Will Vauxhall’s collective thinking pay dividends?

Vauxhall’s decision to use four people with no advertising experience to create a cinema campaign (MW last week) represents a “new way of thinking”, according to marketing experts.

The General Motors-owned marque set up the VX Collective last year to bring together new talent from the worlds of art, design and music. It allows the members to develop projects they could not fund themselves in return for their thoughts on the company’s advertising.

While Vauxhall has funded the group’s pet projects – from redesigning the coat hanger to creating a new skateboard park – VX Collective was asked to comment on everything from the type of stereos being fitted in new models to the company’s recent campaigns.

Four members of the team asked if they could create an ad, and subsequently produced a 30-second film shot in a futuristic city-cum-skate park created by designer Sam Buxton. Skater Pete King is seen drifting through the landscape, filmed by contemporary artist Lucia Helenka, with music by DJ Ross Allen. Vauxhall envisages the film playing in selected art-house cinemas, as well as spreading virally via the internet, mobile phones and other digital media players.

For some observers, the idea of using non-professionals to develop advertising is a logical extension of the concept of consumer co-development, where companies enlist consumers to help develop products and services.

Cranfield School of Management professor of brand marketing Simon Knox says: “We’re moving from a world where we make and sell things to one where we listen to customers and service them. These days, consumers make more informed choices and are much more discerning about what, when and how they buy.”

Interbrand chairman Rita Clifton agrees that putting people from different worlds in the same room can result in an exciting “creative collision”. She cites computer manufacturer Apple, which used hotel designers to help create the look and feel of its flagship UK store in London’s Regent Street.

But while Clifton says companies and ad agencies have long sought to gain widely varying perspectives, she questions adopting an organic approach to the creation of advertising, saying it could dilute a brand’s message.

“Not everybody can hold the pen,” she says. “Lots of participation can be a good thing, but ultimately somebody needs to wrestle down an execution – otherwise you end up with advertising that lacks cut-through and focus.”

Vauxhall’s decision to commission the film does not represent a challenge to the services of its roster agencies, nor a muddying of its brand’s themes of design, innovation and driving excitement, according to the company. It is, instead, recognition that it needs to be alive to new ways of communicating with younger people.

Vauxhall integrated communications manager Peter Hope says that younger generations are consuming media in an emerging “referral” culture, where information is passed from person to person, either electronically or by word of mouth.

He adds that advertisers can no longer impose their messages on younger consumers, but have to find ways of tapping into these new channels. “Young consumers seek out what’s new; they don’t respond to something with a heavily corporate feel. The collective is ideally placed to get inside the minds of the younger, creative generation.”

Barny Stokes

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