Muscle still a must in guys' wheels

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Women may have come a long way, baby, but men still dominate the auto industry as buyers in several key segments, including full-size pickups and sports cars.

The No. 1 way to reach men is TV sports programming, says Susie Rossick, national advertising manager for American Honda Motor Co.'s Acura luxury brand.

As a performance brand, Acura skews more male, she says, while adding that the brand doesn't exclude females. Still, most of Acura's advertising from independent Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif., shows a man behind the wheel. The brand also uses magazine ads to give more details about its car technology, which men like.

Most automakers mention sports TV programming and auto enthusiast magazines as the best ways to reach men. However, they also report generally using the same creative for male and female audiences; it's the media buy that differs to reach each gender.

sporty out front

Four pricey sports car models and three full-size pickup trucks were among the top 10 vehicles industrywide for the male buyer base last year (see chart below), according to consultancy Strategic Vision. The top three models attracting men were all sports cars. Chrysler Group's Dodge Viper led the 200-plus vehicles in the survey-91% of Viper convertibles were purchased by men.

"Men are more involved in automobiles, while women tend to value security more than power, prestige and flashiness," says Dan Gorrell, VP at Strategic Vision. He says most of the automakers he services apparently are pleased with their male-buyer bases, since "almost nobody is saying we want more men."

Price, as well as power, can also be a factor in the male-female split.

Women generally still have lower incomes than men so single females are more apt to buy smaller, less costly vehicles, says Jim Sanfilippo, exec VP at Omnicom Group's auto consultancy AMCI. "Women are more practical and more rational than men when they buy cars."

The "real battle among carmakers," he adds, is reaching young men, who don't watch as much TV as their older counterparts.

Auto marketers have tried to appeal to young men by placing their cars in videogames, as well as sponsoring concerts and other lifestyle events.

In 2003, men registered 7.97 million new cars and trucks, while women registered 4.32 million, according to R.L. Polk & Co. But a spokesman cautions that men often register vehicles for their wives and daughters.

Chevrolet uses the Internet to target younger men, says Maria Rohrer, truck ad manager of the GM brand. The marketer's new Colorado midsize pickup, aimed at younger guys, will get exposure as a prize for one of the finalists on CBS' "Survivor: All-Stars."

The brand's full-size Silverado pickup keeps in touch with men through participation in Nascar's Craftsman Truck Series. Ms. Rohrer says Silverado extends its team sponsorship with on-site displays and experts to interact and build relationships with fans at the tracks, and it advertises during broadcasts for fans watching at home. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., handles.

Also involved in the Nascar Craftsman truck races is the Toyota Tundra, which joined the series this year. TV commercials show the Tundra Nascar drivers. Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles, Torrance, Calif., creates advertising for the Toyota Division of Toyota Motor Sales USA.

While Strategic Vision found that men represented 78.6% of buyers last year for Nissan North America's Nissan 350Z sports car, its Altima midsize car only attracted guys 37.4% of the time. Nissan recently broke a TV spot for its new six-cylinder Altima sedan, via Omnicom's TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., that touts a quality men desire-its 250-horsepower performance.

The Nissan brand tries not to market to "overly segmented subsegments" of the population, including men and women, says Steven Wilhite, VP-marketing at Nissan North America.

Mitsubishi Motors North America is pretty evenly split between male and female buyers across its model lines, so it uses different media but the same creative executions, says Ian Beavis, senior VP-marketing.

"I have to target both," he says. Mitsubishi "will be very focused on men" when it launches its first midsize pickup truck in calendar 2005, he notes.

boys and bimmers

Men have been the traditional buyer base for BMW of North America. While its top-of-the line 7-Series sedan is most popular with male buyers, accounting for 78.1% of sales last year, BMW's entry-level lux 3-Series line attracted male buyers 52.8% of the time, according to Strategic Vision.

BMW anticipates that 60% of buyers for its new 6-Series convertible and coupe will be men, says Jim McDowell, VP-marketing. The target is men in their late 40s and older with annual household incomes of $225,000-plus.

The 645Ci convertible, which starts at $76,995, is positioned as "a perfect reward" with its "U.O.U." ad theme, he says. Publicis Groupe's Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis, handles BMW.

Ford Motor Co.'s mass-market Ford Mustang coupe appeals to both men and women. But a spokesman says men buy two-thirds of the more powerful, eight-cylinder GT.

A 40th anniversary Mustang advertorial from Ford Division will have different executions for women and men, says Michelle Erwin, who as car communications manager oversees day-to-day advertising. The executions, from WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, break next month. To reach men, they'll run in "laddie" books such as Dennis Publishing's Maxim, and to reach women, in female-skewed titles including Time Inc.'s People.

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