-ins at the store. Therefore, most of our car advertising is aimed at the short-term.”

He believes that apples and oranges are being compared in terms of different car brands as if they’re all apples or all oranges. Which is why, there are competitive ads now more than ever.

He added, “You don't really know who stands for what barring Maruti, which the consumer loves for great value.”According to him, Maruti has been the most consistent with advertising that has been memorable and most of it has been about overall values that consumers look at when considering a car; for instance, availability of service and mileage.

Audi A8L’s fully integrated 3D campaign, which gave the viewers a chance to explore the car with a 3D experience through the TVC attracted a lot of attention and Mahindra’s idea of using augmented reality at the Auto Expo in New Delhi to launch its Mahindra XUV500 are some of the most relevant innovations seen so far.

Robby Mathew, National Creative Director, Interface Communications stated, “Advertising brings the car into a person’s consciousness and word-of-mouth is very important in terms of buying a car. It is an expensive investment but the decision is emotional and to justify the emotion, we find enough information about it. The role of a communication is to bring that alive.”

According to him, innovation should be relevant to the communication. One can experience a particular car brand through innovations on the digital area that are very practical and relevant.

What becomes the right route?

A powerful insight backed by great execution can create awareness and influence purchase decisions. According to Chitnis, “Making the experience richer through augmented reality is one of the good ways of dealing with car advertisements. It is a tool especially for car advertisement because a car buyer always goes to the showroom for the look and feel of the car and augmented reality tackles that very well.”

He further said that the world is going online and people check features on the internet before they come to the showroom to buy a car. Hence, digital is a powerful medium to target those consumers and it gives an opportunity to elaborate on the features of the car as opposed to a TVC.

However, he shared that the main challenge is to realise the single-minded proposition of the car and move forward with it. 

Mathew said that a car is just not a necessity or a means to travel. It is almost like an accessory which people like to flaunt. So the communication has to be sensitive to that aspect. There are two sides – one is the functional aspect and the other is the emotional aspect and an advertisement has to cater to both sides. A brand needs to have an integrated approach on TV, print, digital, showroom experience, word-of-mouth and after-sales service.

“It is about creating sharply defined brands, where there are very distinct personalities that break the clutter. The distinct personality need not only be on the product differential, it can be an emotional aspect as well,” he added.

Riding high on popular faces
Experts have always debated the usage of celebrities to advertise car brands and there have been mixed responses. Some feel that using brand ambassadors might make the product look premium and beautiful but at the end of the day, the consumers still justify a purchase on the basis of the features and not a premium distinction. While smaller cars and smaller brands might need a celeb to create value but it doesn’t make sense for top end brands to rope in these hot shots. Similarly, use of foreign models in a mid-level car brand becomes irrelevant and difficult to connect but using an international model for a high-end international brand adds to the value. However, it’s a universal truth that a car with powerful features and perfect pricing is bound to sell.

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