By on November 14, 2013

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A herd of automotive journalists get led off into a dark room filled with oversized furniture and cheap snacks.

It is where the ritual slaughter of truth takes place. A screen bigger than Wilt Chamberlain’s …. flashes in front of them as discordant music pulses and the beautiful people beam out their irrational exuberance of owning the upcoming 2014 model.

The actors and actresses on the screen are all young, sexy, virile, obscenely joyful, and about as genuine as a thirty-three dollar bill. Which is A-OK for me. Because after the fifteen minutes of corporate infomercials filled with empty code words such as “Value”, “Best In Class”, and “Award Winning”, the head honcho of the press junket let’s me, and everyone else, off the hook with the biggest lie in the car business.

“We believe our core audience will be young people in their 20′s and 30′s.”

It doesn’t matter what car they are trying to jerk us off with, the words never change.

Cadillac XTS?

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Young… 30′s…. a technology junkie…

Toyota Corolla?

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20′s and 30′s… preferably someone who thinks that there were plenty of talented white dancers on Soul Train.

A Lincoln?

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A rabid Jimmy Fallon fan… 20′s to 30′s…. who still thinks old Town Cars and floating sting rays are great ways to rebuild your brand image.

I have been through dozens of press car launches over the last two years, and every single one of them is lock, stock and loaded with a barrel full of the big lie.

“We… want… the… young. Old people? Not in our commercials! But you’re invited to visit the local dealership, and we’re hoping that the parental enablers within you will help improve our current demographics. But our NEW customers? Our army of customers for the future? Young.”

The young obviously include the young at heart, and of course, that includes all of us who have the money to blow on a new car. In otherwords, the average 60 year old.

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These days the mature among us are supposed to be sold with plenty of dancing, spastic pop music, and enough good drugs to turn any rotten life into a Disney movie.

Am I being a curmudgeon? Not at all. This particular commercial struck me as one of those patronizing phony pitches that is designed for success in the boardroom. and failure in the marketplace.

The old man within the middle-aged me looked at this ad. and imagined a bunch of burnt out advertising executives trying to convey the following message.

“Our car is the cool car. Our cool is the hip car. Why? Shut up and look at the young people dancing. It’s like, all 70′s and shit.”

This is the same outstanding logic that brought us talking cartoon ducks selling Cadillacs.

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Commercials featuring water, which were somehow supposed to introduce the Infiniti brand back in the day when all Datsuns were Nissans.

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And the reanimated corpse that nobody knew outside our industry or cared about. Once again hocking cars… maybe…

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Now if Harley Earl had ripped the flesh off that young guy’s neck. Carjacked the brand new 2003 Pontiac GTO, and hit enough curbs, pedestrians and stop signs to make the commercial resemble the game Grand Theft Auto, then it would have been something worth our attention.

Instead you’re left thinking, “What the hell was that all about? Buicks? Old guys with hats?”

This is the exact level of bewilderment that goes through my mind whenever I am reintroduced to the young buyer paradox. Young people are broke these days, for the most part. So why fucking lie?

Reality usually gets no more than a passing glance in the rear view mirror at these new model launches because doing so would require these guys to admit that that their best customer is the stupid one who buys the car at MSRP, and finances it at an 18+% interest rate,.Plus bullshit fees and GAP insurance.

While the guys pine away about their target audience. This is what I usually lead between the lines and the moving lips.

“We love all our customers Steve. Really! But we especially love the stupid ones who are bad at math.” If the guys who presented these vehicles would at least pay homage to their true prime customer, instead of creating fictional facsimiles based on modern day fashions, they would likely wind up with better marketing campaigns.

The Cadillac XTS was probably the best example of the type of marketing campaign where there is simply no audience and a complete dismissal of reality. After a few commercials featuring music and random images of the XTS, we were introduced to the then brand new CUE technology. This new system would be the killer app for getting Cadillac’s new young customers in the door.

Did the CUE technology enable hands-free communting? Was it some type of tablet, phablet, or mobile device? I came there with absolutely no idea what CUE meant.

So, I was treated to a solid two minutes of a guy using what seemed to be aikido type movements to guide all the instrumentation on the center console.

What the hell was that? Why?

Well, because in the future dictated by Cadillac, apparently knobs no longer work. This was the defining reason to buy the XTS. No knobs.

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After the final video, we were given the grand announcement of who the target audience would be for the XTS.

Young.

30′s, maybe 40′s.

Technology junkies.

Someone who thought that Cadillac is a world class brand that can outperform other leading luxury brands including Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Infiniti.

Any questions?

You bet your ass I had questions. After a couple of minutes I was mentally crossing out the questions that I simply couldn’t ask…

“I see that CUE uses hand movements for the radio and temperature controls. What about finger gestures? If I gave CUE the finger, or the circle jerk, would it automatically scan to the nearest talk radio station?”

“In the future, are there any black people who buy your product?”

“What do you guys have against knobs? Couldn’t you have simply constructed four round knobs that don’t feel like rubber dog chew toys?”

This is the one I ended up asking…

“The Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6 and BMW 5-Series all offer multiple engine choices along with their own unique high performance models. You are offering one engine and that one is shared with the Impala and LaCrosse. How can you realistically expect to compete with the best cars in this class?”

The fellow in charge of answering the questions did a little sidestep.

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And let me in on who Cadillac’s future customer would be.

It…

Was….

The sleazy used car dealer? Pretty close.

The young Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

Now don’t get me wrong. Marketing teams in every industry want to show how their product is the best in the business. But to get people into that Promise Land when it comes to cars, you need a target that your audience can relate to.

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who think that Cadillac is a world class brand is not a target. It’s a fictionalized slip of the tongue that let me know the XTS had no chance of making it.

“Young people” is also not a target. When it comes to cars, not even an age group (or sex) can represent a valid target. 25 to 35 can range anywhere from investment banker to jail bait.

However, the worst target is not one that is too big, too small, or even a fictional one.

The worst target in the car business is the one that aims squarely at pleasing the guys in the suits, and nearly nobody else who is outside their brainwashed world.

Self-adulation of a brand, or a model, is the surest way of making any audience cynical of your credibility and intent.

Everybody says they’re the best.

clapton-is-god

It takes more than that to get the point across. In the case of the spastic dancing Corolla commercial, they could have used a canine, a cane, and a Clapton… and maybe some cocaine from the 70′s.

That would do the trick.

 

 

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102 Comments on “Hammer Time: Young People Smell Funny...”


  • avatar
    86er

    Something about, you can sell an old man a young man’s car… or maybe the automakers just want to believe that people actually get excited about their products these days.

    • 0 avatar

      That plus the fact that these people have to earn a paycheck somehow. Reality and truth are two things that’ll have you in the unemployment line faster than anything else in the ad industry.

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      “You can sell an old man a young mans car . . .”
      -Oooo, that’s a BINGO!”

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      The number one reason vehicles sell is for their function. It isn’t about age at all.

      When you are young, you need inexpensive dependable transportation.
      When you become a parent, you need an inexpensive dependable safe flexible family hauler.
      When you need a work vehicle, you need a truck.
      When you become an empty nester, you have the opportunity to drive something fun.
      When you become aged, you will need a dependable roomy vehicle you can get in and out of, and perhaps haul a wheelchair.

      Everything else is fake.
      Auto makers have been fooled for seventy years into believing that they can take the same vehicles and redecorate them to hit specific demographics. It is a lie.

      Generation X is just another fake demographic. Right now they are getting inexpensive dependable transportation, and those who are becoming parents are getting inexpensive dependable safe flexible family haulers.

      It is the same cycle once again.

      Any auto maker who wishes to succeed, needs to simply make a great inexpensive dependable vehicle in different sizes, to serve different human needs. This will save hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted marketing efforts.

      It is not about age.
      Don’t believe the marketing hype.

  • avatar
    highrpm

    86er you are exactly right!

    As a middle aged guy, I notice that a lot of 65+ folks think of themselves as young still. I know many, in their 70s, that still talk of getting a part time job to help save for old age. I think to myself “you’re already old!”

    So this is the way to market to older folks with the money to buy Cadillacs. I am only surprised that the marketers are sometimes surprised, like when the PT Cruiser was snatched up by older folks when they were targeting a younger audience.

    How else would you market a car like this for older folks? Show an 80-year old woman moving from her rocker into the cushy seat in her Buick? Talk about how the clock has large font and is easy to read? Or how the bumpers are soft and bounce right back when you run them into something at the Social Security office? The older folks would be insulted because they see themselves as younger versions of themselves.

    • 0 avatar
      210delray

      I’m not quite 65 yet but am getting there. You are right that we boomers think we’ll never get old! I certainly don’t feel old!

      And young people in their 20s and early 30s for the most part don’t make enough money to buy new cars (at least not without help from mom or dad).

    • 0 avatar
      sckid213

      My 71-year-old dad still lift weights regularly and looks great for his age. When I suggested he check out a Buick Lacrosse, he said that “he’s not old enough to drive a Buick.”

      It’s aspirational marketing. For the young person inside older people. Personally, I like the latest “Stacy’s Mom” commercial for the Caddy SRX that positions the SRX as a crossover for MILFs.

      Sure, not every soccer mom who drives an SRX is a MILF (unfortunately), but they all want to be.

      P.S. This post by a 30-year-old who actually bought a Cadillac CTS on his own free will.

      • 0 avatar
        afflo

        Heh… Dad dropped into a Chevrolet/Buick dealership on a whim to check out the Camaro (if ever there was a car for old men trying to be young, it’s a car that apes the cars they wanted when they were young!)

        The young salesman saw him climb out of his Accord and said “You look like a man who needs a new Buick”

        Whether intended as humorous or not, Dad sulked back into his car and left, complaining about that “mouthy kid that called him old.” (He’s 63)

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      I’m 63 and certainly realistic about my age. Having buried one’s 61 year old wife earlier this year will do that to you. I’m two years from Medicare, four to seven years from complete retirement.

      And I can still toss off a 30 mile bicycle ride without pain, my jeans size is only two sizes up from my college days 40+ years ago. I can still split a cord of firewood and stack it in an afternoon, or haul 8-10 wheelbarrow loads of gravel around for my next yard project. I’m healthy, still have my hair, hearing and sight. I’m aging, I’m in the final glide to senior citizen-ship.

      But I’m not ‘old’. ‘Old’ is being physically and mentally unable to do the things you still want to do with your life. ‘Old’ is living a compromise, not just making a few compromises here and there because a few joints are starting to get creaky. ‘Old’ is staring death in the face and just trying to be as comfortable as possible until it inevitably arrives.

      Having watched my late wife spend her last three years that way really drove home what ‘old’ means. It’s hard to believe that it was only August 2009 when she was on the pillion on my ’69 Bonnie doing a lap of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway MotoGP track, cutting under that Ducati 916 that didn’t see us coming – and almost losing it in the next turn for having taken the previous one stupidly fast.

      I’ve seen ‘old’ and, despite my age, don’t feel I’m there yet. And I’m certainly not in the mood for my car to be something slow, soft and cosseting because these old bones can’t take anything else.

      No, I’m not going to look like an underaged idiot, running some be-spoliered, fart-canned ricer – but I still want to drive something that’ll give me the same exhilaration but just not look the part.

      Yeah, the car companies are lying. They’re lying to me, so I’ll just start to consider their product the next time I’m out to buy. Sell, a car to me as something comfy for grandpa? I’ll get my ride in that one to the cemetery one of these days.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m 60. I run just about every day. I can out-boogie kids half my age. I’m with Syke on this stuff. And I like a car that’s responsive, not a rolling living room couch.

        Syke, sorry about your wife. I hope you’re doing OK and that you have lots of social support. I’m assuming it’s at least a few decades since you’ve dated, so if you should want advice on online dating, when you’re ready, feel free to email me–dholzman1776atgmaildotcom.

        • 0 avatar
          Syke

          Social support? Her name’s Maggie, she took car of my wife for the last eight months, and just stayed around afterwards. Left the abusive bastard she was married to.

          Twenty two years younger than me, housekeeping skills of Donna Reed, Marilyn Chambers in bed, and an absolute redneck country girl. Body to die for, sense of humor to match, and drives a riced-out Kia Spectra. Love the back of both my Harley and Triumph.

          You should have seen the looks on my classmates faces when I showed up at my 45th class reunion with her on my arm (I was the class loser). None of the women spoke to me that night.

          There is kharma. Life repays you back in kind. If you’re good, life is good to you in return. Yes, it got serious. Happily so.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        The latest poll of over 3,000 Baby Boomers revealed that middle age begins at 55 and you become a “senior” at 70. You don’t become “elderly” until 82 or 85, there was a split in that question. 3,000 Boomers can’t be wrong! Of course, those number may change in future polls.

        PS: Boomers were told they’d stay young and live forever. They were lied to.

        • 0 avatar
          wstarvingteacher

          Just barely too old to be a boomer. Born during the war. Funny how our ideas change. Ask a 20 year old what about age for a different set of standards. How old would you think you were if you didn’t know. I believe I would think I was in my thirties or forties.

          I am 70 and we are on our second cube now. I would have bought this car 40 years ago also. Maybe old folks just aren’t as interested in bling as the youngsters.Maybe some of us never were. I had VW beetles when others were driving camaros so things haven’t changed much.

          Thought provoking article Steve.
          Thanks

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Well said, Syke, 63 today isn’t the same as it was for our fathers and grandfathers. Car makers offer very little for what 63 really is and a whole lot of what they think 63 is and that’s either a mind-numbing sedan or something they think will remind us of our glory days (Mustang, Challenger Camaro), but market both to a 20-30 demographic because an old man will buy a young man’s car, but nobody want’s to buy an old man’s car

      • 0 avatar
        schmitt trigger

        ” Old is being physically and mentally unable to do the things you still want to do with your life.”

        This is the best description of old I’ve seen in ages. +10

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          You just reminded me what George Burns once said to an audience: “I can do the same things at 90 that I could do at 18 – which gives you some idea how pathetic I was when I was 18.”

      • 0 avatar
        pragmatist

        TTAC needs a classic comment page and I nominate this one (Syke, above)

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      You know what else you don’t see in commercials? Ugly people. Sure, no one wants to paint their customer base as ugly, but it’s also because our brains are wired to be more easily persuaded by beautiful people, just like we are more easily persuaded by those who match our perception of authority.

    • 0 avatar
      Charliej

      When you get old, you don’t feel old. All the things that I liked fifty years ago, I still like. I like good handling cars. I like fast motorcycles. I like loud music, probably not the same music as the young people, but that is OK. The point is, when you are my age, your brain tells you that you are still eighteen. Your body will quickly tell you the truth though. But, in your head, you are still that kid who loves life and all the things that make it fun. Nobody ever tells you that when you grow up and grow old, that life is still fun. My wife of almost fifty years, and I still enjoy all the things that we enjoyed in our youth. I want this to be a message of hope to the young. Enjoy life as a youth, and you can still enjoy life as a senior. The joy never goes away, not yet anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        3Deuce27

        In a nut shell ‘Charliej’

        What young people need to know, is not to fooled by the appearance of an older person. Cuzz what is looking back at you, is a young person in an aging body. The difference, is, that aging body and a lot of well earned wisdom and experience.

        Your only old if you give into it.

  • avatar

    When I’m old I want a lux car with no technology inside the cabin. I think a 1966 Continental with modern suspension and drive-train would be perfect, or maybe an old Rover P5. I like simple eloquence and I don’t think such a car exist. Even cheap cars are cheap everywhere but in stupid features. Though being in car sales, I have a good understanding of why they don’t make a perfect Doug Frantz car, not many would sell.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    The real problem for Cadillac is the lack of Ziggy. That little red duck should be emblazoned all over the car then the kids will buy it!

    Seriously though I would have loved to been in that meeting:

    “Why are you so averse to model names?”
    “Why do you hate your heritage so much?”
    “Why do you think younger Gen X/Y gives a flying **** about your brand in the first place?”
    “When is the Cadillac Cruze variant coming out?”
    “Why is the CTS-V considered a separate model than the CTS?”
    “Why is your Alpha sedan so small? Why didn’t you just come out with a coupe first?”
    “Why do you and the industry refuse to offer LWB sedans in North America?”
    “Why do you not offer a convertible?”
    “Why are the interior materials so cheap in the pre-13 CTS?”
    “Why does your resale still suck so much?”
    “Does the design team of the CTS Coupe still work there, and if so, why?”
    “When a new design style be contemplated since A&S dates from 2003?”
    “Why don’t you just go back to the classic shield and “V” logo?”
    “So, have any plans to build real Cadillacs in the future?”

  • avatar
    mjz

    Reminds me of when Toyota launched the Scion “brand” with a Mini-like coolness factor to attract a super young demographic. In reality, I saw just as many 55+ seniors driving the xB as I did so called hipsters that Scion was targeting. Looking back they probably would have been better off marketing to granny, showing her taking her fellow assisted living friends to The Sign of the Beef Carver for the early bird special. The point is that despite Toyota’s market targeting, some Scions sold to a completely different and opposite demographic from that intended. People who just wanted a practical, reliable and cheap form of transportation, despite the fact that they weren’t young and hip (well, hip replacement maybe).

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Beat me to it. I bought my xB1 when I was 41; it was a very practical, reliable, roomy, and inexpensive car to own. I never met an xB1 owner under 40.

    • 0 avatar
      1998redwagon

      “The Sign of the Beef Carver” !!!!! Laugh my butt off. I have not heard or thought of that restaurant in many many years. A mainstay of my grandparents.

      Did you know Bill Knapp’s is a waiting room for heaven?

      • 0 avatar
        mjz

        Lol! Sadly there are many seniors that were left devastated when Bill Knapp’s closed. Some of them were only kept alive by the desire to get to be a 100 years old so they would get 100% off their dinner check. (Bill Knapp’s used to take your age off as a percentage of your check on your birthday). Come to think of it, THAT’S probably why they went out of business. Damn selfish old people, always ruining it for the younger generation.

    • 0 avatar

      I saw a few 20-somethings driving tC.

      • 0 avatar
        brettc

        My 60 something boss bought a blue tC in about 2010 after he got rid of his Explorer Sportrac (what was the purpose of those things?). He was a CFO. The CFO at my current job drives a newer Camry. I guess CFOs in non-profits are drawn to Toyota for some reason.

        Also, I would love to see some realistic ads like in the movie Crazy People. “Volvo — They’re boxy but they’re good”. Or “Jaguar For men who’d like hand-jobs from beautiful women they hardly know.”

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I think of an ad marketing to the older crowd, and I remember the one for the new XK about 4-5 years ago. There was an older, grey haired man hopping into his XK convertible with his hot young model wife/girlfriend. That ad was directed at exactly the old dude who buys the car, and the idea he has in his head of where it’ll get him.

    I’m going to look that one up and watch it again.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Most car ads are drivel. Maybe it’s the engineer in me, but I’m unmoved by seeing the car do things in the ad that any car can do – like driving through mountain passes with the leaves blowing about.

  • avatar
    segfault

    The XTS-V does offer a twin turbo version of GM’s corporate 3.6 liter V6, but yeah, it’s kind of depressing to see Cadillac’s flagship with the same engine as the Chevrolet Traverse.

    The XTS is a DTS replacement. The target demographic is all the old farts who would have bought a DTS, plus the occasional gangbanger/rapper/DJ (like DJ Pauly D).

  • avatar
    ash78

    Of course they say “the young” — no marketer would be caught dead admitting that most of their buyers will be people 20 years away from having their keys taken away by their adult children. That’s not a great target market.

    Similarly, how many more Honda Elements must we see – “designed for the active young couple with 1.5 dogs who enjoy hiking, fine wine, and live in an urban loft, but really sold to small-town florists and mostly mid-60s women who enjoy the vehicle’s no-nonsense design, good visibility, upright driving position, and easy ingress”?

    I’d be curious to see how much of any given vehicle (or brand) are actually sold to their target market. I suppose Scion is probably closest here. Buick and Lexus are probably outright lying about their target markets (see the age concern above). Everyone else is somewhere in between.

  • avatar
    EBradley

    Interesting.

    I guess the marketing hit us squarely. My husband is an early 40′s software executive. I’m a late 30′s designer. We just purchased a XTS4 Platinum.

    The thing I find most interesting is that the XTS gets a lot of derision on the good ole ‘net. However, in real life, I can’t count how many times the car has been complimented and people have LOVED the technology – shocking I know based upon the ‘net reviews of how awful CUE is. (sarcasm)

    As much as people want to hate Cadillac, they are making the right moves. I know several people who are ready to step into an XTS when their Lexus, MB and BMW leases are up. And yes, if the rumors about the Omega platform Caddy in ’15 are true, they’ll be one in the garage.

    I’m excited to see the comeback of Cadillac. It’s been too long.

    • 0 avatar
      bryanska

      Oh I love the XTS and can’t understand the derision either. Its overall design is deliberate, considered and mindful. Given its mission I really don’t think it falls significantly short anywhere. The V-sport is a fine fast version, and the entire line up from Base to Platinum spans a wide range of incomes. Note that nobody pays MSRP on a Caddy, so the listed price really isn’t applicable.

      For a big comfy car it does just fine, thank you. As to what others think that’s one area where Cadillac has a huge brand advantage. Cadillac enthusiasts DON’T CARE what you think. When you aspire to not give a fack about what someone else thinks, you’ll find Cadillac is a pretty good fit.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “For a big comfy car it does just fine, thank you.”

        Maybe if you are coming out a 128i. The XTS has 104 cubic feet of interior room. That’s a joke. 10 cubic feet less than the DTS, 21 cubic feet less than a Fleetwood Brougham, and even 6 cubic feet less than in ’85 Deville.

        And, the center console on the XTS is large and intrusive. Here’s a good picture: http://tinyurl.com/omtukat

        I don’t want a full size car that requires me to rest my knee and thigh against the interior. If I wanted a cockpit I’d buy the ATS.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      No offense because I realize you like your XTS, but everyone raves on almost anything that’s new. And most new cars are pretty nice no matter what the internet guys say, even the new Caddys. The general public doesn’t really know crap about cars, if its fancy looking and shiny and has lots of “ooh wow” touchscreen stuff they will be impressed. And it isn’t as if these people will tell you they hate your new $50k car even if they don’t like it, they will just tell you how nice it is. I would even tell you that, to say otherwise would be incredibly rude and insensitive.

    • 0 avatar
      Willyam

      EBradley – good points. I do see MANY more of them on the road as the CTS has evolved. How do you feel about the interior? Is it holding up? It was the one issue that has kept me out of a CTS, even though the used-car price on them was/is a complete steal.

      My grandfather, after driving pretty much exclusively Chevy’s (Monte’s with the turn-out seat, etc.) retired early to the Southwest and began buying a Cadillac every two years. It was his hobby. They were terrible at the time, and covered in gaudy fake gold trim and landau tops, but he was always excited to trade. The final one was an STS. A beautiful car, but the interior rattled like a paint can.

      I also think they’ve made some very risky styling and performance decisions that have saved the brand from complete irrelevance. Because of our family history with them, I’d love to see them continue to thrive and move back upmarket. I even kind of liked the “Rock and Roll” ads they did for a while (cheesy yes, but at least they didn’t feature skaters and hipsters LOOKING AT YOU, SONIC).

      If only Pontiac could have found a direction in time…

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    A nice effort, Steve, which reflects obvious thought on your part and some work in collecting all of those clips to illustrate your points. Well done!

    I think car marketing is a really tough job, because you’re selling lots of things besides the physical object: certainly your selling the experience of driving your car, you’re selling membership in a particular demographic and your anticipating people’s needs from a car.

    For instance, the current series of Subaru ads appears to be selling the car as a faithful member of the family, like a loyal Basset hound that follows you everywhere, ears dragging the ground and tail up in the air.

    The VW Beetle commercials of the 60s and 70s were great because they emphasized the “differentness” and smallness of the. One of the ones I remember best was a photo of Wilt Chamberlain sitting on a low stool, knees in the air, next to a Beetle. The caption: “The said it couldn’t be done. It couldn’t.”

    Another more recent brilliant commercial I recall was for the Chevy Suburban. It featured a woman driving a Suburban full of kids away from a fire engine with its hose connected and fireman standing around. The unstated message: The Suburban will protect your children.

    In some ways, the ad guys who are selling vehicles that people buy for their functionality — sports cars and pickup trucks — have it best. They can throw around some numbers that their target audience will understand: 0-60 times, cargo capacity, towing capacity, etc.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    It’s in the Kompany Koolaid at every OEM.

    We WILL push our demographic younger. We WILL use this new vehicle to introduce young people to our brand. We WILL make our new entry-luxury model appeal to aspiring young professionals.

    So the soldiers go out with the marching orders. The agencies go out with the marching orders.

    Most of the players who’ve been around the block a couple times know it’s part of the process. Upper management insists. You go along to get along. You write the brief, or the PR release, social media commentary, or the commercial based on what you’ve been told. You know the vehicle’s going to be purchased by people decades older than the coveted 20-30 something target.

    It’s just part of playing the game. And like the old guy photo at the top of the article, holding your nose.

  • avatar
    FunctionOfX

    Whaatt, no Don Draper quotes yet?

    “I’m glad that this is an environment where you feel free to fail.”

    Marketing now just seems like Mad Men diarrhea, whatever that is.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Marketing has never been about honesty. People buy products based on what they want to be or how they want to be seen, not who they really they are. That’s why every car is marketed toward the “young”.

    Most people, aside from the ironic types, wouldn’t buy a car specifically marketed to the “crusty old cheap f*ck”.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    The marketing folks spend their money on things that need improvement. If you hear a commercial about a car’s exceptional reliability, there are probably class action lawsuits pending for the car’s utter failure to start on Mondays. If a commercial is about the car’s winter road prowess, you can be sure you need to buy a set of serious winter tires if you want to be able to get out of the garage. For XTS, they know who will buy it inevitably. So they spend their money on what they don’t have – the 20 to 30 crowd.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Well, the site is being annoying and won’t let me post a link to the Cadillac DTS “Gentlemen” ad. I liked that one. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoQXao7Zjpg

    There was also the DTS ad where it shows a Cadillac owner retiring from his main job. But then the twist at the end is that he is actually just taking a position with a new start-up company, not going to sit at home waiting to die.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Of course you’re selling to a younger audience. It’d be nice to have customers available 20-30 years from today.

    Even Harley-Davidson has finally figured that one out. Seen the new, 60 degree water-cooled V-twins in 500 and 750cc sizes yet? They’ll be in the showrooms first of the year. And Harley couldn’t care less about the screams from The Faithful that “that’s not a real Harley”.

    The Faithful will be dead in twenty years. And they’ve probably already bought their last new motorcycle.

    • 0 avatar
      omer333

      Part of Harley’s problem has been the dealer network. I have not rode in years, and even then it was dirtbikes. I went to a Harley dealer in my area and asked about the Buell Blast, the salesman started telling me it was a piece of crap bike and he couldn’t understand why anyone would want one.

      Watch, the dealers will screw up the new 500cc and 750cc bikes.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      Harley’s problem is that they’re the epitomy of the “marketing over product” mindset. They spent decades selling the same outdated bikes to people who’d drunk the Kool-Aid, and the marketing was incredibly effective – witness all the logos stickered and tattooed all over biceps and truck tailgates across America.

      I never could stop chuckling when one of the “Faithful” scoffed at my VTEC VFR: “Why didn’t you get a real bike?”
      Because I like my fake one that goes, stops, turns and runs way better. And in many cases, my “fake bike” cost more, too, so they couldn’t even play the cachet angle, but it didn’t matter; thanks to the marketeers, the concept that Harleys were THE bike had taken root.

      • 0 avatar
        johnny ro

        90% true. Then there is the 10% that ride them for real all year long winter and summer. I have grudging respect for those guys. Blue coller and work on them themselves.

    • 0 avatar

      So why not make a CUV Wrangler, then? It would totally sell… at first.

  • avatar
    omer333

    Wait, GAP insurance is bullshit?!?!?!

    Damnit, I got it on my Honda.

    In all seriousness, the only car I know of that should be marketed to younger buyers is the ToyoScionBuru FR-S/BRZ. It seems like SpeedHunters, Super Street, Modified Magazine, and the like (along with their viewers/readers) were all over that like white on rice. Yet, I don’t see one commercial for them.

    Hell, I work at a tv station and the only time I see a car commercial during non-prime-time hours is when it’s one of the local dealerships.

  • avatar
    Windy

    Steve, it has been great fun to see you back at TTAC and even better to see how your writing has matured since those first efforts.

    This topic is a great one… Think how often you see any other traffic in these advertisements. And yet how much of our time in our cars is spent in bumper to bumper traffic.

    The last Cadillac that was bought in my family was a Fleetwood bought in 1952 and in 1961 it was replaced by a new continental convertible and that by a 66 continental that was the last non jeep/truck built in the USA that my family bought.

    Even the first Cadillac that was bought in 1948 was to replace the Packard 8s and 12s and going back to pre WW 1 days the big 6s that going back to the days of my great grandfather were the only cars owned on that side of the family. The move to Cadalac after WW2 was due to the post war decline of Packard as was the switch to the Lincoln Continental in the 60s due to distaste for the new Cadillac designs of the late 50s early 60s just as the move to a M-Benz in 1967 to the build quality of the 66 Lincoln.

    While the Packard “Ask the man that owns one” campaign may have influenced my ancestors I can not think of any modern advertising that has influenced my automobile shopping. … No I tell a lie the VW add at the reading of the will got me to test drive and own a VW many years ago.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Serious question about the CUE system and the infotainment in general… has anyone released custom or hacked versions of any of it yet?

  • avatar
    PickupMan

    Hat tip, Steve, for the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas clip. Perfectly illustrative of the point. Oh, and again, welcome back!

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    All commercials are “BS”. Every time the Corolla & Subaru commercials come on i fast forward. I buy what i like. I am 77 years old and still run or bike every day. I have 39 marathons under my belt and still do 6-7 races a year. A lot of my family feels i am crazy but at my present age are now starting to agree with me. I gave my business to my Son-In-Law 2 years ago to get the grandkids thru college but i still go in for 3-4 hours three days a week. I love to solve problems for my customers and my Son-In-Law is doing a good job. Old age is only a figure. My wife and i travel the world and enjoy life. As far as commercials go the best were the old VW ads & TV spots. They were so good that a number of books have been written about the Advertising Company that did them. Both my wife and i drive VW GTI’s and on the weekend i drive my 23 year old Miata with the top down out on Long Island’s back wood roads. Enjoy life you are only on this planet once.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    It is not the marketing that is at fault but the cars. Sure, you can aim at the young crowd with sexy passengers and corner carving videos but you must also manufacture a car that people with money will buy. Anyone looking for a roomy, quiet, comfortable car has long gone to Lexus or MB.

    On a slightly different topic, what’s wrong with knobs? You can find and adjust one without taking your eyes off the road. They are the polite equivalent of voice control without the recognition issues. Try using a touch screen without looking.

  • avatar
    trackratmk1

    When I watch a car commercial produced for national television, I like to imagine what would happen if I swapped out the featured car for any one of it’s competitors, while changing nothing else. If the commercial says exactly the same thing with another car dropped in its place, it’s a failure.

    If on the other hand the commercial specifically tells you something about a unique feature or claim that could not be replicated with it’s competitors (or any other car), it’s at least informative. It’s a bonus if it is entertaining too. My recent favorites are Audi’s “Ahab” series, which all speak to Quattro, which has long been touted as a key brand differentiator in their marketing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGmCKxTgSrI

  • avatar
    dwford

    The Corolla commercial makes me laugh, cuz its clearly aimed at 80′s kids, not Gen Y. I could never understand why there are commercials like Lincoln that try to trade on history when they are really trying to move past it, or how Cadillac would try to court younger buyers but use music from the 70′s. Marketers marketing to themselves, not their stated target markets.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave W

      Not having a TV or caring about music or dance I just thought the Corola commercial bizarre. However I saw it watching a game with friends who love everything about pop culture (also in their mid 50s). While I was busy trying to figure out who Toyota was expecting to bite on the idea of a Carola as anything other then a refrigerator, my friends were dissecting the music and dance moves and came to the conclusion that the newest reference in it was 10 years old. Mystery solved. Toyota is actually marketing to 50+ people who still think they’re cutting edge by being only a decade out of date.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Harley Earl commercials were the worst. As an enthusiast it just made me wish they were selling this Buick http://automobilesdeluxe.tv/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/harley-earl.jpg instead of the products they had him hawking.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Steve, this was a great read, a couple of times I had to check to make sure it wasn’t DeMuro. Glad you’re back

  • avatar
    raded

    What gets missed a lot is the fact that young people and old people ARE THE SAME PEOPLE. Young people get old. That’s how life works. Old people like Cadillacs and Buicks because those were the cars they aspired to own when they were young. If you make a good car, people will buy it. Marketing is important, but it’s a very small factor in who ends up buying your car.

    On an unrelated note…

    WHY DOES MY AVATAR PICTURE KEEP CHANGING? IT’S DIFFERENT EVERY TIME I LOG IN. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THESE PICTURES ARE. MAKE THEM STOP. THANK YOU.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    The fallacy is that they are what the co.s should be shooting for. I think that you can make a compelling argument that the failure of Lincoln and Cadillac is the stupidity of chasing BMW’s targets for the last 40 years and ignoring their bread and butter segments to the point that they *have* no products that appeal to any one demo. They fiddled their markets away just because it was perceived as old.

  • avatar
    gosteelerz

    This is the most uplifting thread I have read in some time. I’m having a hard time adjusting to being in my 40′s. You feel young but are considered over the hill and constantly get the mid-life crisis label. It is great to read about people 30 years my senior still be able to kick ass, physically.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    The commercials mentioned in this post are far from the most ineffectual.

    Some are just obviously destined to fail: For example, I can remember an ad for the Nissan Murano pitching it as the perfect car to go antique hunting in. How could anyone think that would be effective? Not long before Alfa-Romeo departed our shores they had an ad campaign pitched at new (and presumably affluent) divorcees.

  • avatar
    anti121hero

    This is just ridiculous. People in my generation want something ostentatious and loud in their luxury, and the ones that don’t sure as hell aren’t settling for less. I love talking cars with people I work with that don’t know much about them, a lincoln in their eyes is nowhere near luxury, just a “nice car”, a Cadillac is nicer, but a real symbol of, hey, I’ve made it, is still in the Germans and lexus’ range. I personally don’t agree with the lexis part, but ill admit that I’m biased against toyota and that’s just my taste.. If I made the kind of money I thought I would have at this point after high school, I always imagined myself in something to let people know I have money and that I’ve made it, obviously my perceptions have matured but most people’s that I know haven’t. The dream of showing up to your reunion or to your old friends with a big bold expensive car. That’s “luxury” to most people. As much as I disagree, that’s how it is, and go and ford are just showing that no matter how hard they try, the advertising departments still out of touch with reality.

  • avatar
    anti121hero

    Also, I absolutely despise that toyota commercial. But mentioning clapton, my number one favorite band is Cream so maybe I’m the one out of touch

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    The first post correctly answered the question IMHO.

    This article made me realize I am actually unaware of Cadillac’s product offerings in US. I stopped looking decades ago.

    I think to go check their site.

    I am vaguely aware of huge ugly chromed plastic looking grilles and lines deliberately suggestive of early generation stealth aircraft silhouette and creases instead of actual aerodynamic efficiency.

    Lets see.

  • avatar
    FunctionOfX

    Just name a car “Catalina Wine Mixer”….I’d buy it.

  • avatar
    scrappy17

    Nobody seems to have mentioned the Toyota Venza ad which was squarely launched at active middle-aged people.

  • avatar
    The Heisenberg Cartel

    Ha. Nobody wants to be honest about what 20somethings with money will buy. Usually it’s trucks and muscle cars and vanillasport compacts (Mazda3, Civic) and hotted up versions of the latter (WRX, GTI, etc). Bland family sedans are close (Impala, Camry, Sonata)

    Me? I’ll drive my Explorer, my Prius and my BMW (all used, combined cost: less than a brand new 320i) and let them figure out for themselves that marketing their part and service lines to us is just as effective as marketing their cars to us.

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    Car advertising. Nothing like a little help in the self seduction, seduction.

    Most people know what they want to buy, they just need some help in lying to themselves about why they need to pull the trigger.

    And the OEM sales ad talking points and brochures, help with convincing you and others of your wise purchase.

    It is not just car companies that lie to you.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    They still have car ads I thought only on Super Bowl Sunday, bring back salesman joe Isuzu at least they were fun, and Steve to be fair jailbait is under 18 in most state not 20 plus

  • avatar
    Stuck in DC traffic

    Have you seen Honest movie trailers?

    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL86F4D497FD3CACCE

    This post reminds of them, people want to be lied to. That’s what the ads sell is the lie. If I got transported back to my 20′s with my 40′s brain and income I would want a classy car not a FRS and have a good shot at hooking up with a hot waitress. If I was transported back to my 20′s with my 20′s brain and income, I’d own a used WRX and be shot down by the hot waitress (that part I remember happening …more than once too so I don’t have to have marketing type make a video for me)

    PS. I am glad your writing these types of posts again Steve. I really enjoyed them and was bummed when you left, thanks for coming back.

  • avatar
    slance66

    There have been very few car ads that successfully target middle aged folks. The one that sticks out as the best is from Subaru, where the dad (maybe 50, and fit) leans in the passenger window and explains safety to 5-6 year old girl behind the wheel. Then he hands her the keys and she turns into (a darned good looking) young woman. Very effective.

    Caddy has to market to the young, since it has to overcome an image as a stodgy old person’s car. Lincoln too, and they’ve been less successful.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Most advertising is out of touch with reality. How many people today listen to the ads on television. The mute button has become the most used function of the tv remote and if you DVR a program you are more likely to fast forward the commercials. Facebook, U tube, Twitter, and all other electronic media are much more effective way of advertising and a lot less costly.

    I myself cannot identify with the ads showing the younger more successful people. Anything I need or want to find out about a car or truck is on the internet. I will just continue to mute or fast forward the tv commercials.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      You’re the reason our economy is in a shambles! Just wait until the ad agencies craft ads that tell the stories with pictures alone – then your mute button will be neutralized. As for DVRs, I’ve always advocated allowing full frontal nudity in commercials. Then your fast-forwarding will be stopped, and the economy will bloom!

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Good one Lorenzo. Maybe I would pause for the right commercial with an attractive spokeswoman.

  • avatar

    i still believe the prat responsible for the “design language” of ford’s linkcolon products should have his mouth washed out with soap. that disgusting grill alone ….

  • avatar

    I am 60 and I look it. But I still ride my Triumph Thunderbird Storm like a crazy man and do track days in my SI.

    Syke needs his own column on this site. The voice of a generation indeed.


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