Aston Martin: We relied too much on James Bond

Having seen sales tumble over recent years, Aston Martin is keen to embark on a new brand direction.

Aston Martin must play more of an emotional role in consumers’ lives, according to director of global marketing Dan Balmer, who fears it has relied too heavily on its ties to the James Bond franchise in the past.

In 2015, the iconic British car marque sold 3,615 cars down from 3,661 the year before as operating losses widened to £58.3m [from £18.4m in 2014]. It attributed this loss to £161m of additional investment as it refreshes its car portfolio in a bid to turn around flagging sales.

A big part of this turnaround also involves refreshing the brand. To this end ad agency WPP has created Team AML, a dedicated division tasked with giving Aston Martin more international appeal. Team AML recently won the automotive category at the Masters of Marketing awards but Balmer says there is still a long way to go.

He told Marketing Week: “There is still a big challenge as while people in the UK innately know what Aston Martin is that clarity doesn’t exist overseas. We need to dial up the emotional factor and our links with art, and that’s why our internal brand message has changed to ‘the love of beautiful’”.

And of its links to a certain British spy, Balmer clarified: “Bond still presents a big opportunity and platform Aston Martin wants to use going forward, but we have relied too much on 007 in the past. Spectre was great for showing off the DB11 but what I realised during that campaign is you live and die by the cycle of the film. Once people stop talking about Spectre, things become very quiet and that is bad. We have to avoid that.”

Prioritising social and female drivers

Admitting Aston Martin lacks the “deep pockets” of some of its rivals, Balmer says upcoming advertising will primarily come through social channels.

“TVC ads are very expensive undertakings and social allows us to really target the right luxury audience. But I would say there are trends I like which mean TV ads could soon be more targeted by postcode. There are smart TV ads in the US and UK, which are interesting and we will keep an eye on it,” he said.

The plan is for upcoming ads to move beyond “car on a mountain road clichés” of luxury car brands and will instead rely on an “artistic message”.

Described as “cool and attractive”, a key part of this strategy is focusing on ‘Charlotte,’ a rich American female customer archetype in her late 30s. A recent ad (see above) for the brand’s Vanguish Zagato model also showed a woman driving the vehicle around the Italian countryside, without a man in sight.

Balmer says the key to appealing to female drivers will be to avoid tokenism: “It isn’t just women drivers we want to target but female decision makers too. But we have to ensure our marketing is neutral in its tone.

“We can’t just make a token gesture to appeal to women as that would be hollow and see-through, and that’s why we have a female advisory board internally to ensure we’re doing things right.”

He added: “To say women look after families and stay at home waiting for their man to return in an Aston Martin is a dangerous assumption. I see more and more alpha females driving our cars.”

Brexit and a driverless future

In its 103-year history Aston Martin has sold just over 70,000 cars. And with 80% of its sales now coming from outside the UK, Balmer admits Brexit could have negative implications.

“The exchange rate benefits us right now and that will reflect in our fourth quarter, but the changing dynamic of the EU may have negative effects too. We need to keep a close eye on things and not get complacent.

“We are an independent UK business and [post-Brexit] that gives us flexibility compared to our automotive peers.”

Dan Balmer, director of global marketing, Aston Martin

And of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s recent views that driver-less cars will be the future, Balmer said Aston Martin sees itself outside this space. He cannot understand why so many car brands are trying to replicate the interface of smartphones either.

He concluded: “To try to do architecture that competes or tries to replace a smartphone on our car console, well, I don’t see the point. The user interface of an iPhone is already so intuitive so why try to change that environment in a car? It makes no sense.

“I’m sure driverless cars could have a good impact in getting people from A to B but people don’t buy an Aston Martin to get to work. Man will always have an emotional need to take a car out for a spin and put keys in the ignition. That’s the need we want to fulfil in this marketplace.”