Ramble: You are a Target Audience

Giuliettas classic: Automobiles, as Henry Ford understood them, were conceived of as basic transportation, but as automakers emerged and brands began to compete for sales, lines were drawn, classes were formed and image, a mans image of himself, became linked to his* car.  Advertising began to focus on the aspirational longings of it’s target audience, with what has played out to be strange, and as such, interesting results.  (I must digress for a moment here and point out that the above paragraph is true for just about any product.  ‘Jeans, as Levi Strauss understood them, were conceived of as basic clothing…’)

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Hey Ladies!  Either of you interested in going for ride in my new car?  The dealer couldn’t supply the ultimate passenger seat accessory.”

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“Your hat is almost as big as my hair!”

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“I hope you have a lot of pins in your hair -it’s about to get messy.” 

It’s not my purpose to examine what advertising copy has done to the image a man has of himself, but rather, to consider what strange offspring generations of car advertising and brand loyalty has spawned among car owners.  I grew up in a family dedicated to Ford.  ‘What does that even mean?’ you are thinking, and I remember thinking the same thing when I was questioned harshly for expressing interest in a 1973 Toyota Celica ST. It’s my mom’s side of the family.  Her father was a physicist with Ford Aerospace for many years, he was a company man, so the family all had Fords.  It’s the American way. Simple as that.  Brilliance and honest introspection can easily be never-intersecting skew lines in curved space.

Fast forward a few years and you are behind some (fictional) member of my family in a big black Everest SUV with tinted windows and a white silhouette of Calvin peeing on a Chevrolet badge.  But why?  We’re talking about consumer products right?  I’m not all up in arms about my Bosch dishwasher.  I don’t have a sticker of Calvin peeing on a Whirlpool dishwasher on it.  I’m not going to fly into a murderous rage at anyone because they disrespected my dishwasher.  But people get really up tight about their car.

People get uptight about their car, because they wear their car around in public.  Advertisers have made sure everyone knows how much that BMW cost you, so when you wear it around, it is a status symbol giving a first glance impression that you are successful -if it’s new anyway.  If it’s not, your moments away from a head-warping radiator failure that will put closer to your eyeballs deep in the poor house.

In addition to status is the selection process.  You, lord of your domain, hath decreed you shall buy a Dodge Super Triple Power Ram Turbo Harley Davidson Do-rag edition with chewing tobacco resistant drivers door paint, because it’s the ruggedest toughest real man truck around and when you drive into a quarry, if some jerk decides to drop a yard of #57 gravel in your bed from 30 feet up, it’s got you covered -that is if the jerk has decent aim with his excavator and doesn’t break your windshield.  You have made a decision about an item that you will be identified with based on some criteria, you want to be respected for your judgement.  That Dodge Magnum XL is an extension of you, not just as you are, but as you aspire to be.

Calvin isn’t peeing on a your Chevy -he’s peeing on you sense of self, your decision making and aspirations.

Interesting results advertising has created!

*Sorry ladies, I’m thinking of the early-mid 20th Century and it is only recently that the woman has become an automakers target audience.

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6 thoughts on “Ramble: You are a Target Audience

  1. As an ad man, and in honor of the return of ‘Mad Men’ to AMC cable television Sunday night, I agree! Let’s just be greatful that transportation and escapism can be so available to so many.

  2. A curious topic but true nonetheless …
    Your mention initially of Henry Ford and basic transportation has been expanded into complete volumes .. as well as auto-mythology. Ford set out to build a vehicle that was affordable to the masses and while successful in this endeavor, he learned that the public can be perversely fickled. As the Model T dropped in price during its nineteen years of production, Ford’s market-share dropped due to more features and “creature comforts” in vehicles offered by the competition. Ford became aware that advertising to specific markets with vehicles designed and priced for that target was necessary to survive in the expanded automobile market.

    Today’s Asian fledgling car assemblers will follow a similar course, initially building affordable basic transport units then adding more features (and expense) as the market demands.

    I disagree with your last statement about females being targeted in auto advertising as only a recent phenomenon .. very early 20th century ads were specifically directed toward women for both electric cars and larger (ergo, more comfortable) vehicles. Women have always been a deciding factor in expensive personal purchases – especially automobiles !

  3. Automobile marketing is so well-targeted that both of George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns relied on a database to sort potentially sympathetic voters on the basis of what cars they owned. This targeting starts when the car is on the drawing board; the ads and commercials merely perpetuate the blah, blah, blah that was designed into the grille, the dashboard, the silhouette, and the dealer’s architectural style.

  4. If any of this makes sense, you are officially an Old Guy. Two generations from now car advertising, as we know it, will be dead. I believe the coming generation will ride in cars, but won’t own them, and therefor won’t love them as we do. Look at Gen Xers and their tendency to lease instead of own a car. Millennials, I believe, won’t be fallible to the advertising triggers we all grew up with, in fact they will viewed as ‘quaint’. Many are in no hurry to get their driver’s license. Actually many never will; in general, they don’t have a romance with cars, they see them merely as a means to get A to B; if someone else drives, even better. Consider the rise of Uber, and all the other smart-phone ap transport services on the horizon. Look at the race to develop driverless vehicles; who wants to drive? Today 10/25/2016, a truck delivered a standard trailer of beer in a 125-mile trip. Without a driver.

    How romantic were you about the last elevator you rode in? In a world where you will phone in a car that doesn’t have a driver, that you don’t own, that shows up, takes you to your destination, drops you off and disappears to go somewhere and recharge itself, who does a car company advertise to? Seen any sexy elevator ads lately? .

  5. I loved this exchange of thoughts triggered by a well written and fun article. Made me smile and think of my teenage years (was born in 1956) admiring the many café-racing motorbikes, and sporty vehicles.
    Yes, after sixty years I would still proudly put an AR-sticker on my beat up old pull-trailor behind my everyday car (a Volvo) … + drive fiercely & happy my 101 around whenever I can, knowing it turns heads….
    I think we all live in a fantastic era, and I hope to ‘feel’ & ‘experience’ the same enthousiasm for nuts and bolts by the new generations …

  6. I was thinking about how the world has changed in the few short years since this was written (original post was April 9, 2013) when I decided to roll it out again. I drove to work in a leased Leaf today – I admire it quite a bit – it’s in many ways more fun to drive than my VW GTI that I own in the old-fashioned way, and will be trading in for something with more modern conveniences – if things go as planned a Tesla Model 3 with the self driving hardware.
    I was born in September of 1972, The internet became a thing right after I got out of high school. I think I am in a fortunate generation, who remembers the golden age in all its inconveniences with a longing-for-simpler-times romance, but has the potential to be fully literate technologically.
    Can’t wait for my car to drive me to work – can’t wait to take my Sprint for a drive next weekend. You can have it both ways, for now at least.

    I appreciate all the comments – keep them coming!
    Matt

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