Autos have a long history with marketing, and not all of it is good. Car dealers are always trying to get ahead, and a lot of times it’s just plain scary. I, for one, think there should be a law, or at least a publicly posted suggestion, that if you are a car salesman you are not allowed to appear in commercials.
A car is a big purchase. You’re likely going to make payments on it for a while. You’re going to pay for maintenance sooner or later. And you’re going to ride around in it and trust that it will save your hide in the case of an accident. Sorry, Miatas, you’re out of luck. And you too, Ford Focuses! (Or is it Foci?) You can ponder the plural of ‘Lexus’ for a few moments, but it won’t take any time at all to realize that the kind of personality that pushes a person to make a car purchase is not the kind of personality that translates well on screen.
Seriously, acting is a talent and a skill. I don’t have it. I write! When people ask if I record the audio tracks for my books, I say ‘oh, hell, no’. I think this is one of my better qualities – recognizing that I totally suck at acting (even just vocally). And I wish more dealership owners would come to this same conclusion.
But aside from the scary local ads that we all suffer through, there are bigger national, and even international campaign problems with our good buddy the automobile. Most of us have heard of the Chevy Nova problems in the foreign market. Chevy couldn’t sell the things in Mexico or Spain. Apparently, it took them a while to find someone who had passed junior high Spanish I to tell them what the problem was. ‘No va’ translates to “It doesn’t go” in Spanish. Smooth move, Chevy.
At one point I had heard rumors of a gasoline that translated into Japanese as “stalled car”. While I can’t really forgive that one either, at least every exec didn’t have a kid in school who could have done the Japanese translation.
Some of it is just a joke. The first model of the Sidekick had a problem with rolling when it hit sharp curves. There was a fake tagline circulating with that one. But “Suzuki Sidekick – you’ll flip over them!” wasn’t for real. And I’m not old enough to know what went around with the whole exploding Pinto scandal.
But some of it is for real. And my favorites involve a bad case of timing.
Back when OJ Simpson was tried for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole, he was a spokesperson for a number of products. Companies seem to have learned by now to yank the endorsement deals faster than you can say ‘I didn’t do it’ or ‘I’m a sex addict’. But at the time, they wanted to believe OJ was innocent, and so he held his position maybe a little longer than he should have.
At the time, one of OJ’s contracts was with Hertz Car Rental. And their big deal was that you didn’t have to come to the rental shop. They would pick you up. What this left them with was a nationwide campaign of airport posters, billboards, and the like, all depicting a grinning OJ holding up a set of car keys and the slogan, “We’ll come and get you.”
Yikes! This brought really bad images to my mind, but the campaign persisted.
Now, Toyota has been suffering. There are tales of braking issues. I say ‘tales’ because investigative units and research companies (Toyota’s own included) have had trouble reproducing the effects. But consumers have complained loudly, and there are rumors that Toyota filtered the repair requests so that they didn’t have to report the issue or recall the cars.
In response to the negative publicity, we’ve all seen low, low car rates and really great deals. Just a nice, ‘hey we’re sorry about that very dangerous problem, but here’s a zero down offer to make it okay.’ Yes, Toyota is working hard to change the negative perception of the company. In fact, they’ve even deemed the problem “accidental acceleration”. Yeah, that’s a problem. Cars need to stop when you tell them to.
Perhaps Toyota could change something else. Maybe, (and call me crazy here) just maybe, their tag line shouldn’t be “Toyota – Moving Forward.”
I’m suggesting my own campaign! “Toyota – stopping when you want to”
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