Automobile advertising – Creative cupboard is empty

Saw the commercial for Nissan Evalia yesterday. And while today I read on that they are all renowned musicians (I didn’t know), I kept wondering why the commercial looked so familiar! Turns out that Maruit Ertiga commercial was quite similar. Links at the bottom for you all to judge.

This pretty much is the story in automobile advertising – we are bereft of ideas on how to connect with the potential buyers. Either the communication is very inward looking – come buy me.. I got so many features or a very clichéd view of why a person buys a car – relationships, success symbol, have arrived etc. And not to miss the fact about mileage.

Somehow I think that automobile communication in India never builds passion. Never makes the buyer feel in love with his wheels. Never leads to situations where the women feel threatened by the existence of ‘her’ in their lives. Ever notice that we never personify the car… always it or car.. never ‘her’.

And it is never ‘he’r because the advertising we do is absolute tripe. The cars sell because people are evolving and looking for better cars (not looking for passion)

And till such time we are not trying to look beyond our nose or stop thinking that we know everything about automobile advertising, we will continue to churn out the stuff as shown in the links.

As an aside, once I was told by a creative guy (he had tons of experience in creating automobile advertising), it is very simple (from a print perspective) – have a great looking shot of the car – smart headline (more often than not, have a bank of headlines and pick one when the need arises), specs at the bottom and voila! the ad is ready!


Is this Automobile advertising?

Wonder how many have seen the Toyota Liva communication and scratched their head to figure if the communication is for a mobile phone or an automobile!

I am sure the strategy planning team had come up with this great idea that the youth today are buying premium segment hatchback and we should connect with the youth. Now connecting with the youth obviously means the entire gamut of social networking (seriously is that all there is to youth today?) So here we have a commercial which has all the logos floating and the guy constantly connected on the mobile phone. Where is the Car?? This commercial actually reminds me of an international commercial I had seen for Samsung Smart TV. Pretty much the same approach but lot more relevant because it was talking about a TV which lets you do lot more apart from viewing your favorite channels.

Then there is this series of commercials for Maruti A Star. Can’t remember the tagline. But there is one commercial of woman dropping a guy off at his home (wow that is an insight! and a complete flip on guys dropping girls home). It doesn’t end there…. she blows the guy a kiss and opens the boot and another guy comes out… hmm any clues on what it means? Has the agency sold this film idea to the client about women emancipation?

There is another in the series about guy giving the woman a lift and she is checking out the car (subtle freudian look of the woman at the automatic gear and the guys hand on the gear knob) and this whole experience probably turns her on so much that she invites him into her home for a cup of coffee (and all of us who have seen this movie “Pyar Ke Side Effects” know what invitation for coffee means! So what is the TVC promoting… give a lift to a girl and the girl will invite the guy into her home??

I completely understand that the consumers for a lot of product categories are getting younger and brands need to connect with them. But are these the connection points? There are enough young people around me and yes social networking and mobile phones are a big part of their lives but you should here them talking about their future and their ambitions. Would be quite a revelation.

Obviously the strategy for both the brands has been done by foggy old strategy planners (someone like me) and have they got their deep-seated desires into the communication.

Oh while on this… there is a Hyundai Verna commercial which is about the guy driving through the streets to hand over a bracelet to his girl friend. Absolutely banal communication. The teasers had raised expectation for a great automobile communication but alas…

Automobiles are about passion and a highly involved buy and it is insulting a consumer’s intelligence to create such tripe.


The Maruti Mentality

Long back I had seen a Maruti 800 with the Merc 3 pointed star on the hood. Back then when 800 was still ruling the roost and people were still into buying a small hatchback, it stood for aspiration. When the D segment cars were still very premium and Mitsubishi Lancer made one drool, it made sense to talk about value and stuff.

Gradually the market changed. There were newer brands and the entry point into automobiles changed from 800 to premium compacts. It split the market into two kinds of consumers and mindsets.

First mindset – the Maruti mindset – People who were graduating within the Maruti fold from 800 to Zen or Swift… for them the ease of after sales service, mileage and low maintenance cost mattered a lot. There was an assurance and comfort in buying a Maruti (even a roadside mechanic can repair the car).

Second mindset – First car was not a Maruti or the quick upgrade from the first Maruti was not into Maruti Franchise. For them, the brand and what it delivered in terms of form factor and technology mattered. The mindset believed that all cars are good and low maintenance in the given segment. Speedy zippier cars obviously meant that fuel economy was not a primary concern.

But then a large population has been brought up on Maruti and believe in the benefits of Maruti so when Maruti did the communication about “Whats the mileage?” it really was talking to this large population.

But when over the weekend I saw communication about value and supposedly very high-profile people doing acts of saving on things, it made me wonder. I believe Maruti can see tough times ahead and is trying hard to retain its francise.

The profile of compact cars is changing and in metros it has changed already. The proliferation of i20s, the launch of Volkwagen Polo and entry of Honda and Toyota in the compacts is a sign of things to come. Sooner or later people are going to stop associating compact with everything Maruti stood for and there move from compact to bigger car will not be driven by mileage consideration etc. And that is where Maruti is going to hit a roadblock. Seriously, why would anyone want to buy a Kizashi when there is a Cruze or a Skoda or an Altis or a Civic are available. Brands that have strong equity in premium segment and have worked on building the segment while Maruti was working on Compacts. Schizophrenia is hitting the brand when it shows so-called premium people and the end frame of communication is a range of small cars. What gives?

Automobile advertising at first level is not about everything that happens after the car has been bought. It is about a desire to possess symbols of moving up in life. It is about showcasing “I can now afford luxury” and surely this mindset would not want connotations of fuel economy or maintenance. If I buy a car in excess of 10 lacs (approx US$ 20,000), am I going to worry about the mileage being 12 km/l or 20 km/l? Will I worry if changing the rearview mirror costs 10,ooo? Ok maybe a little concern but it wont be something that would involve changing my buying preference.

Yes Santosh Desai talks about the dhaniya mirchi to be thrown in (coriander and chilli) when buying vegetables but even Santosh will agree that the outlook is changing… specially when all these large retail stores are opening up and people have moved to shopping over there. so even the dhaniya mirchi mindset is changing too…

Here is to a new India where value is about what I get by way of quality stuff for the money I pay and not about Lx or Lxi or Vxi or Zxi. Let every purchase be fully loaded. We have caught up with the world where Airbag is standard fitment and ABS is a given and not comes only in top end. In fact let there be only top end and no bottom end. And there is no bottom end actually. Nano sales that are dropping are not so much the safety concerns but the fact that even a guy who is switching from a two-wheeler to car does not want to associate with a cheap car.

Meeting Aspirations Indian Style!

Maruti 800cc Car
Maruti 800cc Car

The picture pretty much symbolises how we in India work on our aspirations till we actually manage to achieve them!

In my earlier post “Driving & Behaviour”, I had touched upon this aspiration when the guy in small car is looking to overtake a big car and how deep in his heart he wants to drive the BIG car and here is the example of that…

While this is perhaps the first such thing I have seen in Pune, out in Delhi where I had spent almost 13 years, jazzing up the saddi Maaruutii was pretty common. Match box compact with wide wall tyres, music system that would blow the lid off even a Volvo were sights and sounds that were very common… But those were also the days that there was a not too expensive compact and then there were expensive sedans. Nothing in between to meet those in between aspirations.

I would have imagined that now with a huge clutter in compact, a sedan for the price of high end compact etc… such things would be passe… just goes to show that the “age old jugadoo” mentality has not really changed. Also perhaps the reason why we in India are not as badly affected by the recession as the US…

And while car brands will come and go, I do believe that our love affair with the Maruti brand would never fade away. It is the quintessential middle class car (even an SX4 addresses the same mentality). We move up in life but never let go of the values we have grown up with. And is perhaps the reason that month on month Maruti (Suzuki) continues to show growth and every model that they launch in compact segment works.

Yesterday a friend of mine had put up the latest ad for the automobile brand he works for, on facebook. Great looking ad.. well shot with lot of post production work. But ultimately while looks are desirable, the question by the consumer at the dealership would be “What is the mileage?”

Reminds me of the conversation I had with a friend long ago… She had gone with her family to check out a Mercedes. Everyone was asking questions and she also wanted to put in her two bits so she asked about the Mileage! The Sales Representative almost fainted…

And seriously, look around… most cars in India sell on fuel efficiency… the one with best.. turn into cabs.

And that too pretty much sums up our aspirations… We want a lot and yet that lot should give value lot more than what we have paid for…

Driving and behavior

I have always enjoyed watching other drivers while I am driving (or even being driven… Though it is a different issue that often with some people, I would rather keep my eyes closed). And when I say I enjoy watching, it does not mean watching them pretty young things either trying to control the car the way they would their husbands or boy friends or behaving as if all the monsters of the world are out on the road trying to take over their lives… but watching in general.

There is lot to be learnt by way of human behaviour…

One thing I would want to mention up front. People are not what they drive. So don’t believe any advertising that refers to such statements or sentiments.

A guy between 25 – 35, driving a small hatchback has ego issues. His aim would be to get ahead of all big cars. It might be that he wants to get out of the claustrophobic environs of the little box but I think it has got to do with deep seated desire to drive a big car. He has got a point to prove and prove he will and he can because adept at sliding the car into small openings, he would always get ahead of the big car… And then watch his smug expression when he is standing next to that big car he had just overtaken.

Let’s jump from the small car guy to the big car guy. He did not like it one bit that he was overtaken. After all back there, he was all set to run the small car down and it just managed to escape by sliding in between his car and the auto in front. But he knows that the stretch ahead is a long one before the next traffic signal and he is revving his engine… ready to zoom off and disappear on the horizon while the small car guy will be smelling the fumes in his wake…

And then there are the ones who are driving a Scorpio or a Safari. The arrogance of the vehicle gets transferred to the person driving the vehicle… The so called SUV probably would never have ventured off terrain but they believe that city roads are good enough to test their off terrain skills and the cars, autos, bikes and such other small vehicles are just bolders to be gone over… if they are not ready to move out of the way…

Then there is a species which is very unique… driving at a speed of 40 in the right lane, oblivious to all the honking behind them or the jams that are getting created in their wake… Their wisdom tells them that since most people anyways go left in India to overtake (people go left precisely because of drivers like them!) so it is safer to be in right lane. And these are also the people who think that by giving those side rearview mirrors, the company has burdened them with the responsibility of protecting the mirrors so they will invariably be closed (why use them when it is the people behind who have to be careful… our job is to watch for the traffic in front)

And I will be called a sexist so wont comment more on aforementioned gender and their driving skills (and enough has been said anyways so no point repeating).

Another curious species are the one who would be in BMW or an Audi or a Porsche SUV… not driving but being driven! This class is invariably over 45-50 and own the vehicle because they can afford it and are considered badges. And while I have not come across the spectacle yet, I am sure some day I would see one of these 50+ being driven in sports coupe!

In India, the right of way belongs to 1. who has a bigger vehicle 2. Age of the person driving the vehicle 3. the sheer aggression (have you ever tried to mess around with a bus or a truck?). And it has inverse reaction when an accident happens – bigger the vehicle, more liable the driver is going to be for causing an accident and will get beaten up (the whole social angst of haves vs have nots comes through).

Will not mention the people on two wheelers because they are an altogether different breed (everyone of them is a Rossi) so all you can do is to keep your radar on high alert all the time to avoid them (remember you are the one who will get bashed up because you are in a car)…

I could go on and on and discuss all the possible vehicles which jostle for space on the Indian roads and the behavior of the people manipulating them… but I would end up writing a book!

Target Audience a mystery for this Audi Ad

Audi full ad Pune TOI The copy of the ad:

“It’s what happens once the deal is inked, the board meetings are over, the sales team applauded, the client content, the appraisals completed, the boss gently reminded of increments, the tax returns filed, the colleagues treated, the homework completed, the wife dropped, the gym membership renewed and the new phone bought. Your time. The Audi Q5.”

All that done and left wondering the reason for this ad. More importantly who is the target audience…

The lowest price Audi in India is for 29 lacs Ex showroom Mumbai. Q7 is for 52 lacs. I assume Q5 could be either somewhere in between or higher!

With these facts, go through the copy of the ad again and go figure!

Even more amazing is a small write up about Audi cars on which reads something like this:

Audi cars are starting to fire the fancy of the rich Indian consumer and the upper middle class with their current range of  Audi A4,  Audi A6,  Audi A8 and Audi Q7 sedan cars…

Audi A4, by the way, is the lowest price at 29 lacs (source

Now looking at the first line of copy and the first few words of the write up, I can understand that Audi is for the rich… The Stratospheric People (SP as defined in my earlier post “Recession Proof People”)… but upper middle class??

I have downgraded myself below the poverty line (BPL). I used to think I belonged to the upper middle class and had all the worries about appraisals and reminder to boss for increment or kid’s homework or renewing gym membership… Obviously I have been barking up the wrong tree because the client and the agency obviously believe that the upper middle class can afford even a Q5… forget A4!

I would so love to know the brief that went out from the client to the agency… and the creative brief from strategy planner (would love to actually meet him/her… for the insight) to the creative which translated into this ad.

Few days back Seth Godin had written a post about luxury and premium products and how many brands are confused about which segment they are addressing… and this ad is a classic example.

I believe an Audi buyer would not need to be told the occasion for buying the car… or the cues in the communication about his status in life… He probably has an Audi, a BMW and other such brands already in his consideration set. He surely wont be worrying about the increment… His worry probably would be how to get this purchase not noticed by the Income Tax people…

More importantly, he is not going to read this full page ad and reach for his Blackberry or iPhone either… I believe that communication channels would have to be very different for this person. All the stuff that I had learnt in my earlier days in advertising about media spillover and CPT… I surely must have dozed off when the part about luxury products advertising in Mass Media was discussed.

I am probably being harsh and am sure there must have been an objective behind this communication (all communication has an objective … right?) but I am not able to sense it…. though given the 2/3 of the copy, I am the target audience.. or maybe not… I forgot I am a BPL person…

Why people do not buy high priced hatchbacks in India?

The original hatchback was Maruti and it pretty much set the trend for how hatchbacks are viewed.

Moving from hatchback to sedan is a huge lifestage shift for the person

And the community digs are hard to avoid when moving from INR 400,000 hatchback to INR 700,000 one.

Expensive (and I am talking people perspective) hatchback is not value for money… If I am spending so much money… I should get lot more!!

It took  “B” premium segment a while to become a big market (and that happened because there was a set of people who had INR 100,000 or lil more to spend than buying a Santro or a Wagon R) but the next level shift for the consumer would never be a hatchback… and as a second car in the house… the price tag would keep people away.

Premium hatchback manufacturers need to find a niche (in the mind of the consumer) and make it grow. Automobiles like technology have the task of educating and moving consumers up stream…

The perceptions of hatchback need to change.

Sedans did very well when they launched lower priced cars and helped the transition from hatchback to sedan… The numbers that Swift Dezire achieved after launch vs Swift launch would sure tell interesting story.

And the brands will need to identify the segment (visible or latent…) to create a positioning for their hatchbacks… And the answer does not lie in extensive quantitative and qualitative research and auto clinics.

Tata Nano – Whose dream car is it? – Part 2

So the numbers are out and they are not surprising. But still 200,000 cars booked is not bad at all. Though I just wonder… How many would actually take the deliveries when the time comes.

Hints of economy getting back on track and if it does get back on track, the aspirations of people would change (not that they are any different right now)

A car still, to many, is not a vehicle to commute from point A to point B. It signifies a shift in life stage (even for households where a small car is second or third car). And buying a car which is a taxi… not exactly a status elevator. And Nano is bound to transform the local cab commuting for sure. While the marketing team might disagree but when the production line is fully functional, the market reality would move the segment.

I do believe that the positioning shift definitely would be required and needs to happen before its too late. 200,000 is not a reflection of a need or a desire… Its the initial euphoria.

And I need to mention here.. its a great achievement to manufacture a car at this pricing… What it actually does is that it makes the consumers upstream question other manufacturers about the extra value that they are providing for the price tags.


Tata Nano – Whose dream car is it?

Read in the paper today that at least in Pune, the bookings for the car have not been as expected. Of course once the data is put together, the company will come out with outstanding figures. And they would be right too. But the question is will the enthusiasm and excitement sustain?

Report said that its the higher end models that are being booked and a fair amount of people have not even gone in for financing. People’s car??

The so called ‘bike people’ it was meant for… they surely are not the buyers. Its the second or third car in the house people who are buying is my guess.

And right now its the buzz that is pulling in consumer. Once, like it happens with all TATA passenger cars, it becomes a great city cab, people it was meant for or the people who are buying right now… they might shy away. Of course TATA’s would still get the huge numbers they wanted (Indigo is I think still leading in the ‘sedan’ category and i see more taxis than actual people driving)

And more importantly, car buying in this country is no more about waiting! The days of license raj when people would wait for months and years to get the vehicle but seriously… would you wait? specially if its going to be your first car?

Nope I think its the dream car  only for TATA’  and not for the consumer it was aimed for… Mummy daddy, rinku & pinku would still be waltzing around town on the bike for sure.