26 October 2009

The Car Empire Strikes Back

This advert from Audi is a signal from the auto industry that they are under pressure AND that they are willing to fight back.

In the lecture I'm travelling about with at the moment [I'll be publishing it on the blog eventually] I highlight how the auto industry learned all the tricks of postive marketing from the bicycle industry a century ago. This is how we USED to sell bicycles and bicycle culture. They have fine-tuned the art form and they rarely make mistakes. They know exactly how to highlight the positives of their products. On the other hand, we have forgotten how to highlight the positives of urban cycling and we bizarrely ignore the overwhelming Good News in our efforts to sell the percieved negative sides of riding a bicycle. It's hardly surprising that the auto industry are among the more fervent advocates for helmet laws. They know competition when they see it and they go for the throat in branding cycling as dangerous. It sells, quite simply, cars.

From a marketing perspective the advert above is pure brilliance. It capitalizes on the general perception in western societies that 'environmentalists' are kooky, nerdy hippie types who eat raw organic beet root for breakfast.

The environmental lobby has had 40 years to brand themselves well and have failed horribly. While people are perhaps aware of the issues, very few people are actually doing anything about it. That's why this type of advert is so easy to invent. 30 seconds of pushing all the right buttons on their opponents and all the right buttons on the general population.

Amazingly, the Audi overtakes the hippie-mobile Volvo on a curve. Not exactly traffic safety conscious, are they?

Here's an ad for BMW that gently caresses all the emotional heartstrings. Just listen to the speaker's manuscript:

"Joy is efficent, dynamic and... unstoppable." [meaning... we're not going anywhere, so don't get any funny ideas...]

"We realised a long time ago that what you make people feel is just as important as what you make."

"At BMW we don't just make cars... we make joy."

And on their website:
On the back of this three-letter word, we built a company. We don’t just build cars. We are the creators of emotion. We are the guardians of ecstasy, the thrills and chills, and all the words that can’t be found in a dictionary. We are the Joy of Driving. No car company can rival our history, replicate our passion, our vision. Innovation is our backbone but joy is our heart. We will not stray from our three-letter purpose. This is the story of BMW. This is the story of joy.

Not a single motoring helmet in sight in that advert. How odd.

If only cities and towns working towards increasing modal share for bicycles could learn from these basic marketing techniques that the auto industry have perfected. Hire a decent company to develop campaigns. Far too many municipal brochures/campaigns are too geeky to attract the attention and interest of the broader population.

If we're going to sell this urban cycling thing, we need to change our direction.

Thanks to a reader for the first advert and Walkit.com for the latter.