Tag Archives: Car Advertising

‘The Force’ of Volkswagen

One of the most shared adverts in 2011 was ‘The Force’ advert by Volkswagon which racked up 4.8 million shares across social networks since it was realised online. The advert features a young boy dressed up as a ‘mini Darth Vader’ testing out his ‘force’ on household objects and indeed the family dog – but with no avail. His father comes home, driving a new Volkswagen Passat and teases him with his remote control central locking.

I wanted to talk about this advert because it’s very different to the car adverts we normally see – where the car is the main focus. We are so used to seeing elegant cars being driven around hillsides or cities or country roads (often with sleeping children in the back). This advert features the car being driven for literally four seconds and parked in an ordinary driveway. Its appearance does not even take place until halfway through the advert. This approach, of not forcing the car and having something else going, would have greatly contributed to it going viral. In fact there is so little focus on the product that you could probably miss that it was a car advert. From what I have learned about viral advertising, this lack of product or brand is a very important aspect of the medium. In true viral spirit the Volkswagen logo appears at the end in a black screen but the advert would hold it’s own as a video and story without it.

Other than that fact it has remote central locking, comes in silver and would be a suitable family car the advert conveys very little about the car. It’s a long way off from some of the original car adverts I have been researching where they were packed full of every feature possible. During my advertising and branding module my lecturer has stressed the importance of advertising the benefits of a product – rather than it’s features. I have picked up on this before, but it basically means show people what it can do for them, rather than how it does it. You could say this advert shows that you can have some fun with central locking…

Anyway, In theory, it’s merging together two modern day associations, almost stereotypes you could say: men, cars and star wars. By using a (very talented) young boy they manage to combine all of these in a very charming way and rather than the cliché being forgotten, it’s enjoyed. Volkswagen’s communications manager, Danny Hill commented:

‘It’s a charming ad with great music and has the universal appeal of Star Wars. It captures the imagination and ties in well with our message about the Passat’s clever technology. It was such a success in the States that it seemed a shame not to share it with a wider UK audience.’

The decision to show the advert in the UK would have been easy since they knew how popular it had been, not only in America but online as well. Unfortunately I cannot find any information about an online pre-test of the advert before it aired on television in America. I believe that one of it’s first television appearances was during the America Super Bowl. The decision to air it in this very expensive time-slot was not just because of the amount of people watching it but instead because a large majority of the people watching fell into their target market.

A blooper video of the advert was also released by Volkswagen (clever idea!)


The Failure of La Femme

I have been reading a lot about how car advertising changed after the First World War. The development of efficient mass-production for munitions during the war allowed car manufacturers to take advantage of the technology after it. The result was reduced production costs that in turn lead to reduced car prices – making  cars more affordable. American car brands in particular even tried to push the idea of the ‘two car family’ as you can see from this Chevrolet advert below:

From this advert (published in Driving it Home by Judy Vaknin (2008)) you can see that the consumer is clearly a woman, the wife in the family. The customer however is a man, her husband, who will purchase the car. The photograph shows two woman with the car, one of whom is at the wheel; yet the advert is speaking to men: “Is your wife. . .”. In fact they even say “The wife finds it of every day utility for shopping, taking the children to school. . . etc” They are talking directly to men and telling him what his wife will use it for. They also presume that the man they are speaking to already owns a car but uses it himself to go to work.

The advert also backs up the need for a second car by saying that it is a perfectly reasonable concept, so much so that modern houses are already being built with twin garages. In fact it is a ‘must’ that they are.

Overall you can see from this that at the time of this advert, (1923) the decision to buy a car was made by a man, both when it came to buying his own car and that of his wives. Fast forward about three decades and things had changed quite considerably. The levelling out of the sexes that occurred in the years following the Second World War seen advertisers starting to market to woman directly.

They did not always get it right however as I have been reading in Brand Failures by Matt Haig (2003):

Apparently Chrysler created La Femme, the first car designed specifically for woman. They believed that the car should have flowers, accessories, a girly name, seats decorated with a rosebud tapestry and a burgundy carpet… I found some images of the car and a couple of the advertisements that were used:


Dodge sent out a very enthusiastic letter about the car which Haig includes in the Brand Failures book. It finished off by stating that the car was a ‘drawing card’ which no other dealer group had. The letter produced a few orders from dealers but the majority of the cars remained in the showroom. The car was a complete flop. The printed advertisements and indeed the car itself was seen as patronising by the majority of woman. Haig comments:

‘This was, after all, appealing to a classic male ideal of femininity, rather than how the 1950’s woman actually saw herself’

He goes on to say that the main lesson from this brand failure is not to patronise your customer. I would also say that the importance of talking to your customer and doing market research is highlighted by this example to. Design for your customer, not yourself or indeed your vision of your customer.

I would also note that from this research I can see that it was society which changed, rather than the car advertisers changing society. It was the World Wars, both the first and the second that caused the market to change and the adverts of the times simply followed the changing culture.


GM Points = Brand Loyalty

I had a very interesting conversation with someone today about their car and why they purchased it. They did not have time for a full interview but they did share with me why they always bought Vauxhall cars:

The GM (General Motors) Visa credit card gives shoppers points every time they use it which build up and earn you money off of a car. This man told me that he used the card for everything from his food shopping to his mortgage payments. Over a couple of years he will build up a few thousand pounds which he can redeem against the price of a new Vauxhall car.

I found this really interesting because I never expected a car company to do this. In my very first lecture my tutor told us about the Ansoff Matrix, here is a quick snap of it from me lecture notes:

You could say that GM have developed their product and diversified into an unrelated area by producing a credit card. However, this area is not too unrelated because cars do deal with finance. Not only have they then diversified their company into a kind of service, they have linked it back to their original business. Of course the credit card is a Visa credit card but this partnership will benefit both companies. I think it is a very good example of promotion and diversification working together. It is also a strategy for creating brand loyalty.

(I should note down that GM credit card unfortunately declared bankruptcy a few years ago and only existing customers were allowed to keep their points for a certain number of years before claiming them or losing them)

The Penalty of Leadership

I have been reading Driving it Home by Judy Vaknin (2008) who mentions that this advert below, by Cadilac in 1915, marked a definitive change in car advertising style and attitude.

In a very similar way to the Apple Macintosh 1984 television advert, this advert was only printed once, in the Saturday Evening Post. If you read it, there is no mention of a car at all in the text. Instead, it is a very grand narrative about the qualities and difficulties faced by leaders. There is a strong suggestion of envy and ambition within the sentences. I found this sentence quite significant:

“Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a Mountebank. Long after the big world had acclaimed him as its greatest artistic genius”

By saying ‘our own Whistler’ they have cleverly endeared themselves to the American public by being patriotic. Snippets like this captured people’s imaginations and were seen as inspirational and motivational narratives. Elvis Presley had a framed copy of it on his office wall in Graceland. To this day, Cadalic have had requests for copies of the text. Many leading advertisers cite it as the best copy-writing of all time.

I wonder if it was just brilliant copy-writing or was there anything else that made it such success? From my reading of the book, the adverts previous to this were full of car illustrations (some more daring than others) technical descriptions and prices, all advertising the car they were selling. This one didn’t do any of these but more significantly advertised the brand. In the original publication only the Cadilac logo appeared on the border in a very small size. Thus implying the brands status as a leader. Therefore, being the leader in a new style of advertising greatly contributed to it’s success. It was an advert of it’s time; it was relevant; it was cashing in on the imagination and culture of people of that time. It spoke to people in a different way and made them feel something, made them want to be something rather than making them want a car. It was the first non-direct advertisement, the first use, if you like, of the power of association.

Block 2 Topic

We have now moved onto Block Two of my Advertising and Branding module which involves studying a particular type of advertising.

I decided to investigate car advertising because they have a a certain style to them, which we are all just so used to now. However, I wonder if they were always like this and if not (which i suspect they were not) how and why they changed. So I basically want to analyse car advertising and look at how it has changed over the years. I would like to compare the way different brands advertise their cars. I would also like to see whether the way they are advertised reflects the way we think about cars or did they change the way we think about them. So here is my question:

“How did cars go from being tools to being therapy”?

This is a quote from Do Good Design by David B. Berman (2009) where he is critiquing a poster for Mazda. The poster shows a shot of the car from the font with one single line of copy that says: ‘insects call it “the windowmaker”.’

This poster is trying to give the impression that insects are in awe of the car. When you actually think about it this awe is more in the dread or fear sense of the word – rather than any kind of wonderment. That car will kill them and rather than hiding the fact, Mazda have glorified it. Berman comments in his critique that we are ‘making 73 species extinct every day’ and that we should show more respect for the living creatures that struggle to survive alongside us. Instead, this poster copy conveys the idea of the car having power over these insects so gives you a confidence boost because you can master weaker things.

I want to find out why modern car advertising is like this.