Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jan-Feb 2021

A Drive Off the Beaten Track

Pakistani automobile advertising needs to move away from the monotony of sameness and adopt more distinctive approaches.

Nowadays, I am in search of my first car and I have been scrolling through social media platforms in pursuit of the perfect one. A car that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but aces in performance, comfort, safety, space, price point and resale value; the list is endless. So many options to choose from, each with its own set of features, standards and appeal, only making the decision a demanding task, especially considering the fact that the local automobile industry does not offer many variants.

Making such a big decision, especially with such a hefty price tag, needs ample consideration and a cost-benefit analysis, which I intended to carry out. In my quest I came across numerous car adverts. Therefore, most of my free time was spent on looking at countless car ads on TV and social media platforms. What I saw was confusing to say the least. How can something so personal and permanent evoke such identically bland communication? All the ads were a sea of sameness; glitzy, with good looking models, driving on pristine roads and an upbeat track playing in the background. Visually, they hit all the right points, yet they were all unforgettable. As an advertiser and a potential buyer, I wondered, why?

Most of our ads essentially focus on the same thing – buying a car as a rite of passage, presented as a success story, focusing on the features and the brand. But is this enough to satisfy a buyer? Since most ads are similar, potential buyers are mostly able to recall the generic storyline rather than the brand that was advertised.

Nevertheless, commercials do have the influence and the power to convince the buyers to purchase a car. A study conducted by Thunder Bay Ventures (TBV) and The Futures Company highlighted the fact that TV is still the top advertising platform utilised by the automobile industry. It further states that TV commercials are effective in moving potential buyers into the consideration phase; with an urban TV viewership of 2.1 hours a day, this represents a massive audience of potential buyers. Currently, Pakistan has 164.9 million mobile connections, which translates into a large set of people who readily have information available and are potential viewers for any kind of ad, even more so with the presence of various social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

The local automobile industry needs to tap into the potential of these viewers. They can do this by creating content that is relatable, informative, creative and has a greater recall than the content available currently. According to Lewis Williams, Chief Creative Officer, Burrell’s, “We see automobiles as extensions of ourselves, so style is really important.” He is absolutely correct – a car is a reflection of ourselves, which is why the international car advertising sector builds on this narrative, and in doing so has delivered some persuasive and wonderful stories that manage to compel our attention and communicate effectively.

One of the most noteworthy car ads in history was produced by Volkswagen (VW) through its simplicity and honesty. During a time of glamorous and dazzling ads, VW stood out with a simple tagline of ‘Think Small’ (created by Bill Bernbach). It was hailed as the greatest ad and kick-started the creative revolution.

When it comes to Toyota, their advertising efforts show how major companies are adjusting their marketing tactics as demographics shift. Toyota’s Camry currently has eight ads and each one of them is aimed at a different demographic model. Shalini Shankar, professor at Northwestern University and the author Advertising Diversity: Ad Agencies and the Creation of Asian American Consumers, believes that “it doesn’t hurt to have more stuff that acknowledges that the race is real…” The Camry campaign was developed jointly by a group of four ad agencies – a general agency and three that specialise in an ethnic group. They were Saatchi & Saatchi, Burrell Communications, Conill and interTrend – and they aimed their ads at Americans between the ages of 25 and 49 and built them around the theme of Sensations.

In a Camry commercial titled Captivating, a Chinese-American father picks up his daughter from baseball practice in a red Camry. Seated in the backseat, the daughter is focused on her tablet until her father turns Pandora on. Both their faces light up as the music starts playing along with the engine revving. The ad was created by interTrend, a Californian agency that specialises in marketing to Asian-Americans. Julia Huang, Chief Executive, interTrend, says, “Traditionally, Asian fathers show less emotion and affection toward their kids and we wanted to show that driving the Camry brought out a different side of an Asian dad.” Toyota’s efforts illustrate the amount of work that goes into creating a special and personalised appeal factor for their audience. Going the extra mile pays off in terms of gaining loyal customers.

A recent interesting ad was delivered by Audi. Starring Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams, the commercial posits Audi’s all-electric e-tron as a remedy for car culture itself. Williams is seen pulling up to a city intersection blocked by dusty 1980s beaters. “Today’s high temperature is eight degrees above normal,” her radio informs us, followed by what sounds like the beginning of a news item about climate change. Williams then launches into a song from Frozen about letting things go. She is seen escaping through a forest of unattractive car-culture totems: bouncing low-riders, grease-monkey car mechanics, tyre shop tube men and macho muscle cars. Audi took special care to highlight the fact that it recognises all the toxic stuff about the American car culture and its negative impact on the planet and as a solution, offer their e-tron as clean and squeaky as a Disney princess, emphasising the importance of relevance (global warming).

Pakistan’s local automobile marketing sector could easily mirror the creativity of international automobile ads. Taking into consideration aspects such as emotion, relevance, creativity and delivery, agencies can play on the differentiation factor to market their brands and should consider the content of competing ads and then creating storylines that are different. Furthermore, in the evolution of automobile marketing, factors such as environmental appeal and consumer engagement are taking precedence. Our local automobile marketing sector can take a cue from these changing trends and incorporate them into their strategies. The idea behind this is to engage with different audience segments that may have varying reasons to make a purchase. For a country like Pakistan, where purchasing power, along with rising consumerism has increased, the market is ripe. Registered motor cars, jeeps and station wagons have grown by 5.3% in 2018.

In today’s competitive market, uniqueness and novelty are the order of the day. Poorly executed ideas can backfire and make a brand unforgettable. Rather than churning out the same run-of-the-mill ideas, creativity and distinctiveness need to be prioritised. So, give the keys to the creatives, turn off the GPS, and let them take us to places we have never been before... down roads unfamiliar and avenues unusual; the further off the beaten track the better. The work will improve and brands will be built.

Sumaira Mirza is a freelance writer.