If you work in advertising you’ve noticed the widespread changes in messaging and content (and attentions spans) over the last five years.
There’s a lot of hand-wringing, bordering on despair, about what the future holds, and automotive advertising in particular has been hard hit. The once celebrated, big spending sector has seemingly become a reductive ‘car on a winding road’ format – saying little about the car and nothing about the brand.
Behind this change is the biggest disruption in the automotive sector, probably since automotive even became a sector.
It’s what the CEO of Jaguar Land Rover, Sir Ralf Speth, described as ‘a perfect storm for automotive companies’.
Let’s start with the fuel that powers our cars. First there was diesel-gate in 2015 and the volte-face back to petrol, which triggered mass confusion among consumers. As for electric, Volkswagen alone has spent $37 billion electrifying their future, but the margins on the new cars will be lower than their fossil fuel siblings because electric vehicles [EVs] are more expensive to make.
Plus sales are dropping, there’s a global economic downturn on the horizon and there’s a rash of new EV start-ups from Tesla and NIO to the 20 new Chinese brands you haven’t heard of yet. It’s what the CEO of Jaguar Land Rover, Sir Ralf Speth, described as ‘a perfect storm for automotive companies’.
Above: Ben Hampshire, Carnage Managing Director.
Into the mix let’s add the impact this year of Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and a global imperative for more sustainable and responsible behaviour from all brands. It’s enough to threaten the very roads beneath the auto giants’ fleets.
In a sector where every car now looks like another, the safety or reliability that defined brands like Volvo and VW in the past, are now pretty much the table stakes.
Part of the reason behind automotive industry's current obsession with product focused briefs is that global auto giants need to shift stock, and these tactical campaigns are designed to do this quickly;
- The car looks great.
- It can’t be spotted by an avalanche of spy photographers before the official reveal.
- The content can be localised easily and cut into hundreds of smaller chunks to live on content hungry channels.
Then add soothing music, reassuring graphics and language bespoke voice-over, and it's job done. The ROI is infinitely measurable, as are the clicks and click throughs, and the risk averse are richly rewarded.
If you’re a critical observer (you work in advertising right?) the irony by now will not be lost on you.
There are hundreds of these new companies fighting for a slice of this global future.
In a sector where every car now looks like another, and does the same as most of the others – the safety or reliability (or connectivity/tech/mpg) that defined brands like Volvo and VW in the past, are now pretty much the table stakes.
Where’s the differentiating brand work from Honda (Grrr) or Jaguar (Villains) gone? We need that now more than ever, don’t we?
Right now you could convincingly argue that brands should be investing in big brand messaging as the only differentiator bar price, to persuade consumers toward their marque and into that complex sales funnel.
Above: The Cannes Grand Prix-winning Honda Grrr and Jaguar's 2014 spot starring Tom Hiddleston.
But there’s another element to this riddle and that's advertising's audience and the biggest shift in their behaviour in half a century. What do they want? They want value for time, and that means content that is entertainment first. And they want their brands to be truly responsible, and sustainable - superficial eco messages are not cutting through as consumers want brands to help them be more ethical.
And that’s where all these things start to come together. Ownership is increasingly less important, and into that gap is the new (and growing) sharing economy, a host of ownership models and mobility-as-service offerings that are changing the way we move. Lime and Zipcar are the tip of the iceberg.
Great work is alive and it’s on a digital channel you watch regularly.
So, this is the good news. There are hundreds of these new companies fighting for a slice of this global future – platforms and products that get us somewhere and provide our basic human need for freedom. There are huge changes to come in the next decade, and it’ll take all of this time to resolve issues of mobility, electrification, as well as the marketing and collateral that is needed to define and shape brands’ future offerings.
We’re watching more, but we’re watching stuff that we care about, and brands are taking notice of this shift.
Brands new and old will need to make big statements about the future, and entertainment has arrived as perhaps the most effective brand tool in the box. We’re watching more, but we’re watching stuff that we care about, and brands are taking notice of this shift, providing rich opportunity for marketeers, content makers and everyone exploring the new ‘agency’ model.
Great work is alive and it’s on a digital channel you watch regularly. Some of it is being funded by brands, whether that’s the Land Rover Defender’s placement in the new Bond film, Channel 4’s co-funded programmes, or Shell’s sponsorship of an online eco travel series.
It’s not what it looked like yesterday, and it’s carrying core brand messages and engaging us like never before.