Speeding towards a whole new attitude

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Being bold, innovative and confident in your marketing takes a strong nerve at the best of times. It’s particularly daunting when your sector is struggling to shake off the effects of the economic downturn and is facing a tough prognosis on any return to 2007 levels of sales.

Latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show annual sales of new cars fell 5.6% year on year. And those sales were artificially maintained by the government with the car scrappage scheme that finished at the end of March last year. This year has started poorly with sales of new registration cars to non-business owners dropping by a fifth in January.

But car manufacturers are still willing to invest in marketing and some are showing ingenuity in how they do it. Peugeot and Honda have just launched campaigns that demonstrate a stronger insight into consumer engagement than can be seen in just a 30-second spot.

Honda's ’This Unpredictable Life’ campaign
Honda’s ’This Unpredictable Life’ campaign

The latter can be powerful statements of confidence, as seen in the rash of auto ads in the Super Bowl last weekend. Recent TV spots have continued efforts to break from the convention of showcasing a car’s technical attributes – witness the Volkswagen Polo ’Tango’ ad depicting a couple dancing with appropriate ’street’ attitude.

But more visionary car companies are developing campaigns that understand the need for a more involving narrative, backed by the use of multiple platforms to deliver the message.

Honda has just unveiled its ’This Unpredictable Life’ campaign that allows TV viewers to interact with the ad and its characters via an iPhone app. Peugeot has launched a campaign with TV, press, radio, mobile and Facebook activity providing clues that build to form a ’whodunnit’ mystery story.

This is bold stuff and even bolder when the activity is not necessarily focused on immediate sales. This sounds like sacrilege in the car industry but Honda UK marketing chief Martin Moll makes clear that the company wants to build engagement through its communications with people who “might not directly buy a Honda product today”. You can read more about Honda’s strategy here.

Peugeot's comeback car campaign
Peugeot’s comeback car campaign

Honda, Peugeot and others like Skoda are not the market leaders so maybe they are more prepared to take risks. They have to be innovative because in times of uncertainty car buyers are more likely to turn to the reliable and trusted, in the UK’s case Ford and Vauxhall. It will be interesting to see if Ford, which celebrates its centenary this year and has already said that it will be focusing on its heritage, unveils a campaign half as compelling for its new Focus model.

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