Car marketing tweaked due to tough times

Bruce Gain is an Automotive News Europe correspondent in FranceBruce Gain is an Automotive News Europe correspondent in France
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Europe's shrinking car market has changed automakers' marketing messages. Since early 2012, carmakers have shifted from generic, brand-focused campaigns to ads that show how specific features benefit drivers -- and their wallets. The value-for-money trend applies to ads across the entire car range, according to research done by Kantar Media.

Before Europe's debt crisis hit, car campaigns emphasized brand image and the driving experience. Now carmakers want show how the car gives customers something they need at a better value than competing models.

"Brands have become more specific about the features they communicate," Kantar Media analyst Solenne Faure said. "They also want to show that car technologies are not too complicated and are affordable."

Kantar Media says the changes are reflected in four prevalent themes in recent media campaigns.

    • Auto Techno: Specific technology features are touted, such as gasoline consumption, a quiet engine or other features that directly benefit car buyers. Citroen's C1 print ad shows how the minicar emits what the French carmaker says are extremely low CO2 emissions.

    • Auto Electro/Robot: Carmakers showcase technologies that are often robotically controlled, including sensors used for parking and to alert a driver before a potential collision. An ad for the Volkswagen Tiguan demonstrates how the car's Park Assist can allow the SUV to slip into a tight space.

    • Auto Eco: Carmakers seek to show how their models are a reflection of good societal values, such as environmental awareness. The Renault Kangoo, Fluence and Twizy electric cars are displayed in a print ad next to something they won't need: a fuel station.

    • Auto Ego: Car models are portrayed as an extension of the driver's self with more emphasis on specific features rather than the brand. Cars are often sold as a means of escape to help consumers forget the poor state of the European economy. Peugeot's Let Your Body Drive campaign for its 208 reflects the driver's individual connection to the car.

The overall change in marketing campaign messages also reflects an overall shift in drivers' relationships to their cars.

"The link between the car and the driver is more structured than it was in the past and automotive communications show this," Faure said. "A car is no longer just an object that you purchase every four to five years."

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