I’ve been fascinated with the way products are advertised since my college days, when I guess I was kind of indoctrinated with our course bible, Ways Of Seeing by John Berger. The book examined the ways we view art, and it wasn’t a great leap forward when it came to applying these methods to advertising.

When I worked in the motor industry, car advertising was a crucial part of the way a new car was pitched to the chosen demographic. I cannot tell you the times I’ve sat through meetings where a pie chart was produced with pictures of a couple with their 2.5 children as the presenter attempted to portray the group of people that would somehow fit into the corporate company idea of who would buy the car.

vw passat bluemotion ad

It’s never that simple of course, could VW have ever imagined in a million years that the Camper Van and Beetle would be seen as the staple choice of surfers across the world? I very much doubt it.

Nissan marketing originally pointed the X-Trail in the direction of the young, independent guy or girl going surfing or snowboarding. And while it cannot be argued that such a vehicle is perfect for transporting the equipment and, to an extent, coping with mildly icy conditions or wet sand, it’s hard to imagine that beyond the launch, Nissan didn’t really know that the X-Trail would eventually be a staple favourite of the school run. It’s all just marketing speak and guesswork really, smoke and mirrors.

The launch of the Juke went along similar lines with Parkour free runners leaping from box to box before a suited industry type materialised to take us through the basics of the car and who it was for. Similarly, the Qashqai was cleverly transformed into a skateboard for another TV advertising campaign aimed at the youth market.

As you will gather from this, Nissan have indeed recently been targeting the younger market with many of their new vehicle launches, and while this is a marketing company’s dream with plenty of hobbies and interests to pull from, it can be altogether much harder to push a middle-of-the-road family car.

You’ve probably noticed that most car manufacturers have gone green lately, and while you might be excused for thinking that the technology to save the planet lies in the hands of the car manufacturer, how do you get the green point across without patronising or preaching?

Volkswagen decided to try to add a bit of humour to proceedings with a striking advert for the BlueMotion Passat. A rather distressed man is seen in the road, lit by his headlights attempting to ‘jump start’ a dead rabbit. Road kill overkill on taste maybe, but it certainly takes your mind off the hypocrisy of car manufactures attempting to wear a green halo while on the other hand they are also still producing petrol guzzling beasts that are about as green as the space shuttle.

nissan qashqai skateboard ad

Humour is a surefire route for success when it comes to car advertising, as often, in my experience, the marketing guys would be faced with the dilemma of pushing a car to a target audience that aren’t actually interested in cars as such. A tough one of course, and I’m drawn back to Nissan with their Micra advert from many years ago that featured a child looking out of the window to the hard shoulder where a rusting car part lay and asking “why don’t we ever go in that lane?” Clever stuff of course, as the Micra was deservedly renowned for it’s reliability.

When you decide to spend a small fortune on an advertising campaign it goes without saying that you should make sure that you don’t offend anyone. But there’s a new ploy in town that doesn’t worry so much about these things, and it’s called Viral Advertising. Office inhabitants are renowned for sending funny or shocking emails around the office until it escapes to the next office and then into the next building, at which point you might be able to say that it’s gone viral.

It’s something that car manufacturers have been quick to jump on, releasing their own advertising ‘unofficially’ to get people talking about their product. Such viral videos can often be somewhat nearer the knuckle than the family-friendly adverts you might see in the tea-and-toilet-gap in the middle of an episode of Coronation Street.

Only in April this year Hyundai pulled their viral video (we’ll talk about that later!) which featured a man attempting to commit suicide in his garage only to fail as the car is a zero emission Hyundai. Funny maybe, but you can see why such an idea might cause offence.

In this case that was an understatement, as the car company was heavily (and movingly) criticised by an advertising creative, Holly Brockwell, who blogged about the distasteful advert. At the time, 50,000 people had read her blog – and that was before the Independent published the story.

While Hyundai may have dropped the video, it won’t have changed a thing. Ironically, the circumstances of the ad being pulled would merely have seen it rocket on the viralometer as it leapt from office to office faster than the ad agency, Innocean, would have ever dreamed possible.

Yes, ironic indeed. It would seem there is a very fine line to avoid crossing when using black humour to promote your product if you want to stay in everyone’s good books. It’s safe to say that while VW may have swung close to the wind with their green BlueMotion advert, Hyundai got it spectacularly wrong.

papa nicole clio ad

When it does come to staying in everyone’s good books, Renault seem to have the knack. Their hugely successful themed ad campaign for the Clio ran from 1991 to 1998 and featured two main characters, Papa & Nicole, with minimal dialogue exchanges that were based on a scene from the Audrey Hepburn film, How To Steal A Million. Channel 4 surveyed the public and found out what we already knew, that this was probably the most popular car advertising campaign ever. Although it all went a bit surreal at the end with Nicole leaving Vic Reeves at the alter and running away with Bob Mortimer, or did I imagine that..

audi r8 ad

My current favourite tv car advert is a far simpler affair featuring the Audi R8. It panders purely to the petrol head and unashamedly leaves all others wondering what the fuss is all about. There is no speaking, no beautiful French countryside, simply an R8 on a rolling road and the sound of that engine. As someone commented “..a simple dyno run, best and probably cheapest car commercial production ever..”

Indeed, and it probably offends no one!

Images – coldscoop.com, cars.uk.msn.com, cars.aol.co.uk, mikedempsey.typepad.com

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