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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Commercial Success

For anyone that hasn't been living under a rock for the past few years, it's common knowledge that the housing market has been going through a rough patch with the economy being in the gutter.  Considering this is an automotive blog, the previous statement would seem to be coming out of left field.  If you think long and hard, there is a correlation here.  A house is the most financially important purchase most people buy.  Now consider the volume of people that aren't in the position to buy a house and a car becomes their biggest purchase which ties up most of their income.  So it's no surprise that the car industry has been going through its own turbulent time.  But hold on just a minute!  While 2012 may mark the end of the world, the recent sales figures are saying 2012 is a renaissance for the auto industry.

Chrysler is leading the charge by posting a 40% increase in February while most other manufacturers reported lower, but still positive, double digit growth.  Even GM, which was expected to be 4.8% in the red, ended up with an increase of 1.1%.  Many postulate that the increase in sales is due to the combined effects regarding the economy as well as an improvement in the overall quality of cars. 

The main catalyst to sales seems to be the sharp increase in oil prices as of late.  While this can be attributed to the government pulling its ethanol subsidies and fuel containing 10% ethanol, this is a debate for another time.  What we can talk about is the larger number of cars that can achieve 40mpg as well as the increase in build quality, especially in the compact car segment.  Couple this with the report that Americans are keeping their cars longer than ever and you can see that the average consumer is craving that new car smell.

Additionally, the American unemployment rate is at a three year low... in a consumerist driven country.  People are buying.  The economy is looking better.  Consumer confidence is up. 

These all seem to be reasonably accurate reasons as to why people are buying cars but what are the auto manufacturers doing to get those people into the showroom in the first place.  Ya, let's talk marketing.

First up is GM.  You know, the company that magically pulled a rabbit out of its ass hat and, to paraphrase Notorious B.I.G, "went from negative to positive... and it's all good."  Their current marketing blitz is trying really hard to appeal to the Gen Y crowd with crazy stunts being performed in and around the Sonic.

Uhhhh...errr... did I just have a seizure?!?!  What the hell was that all about?!?!  I'm part of the generation that they're trying to market to but I'm dumbfounded by this montage of wannabe X-Games antics.  As a responsible driver, maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way.  Maybe my generation crashes a lot of cars and GM is saying the Sonic can survive a kickflip, skydiving, and bungee jumping.  Or maybe they're saying,"Look how cool our diminutive hatchback can be...after you install a rollcage, strengthen the chassis, build a giant skateboard, attach a parachute and/or bungie cord."  Yes, I understand that the young adults of the world have a different kind of lifestyle but most people I know have laid the skateboard to rest and aren't penciled in regularly to skydive every weekend.

Next up is a midpack finisher in February's sales movers and shakers, a company who's president has said there needs to be more excitement in its product range.

Please tell me this was made before Toyota decided it needed an adrenaline injection!  Here we have Kelly Clarkson, a past winner of one of America's top rated reality singing shows, singing her own single that isn't the least bit edgy or provocative.  Chris Berman, THE CORNIEST of all sport broadcasters in existence, is also in tow doing just about nothing.  Andrew Zimmern, a culinary expert in New York City who decided the shock value of eating "bizarre" foods around the world would gain him notoriety, is once again "cheesin" for the camera and selling himself out.  Last but not least, Gimli James Lipton, renown interviewer to the stars, looks altogether disappointed in himself for signing on with a bunch of b-list, at best, celebrities.  Pretty much this is the milquetoast of cars in a commercial catering to what mainstream white America loves, political correctness wrapped in an unassuming shell.

Now, to Chrysler and how they went from purgatory to penthouse.

The first commercial for the 2001 Chrysler Concorde was banned and reworked to say the baby was born in Concord, MA for the U.S. market.  While it doesn't do much to sell the car, the ad produces a chuckle right before a moment of horror sets in with the thought of middle-aged people fornicating in a car.  Gross!

The latter two commercials shows a two-pronged attack by Chrysler and I find both of them very effective.  The one featuring Eminem gets noticed not for the average-at-best 200 but for how impactful the commercial is subconsciously.  Eminem's "Lose Yourself" was and still is one of the most powerful songs for the "me" generation.  It told us we could do anything with the right confidence, drive, and work ethic.  I know for many of us this was included in the soundtrack of our lives if we played sports.  While some listened to metal and others listened to hardcore hip-hop to get amped up for a game, everyone agreed that this had to be played. It's a fitting song that works well with the choreography of the resurgent underdog that is Chrysler.

The last commercial backs up this underdog mentality but applies it to a broader spectrum than just Generation Y.  The driver of the 300 could be any joe schmoe but he's definitely on a mission.  His age is unknown.  His confidence seems as strong as his resolve.  His forearm tattoo spits in the face of corporate America.  He's independent and successful, what many dream to be.  Oh yeah, his car has a pretty nice interior and shows off some of the tech without throwing it in your face like the Camry commercial.

Danny Choy and I discussed these commercials and came to the conclusion that automakers make commercials for who they think is their main demographic.  That certainly seems true about the Camry advertisement, filling it with the mainstream that most Americans enjoy and none find offensive.  Toyota doesn't showcase the Camry because people who drive Camrys don't really care about the specs anyways.  They just tell the dealer,"it's nice," then work out the financing.  In a bid to appease the younger crowd, the technology package that includes Pandora streaming is thrown in the face of the viewer

On the other hand, Chrysler has done its homework.  These commercials make it feel like we're on even footing as equals.  The Chevy commercial makes a vast generalization about who we are and what we enjoy as opposed to Chrysler giving us a pat on the back and saying be you, attack whatever problems you encounter head on, and conquer.  


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