Four Marketing Takeaways from Shanghai's Auto Show

From the Demise of Scantily-Clad Models to a Bizarre Benedict Cumberbatch Campaign, Here's What You Missed

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The G. Patton at Auto Shanghai 2015
The G. Patton at Auto Shanghai 2015

Auto Shanghai 2015 wraps up this week – and though it took place in a huge new expo center, it's been more subdued than usual, since organizers banned the sexily-clad models that have been a hallmark of the event. (See item 4.) Here's a wrap-up for marketers about the premier event of the year in the world's largest auto market.

There's a tank-like car named after Gen. Patton, and his heirs got on board with that.

The U.S. Army for decades used tanks named after George S. Patton, the World War II general. Now there's a brand hoping Chinese drivers will want to buy a seriously blinged-up tank-like car named after him.

It's called the G. Patton, it sells for about $484,370, and it inspired a lot of selfies at the auto show.

A company called U.S. Specialty Vehicles makes them, building them on a Ford truck chassis.

Last year the general's heirs reportedly filed a lawsuit about the use of the name. That's apparently been resolved.

"We're excited to announce a collaboration between the family of General George S. Patton, Jr. and U.S. Specialty Vehicles, LLC., the entity behind the innovative 'Gen. Patton' vehicles," Mark Roesler, agent for the Gen. Patton family, wrote in an email. "These vehicles will be on display at the Shanghai Auto Show and subsequently available for purchase throughout China."

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in an odd campaign from China's biggest automaker.

Benedict Cumberbatch's Chinese car commercial
Benedict Cumberbatch's Chinese car commercial

In the auto show's main entry hall, the actor's likeness stares down from a huge billboard advertising an SUV, the MG GS, which is debuting at the auto show.

The 91-year-old British brand is now owned by China's SAIC Motor. But since foreign car brands are more coveted and trusted in the mainland, the company apparently wants to remind Chinese consumers of MG's British heritage. Actually, it wants to hit them over the head with reminders.

The SUV's "Sherlock"-inspired commercial, which sends Mr. Cumberbatch on a quest to find a mysterious woman, features every major London landmark from the red telephone booth to the Tower Bridge to the London Eye ferris wheel. At one point he takes a detour into the countryside just to drive through a puddle of mud. No, it doesn't make much sense, though the ad does double duty for the British national tourism agency – and for Mr. Cumberbatch's "Sherlock," which shows on Chinese streaming sites.

The Range Rover Evoque is on display; so is a Chinese SUV that looks just like it.

In China, Jiangling Motors' Landwind X7 will sell for about a third the price of the Evoque from Jaguar Land Rover. Jaguar chief designer Ian Callum already pointed out the similarities between the two cars on Twitter at another Chinese auto show last year.

But there's apparently nothing Jaguar Land Rover can do about it.

"I really regret that all of a sudden, copy-and-paste is coming up again," Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth said at the auto show, according to Automotive News. "There are no laws, there's nothing to protect us, so we have to take it as it is."

Buick's hostesses at Auto Shanghai.
Buick's hostesses at Auto Shanghai.

Sexy models were sidelined.

Car shows in China, as in many countries, have always been known for scantily clad models posing with (and sometimes on top of) the cars.

But organizers ordered brands to tone it down this time, in line with President Xi Jinping's campaign promoting austerity and modesty over bling and skin. Flight-attendant wear was de rigueur. Hostesses at the Buick stand wore trim navy dresses with red belts and prim scarves around their necks – an outfit similar to what the China Eastern Airlines cabin crew wears.

The ladies at Harley-Davidson nonetheless wore tank tops. Oddly, the Cadillac crew also showed more skin than most – their off-the-shoulder little black dresses landed a few inches above the knee.

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