Pushing the Boundaries of Creativity to Absurd Levels

Why So Many Automotive Ad Strategies Miss the Mark

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Jean Halliday's car-ferret story last week about the ad tinkering that goes on in Detroit struck a nerve with me. Not only do auto advertisers skip from slogan to slogan, they also push the boundaries of creativity to absurd levels.

For a number of years now, I've been collecting advertisements that are over the top. In other words, ads that seem to have been created for creativity's sake only.
If BMW is the ultimate driving machine, then the auto world is the ultimate creativity machine. ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.
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Over-the-top ads
Guess what? Ninety percent of my over-the-top ads are automobile ads. If BMW is the ultimate driving machine, then the auto world is the ultimate creativity machine. Some of my favorites:

"Let engine cool before kissing." Chrysler.

"Insects call it the widowmaker." Mazda.

"You've practically lost your license just looking at it." Mitsubishi.

"Is it OK to say 'balls' in an ad?" Cadillac.

"The kind of acceleration that makes nice people say bad words." Lexus.

'Capability of a yak train'
"All the capability of a yak train without the yak-train smell." Chevrolet.

"Tell fear to kiss your rear differential." Toyota.

"The most fun you can have in a car with the seats up." Hyundai.

Over-the-top creativity doesn't necessarily connect with the target market. Laughs in the boardroom don't necessarily motivate prospects in the living room.

If you read a collection of car ads, you might think the car-buying public consists solely of young, sex-starved males. But the reality is that the average prospect is an older person with a family. And if personal experience is any guide, the key buying influence in that family is more likely to be a woman.

I don't think many women will relate to an ad that says, "The most fun you can have in a car with the seats up."

Joke-choked ads
Furthermore, when you start an advertisement with a joke, the copy has nowhere to go. "Let engine cool before kissing." What comes next?

"Maybe you can start by kissing the trunk and then the back seats and then the front seats. By the time you get to the engine, it should be cool enough to kiss."

Copywriter Julian Koenig once said, "Your job is to reveal how good your product is, not how good you are." His Volkswagen ad, "Think small," is a classic example of taking a difference and turning it into a host of benefits. Here is a sample of his copy:

"Our little car isn't so much of a novelty any more. ... In fact, some people who drive our little flivver don't even think 32 miles to the gallon is going any great guns.

"Or using five pints of oil instead of five quarts.

"Or never needing antifreeze."

Selling to boardroom rather than consumer
It used to be that the objective of an advertisement was to sell something to a consumer. Today, the real selling takes place in the boardroom, where the agency tries to sell the advertising to the client.

Marketers used to check the facts but leave the creativity to the agency. Today marketers want to participate in the creative process. They have to be sold before any selling can take place with consumers. Too much of the resulting advertising is entertaining, but only to clients who are deeply involved in the products and services they are selling.

"All the capability of a yak train without the yak-train smell." If you're a marketing executive at Chevrolet, you might find that headline amusing. But if you're a prospect with $35,000 to spend on a Chevrolet Avalanche, I don't think yak-train advertising would loosen your grip on that cash.

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Al Ries is the author or co-author of 11 books on marketing, including his latest, "The Origin of Brands." He and his daughter Laura run the Atlanta-based marketing strategy firm Ries & Ries. Their Web site: www.ries.com.
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