How do auto marketing executives make their models stand out in a market crowded with cars that often look the same, cost the same and have similar features?
The answer is: Love.
Volume automakers are changing the emphasis of their advertising to persuade customers to have an emotional attachment to their brands.
"[Automotive] TV advertising has clearly become more emotional," says Volker Nickel, of the Berlin-based Association of German Advertising Agencies.
TV spots are not just there to introduce a car anymore, Nickel says. The ads aim to create a feeling for the brand.
Marketing executives from the major carmakers agree that their new focus is on creating more passion for their brands. Previously, carmakers' advertising emphasized an emotional attachment to a particular model.
"[Emotion] is the most important part. If we have an objective, it is the emotionalization of the brand. That is our top priority," says Alain Visser, Opel's European marketing executive director.
Making a connection
Jon Williams, Toyota's European marketing director, says creating an emotional connection with consumers is a major objective. "This is the key challenge for us -- to connect emotionally with consumers. Our media planning focuses on models but we also want to have a strong brand connection."
Ford of Europe even has changed its marketing slogan so it has a more emotional message: Feel the Difference.
Says Paul Thomas, Ford of Europe's marketing director: "We've been working on the rational appeal of our vehicles. Where we lacked a little was in the emotional appeal. Feel the Difference means feel the difference in Ford."
The English-language slogan will be used throughout Europe. Previously Ford used local-language slogans in the different European countries. In Germany, the old slogan was Besser Ankommen (A better way to get there).
The emotional appeal of a brand has become more important because markets are saturated and products are increasingly similar, says Simon Berkler, account director at Different, a strategic marketing and advertising consultancy based in Berlin.
"The only way to differentiate your product is by creating an emotional brand image," Berkler says.
Says Frankfurt-based Global Insight analyst Christoph Stürmer: "If a company does not want to sell a product at the lowest possible price, then emotional appeal becomes more important. A car without emotion is just a commodity."
Traditionally, premium brands such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have spent the most on ads that cultivate a passionate attachment to their brands.
Audi is the model
Auto executives and analysts agree that Audi is a model for how to build a brand image.
Audi's strategy over the past two decades to promote its technology helped to transform the once low-regarded German brand into a serious rival to BMW and Mercedes.
"No matter what model you buy, you always buy the Audi idea," Jürgen Stackmann, Ford of Germany's sales and marketing director, told Automobil-woche, a sister publication of Automotive News Europe.
Ford of Europe's Thomas says: "It's about a long-term campaign to raise the image of the brand and I think the example of Audi is a good one."
Björn Sander, a brand management specialist at BBDO Consul-ting in Düsseldorf, Germany, says: "Audi turned things around on the product front but they didn't forget the brand. They have improved both brand and product in parallel."
One example of how Audi created a strong emotional link to its brand, says Sander, is a 1980s TV spot that the automaker ran featuring an all-wheel-drive Audi quattro sedan driving up a ski jump ramp in Finland. The automaker reached the top of the jump again when it remade the ad with a new A6 last year.
Sander says that consumers responded to that ad because it emphasized Audi's main brand points: its quattro all-wheel-drive technology and its sportiness.
Michael Renz, Audi's marketing and brand development director, agreed that the ski jump ad defined Audi's brand message.
"You don't talk about technology in ads -- you deliver the message linked to emotion," Renz says.
BBDO's Sander says that volume carmakers are not yet successful in creating emotional links to their brands because incentives battles are damaging their brands' credibility.
Says Sander: "[Volume carmakers] use short-term tactical price arguments when they should be looking at long-term brand strategy."
You may e-mail Alex Ricciuti at [email protected]