The automobile industry is one of the biggest in the world. It is one of the biggest employers, and its products are some of the most visible. It is only logical that a great degree of advertising spend goes towards this industry.
That said, automotive ads of the world often display lack of imagination. Especially on TV, the ads usually depict an undulating road, in the middle of a desert or rainforest, or a futuristic urban landscape, and the car being advertised rolling smoothly atop it. Towards the end, the car becomes a star which morphs onto the manufacturer’s logo, or the camera zooms in on the grill to show the logo. Off-roaders, on the other hand, display a different type of monotony – usually riding on sand dunes, or crossing streams and making a splash. The ads usually end with the car parked and the driver staring out over a vista.
SUVs, or off-roaders, are fast becoming the most popular vehicle form factor the world over. However, most of them are (a) not true SUVs, rather conventional vehicles in a rugged suit and (b) not used for off-roading at all. These are, in fact, bought for hauling large families. But whoever considered the sight of seven children spilling out of a car desirable?
In Pakistan, cliché builds upon a cliché. What do you do when launching a high profile new product? You hire Fawad Khan, of course. Suzuki recently re-launched its off-roader, the Vitara.
True to form, no trope is left untouched in this ad. The winding road, skyscrapers, water splashing, and of course, a smug driver who smiles for no reason while driving the said vehicle. The ad is further marred by some bad green-screen job as the ad makers were too lazy to actually film in some environments.
See this two-year-old ad for Toyota Fortuner:
The two ads are virtually identical, down to the guy smiling, and looking and acting like Fawad Khan. Can you tell them apart?
The WagonR by Suzuki was launched two years ago. It is a tall-ish hatchback whose main raison d’etre seems to be ‘practicality’ (hence the tagline).
While this ad is also buried in hackneyed scenes, it at least purports to highlight the practicality of the vehicle by showing luggage, groceries and kids being stuffed into it. However, it seems very by the book, without any imagination.
Motorbikes, on the other hand, attract a very different kind of advertising. The ads display a distinct ‘street’ approach, with lively colours and a variety of slogans.
Honda recently launched its CB-150, the ad for which can be seen here.
This ad breaks from tradition by being more aspirational and less about practical benefits or fuel economy. It plays upon the very sporty look of the product by displaying it on a carousel. This approach fits perfectly with the slight upmarket placement of the product. However, it is felt that the ad does make some allowances to the tried-and-tested formula of displaying the product attributes in text form. Also, the very fresh and exciting colour variants would have had a bigger impact if they weren’t displayed as an afterthought.
That said, Honda’s tagline of ‘mein te honda hi lesan’ is a major success story, putting everything into six words: the perception that Honda makes the best (if expensive) bikes, and that Honda buyers never look anywhere else.
Speaking of, Yamaha made a big re-entry into Pakistani market in 2016. And our ad agencies just knew how to do it: take every cliché from winding roads, to steep hills, to blending a guitar with the bike’s engine sounds, sprinkle a fair damsel on top, and deep fry it in smug smirks of Ali Zafar – and voila! Do you remember that ad? I didn’t, I came across it on YouTube!
This year, though, the new Yamaha’s YB-125Z (real catchy, folks) takes a different, rather somber tone. It shows a clean cut, corporate looking bike rider, who is shown to have decided on Yamaha on his mechanic’s advice, even risking the ridicule of his friends. The benefits of the bike (the design, the apt proportions, comfortable seats) dawn on him afterwards and he develops an emotional connection to it. To me at least, the ad looks and feels refreshing.
An automobile is a huge investment, both for the manufacturer and the consumer. It is one of the major life decisions one takes. Therefore, it is understandable that advertisers the world over, err on the side of caution as far as automotive ads are concerned. However, it also means that the ads are in general, less memorable.
So, here is a breath of fresh air: a reel of 10 really great car commercials. You will notice that they don’t feature any of the clichés that I mentioned, in fact, focusing on people building/using the cars.