Few purchase categories are as potentially thrilling as automotive. Fast cars, sleek designs, shiny façades, the freedom of the road – you can’t get more exciting than that.
Conversely, few purchase categories are as inherently boring as insurance. It’s difficult to depict insurance visually in advertising. Most people just don’t want to think about buying it.
Yet somehow insurance companies have managed to make a tedious topic interesting — even entertaining — with their advertising. Meanwhile, car companies have used their ads to make their vehicles completely indistinguishable from one another.
This is despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on what automotive marketers no doubt believe is effective TV advertising.
Indeed, individual car commercials can be captivating, fun, and cute. They make headlines, especially around events like the Super Bowl.
But you’d be hard-pressed to find a distinctive brand under all that stunning scenery, all those jokes, and all those expensive celebrity spokespeople. It’s almost as if car brands are all trying to be exactly like one another.
This is understandable. When you have a range of diverse models, it’s hard to put your brand out there as representative of a singular value or idea. If you sell fuel-efficient electric cars and you also sell SUVs, how are you going to say you’re the environmentally friendly auto brand? If you sell high-end vehicles and budget motors, how can you claim you’re synonymous with luxury? Not alienating anyone who might at some point be in the market for a car is a primary consideration.
As a result, automotive C-suite industry execs seems to believe that if they can just avoid adopting a specific identity, their brands can appeal to everybody. That’s a tall order for marketers expected to deliver results with such constraints.
But auto brands absolutely can stand for something without jeopardizing the breadth of their appeal. And there’s no need for this to be achieved from claiming a ‘green’ identity or one as a paragon of safety.
The route to victory for such an automotive brand lies in the same path insurance companies have taken: distinctive brand assets.
For example, the jingle that tells consumers “Nationwide is on your side” is hard to beat. No controversy there, and it’s a straightforward concept that appeals to everybody. By building marketing around this distinctive brand asset, Nationwide has managed to embed itself in consumers’ minds as a reliable company that will advocate for them. The line, and the associated jingle, is sticky. It’s inextricably linked to the brand. And Nationwide has managed to make it the centerpiece of highly engaging, human, likeable advertising.
Contrast this with, say, Toyota’s “Let’s Go Places.” This tagline doesn’t speak to anybody. But it probably feels risk-free to Toyota. Even if it were a gripping tagline, you need more than that to drive a unique brand profile.
Often, car brands try to persuade consumers by making a model’s features the anchor of ad creative. But car buying is only partially based on rationality. If someone has an affinity for a certain auto brand, they’ll just use that data to justify a purchase they already wanted to make. If they don’t come from a place love or open-mindedness toward the brand, such details won’t even be on the consumer’s radar. And you don’t build love for your brand with ads telling cute stories that could easily be told by other brands.
What’s more, features are a temporary reason to buy. Once one auto brand introduces a certain upgrade, much of the market soon follows. So now why should people buy your model instead of the competition’s?
Meanwhile, insurance brands have gone all-in with distinctive brand assets – without trying to sell consumers with stats. They have shown keen awareness that resonating with consumers means standing out in a crowd. Distinctive brand assets just become the brand, and over time project what makes the brand remarkable.
Which will be the first automotive company to break out of this indistinguishable crowd? Whoever it is will take considerable revenue from the competition. In the meantime, marketing from boring old insurance brands will continue to resonate, while advertising for the enthralling, electrifying auto industry will all be one big blur.