So we’ve reached the point where the advancement of technology in car design, engineering and manufacturing is so fast-paced that vehicle models are starting to look, feel and perform alike. One automaker releases a 360-degree camera view to aid the driver in parking the car, for instance, and rival brands are offering the same feature within a couple of months. Another company introduces a single controller for all the cabin functions and competing firms follow suit faster than you can put together a road-trip playlist on Spotify.
Now everyone wants to go electric and autonomous. Read press releases around the industry these days and they almost sound exactly the same: They promise the same conveniences, they recite the same technological concepts, they string together the same marketing phrases. It’s at a point now where I seriously wonder if any self-proclaimed car enthusiast would be able to distinguish one sedan from another if he were to drive both blindfolded.
And because cars may be reaching their inevitable apogee, it’s becoming more and more challenging for marketers to peddle their products. One cannot simply throw such sweeping catchwords as “Ultimate Driving Machine” at consumers nowadays and expect the latter to fall for them hook, line and sinker. Because frankly, other brands can make the same claim. I don’t care if you’re the most badass wordsmith in the world, but a car — especially a luxury one — will need more than mere syllables to be desirable today.
In the past decade or so, the increased difficulty in marketing new vehicles was addressed by the so-called engagement or experiential marketing. Shunning traditional advertising and conventional publicity stunts, marketing executives devised ways to make customers participate in their promotional campaign, as opposed to just having target buyers watch the TV or read the magazine as they begrudgingly take in the paid message.
An example of smart experiential marketing is what Nissan did in Dubai to hype up the Patrol: They would leave the SUV in a parking lot such that it blocked another car. When the owner of the blocked car arrived, he was naturally upset. And then he’d find the piece of note so conspicuously left by the Nissan staff on the Patrol’s windshield. The note read: “Sorry, had to run. Feel free to get inside and move the car.” The angry car owner would then end up taking the Patrol for a spin.
This type of marketing is fun and refreshing, but can also be ineffective. Because what if the unwitting participants are not really the product’s intended market? Then it just becomes a waste of time and resources.
In the premium segment — where vehicles cost P3 million and above — car companies can’t afford the shotgun approach to marketing. They need to be able to accurately identify who their customers are and then speak to them in a language they’ll not only understand but, more importantly, respond to. Public test drives are nice, but these also attract the wrong crowd. The marketing effort for luxury vehicles needs to be precise and persuasive.
BMW Philippines president Maricar C. Parco tells me that the new instruction from the brand’s regional office asks distributors to market their products with events that give potential buyers a glimpse of the BMW life if they are to purchase one of the German brand’s vehicles. I’ve always heard this marketing trope before: “We’re not selling a car; we’re selling a lifestyle.” But the way Ms. Parco explained their new marketing direction to me gave me the impression that they’re out to appeal to their clients’ FOMO — or fear of missing out.
The acronym became popular in social media use, referring to that anxious feeling people get when they haven’t checked their Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts for an extended period of time. What am I missing? What are my friends discussing? Who or what is trending now? Questions that apparently affect those who never want to be out of the loop.
By the same principle, many luxury car owners are always checking each other out just to see how their present fortunes stack up with those of their peers. They want to experience the same diversion the others are experiencing. They want to attend the same event the others are attending. They want to visit the same place the others are visiting.
Now I understand the attraction of an exclusive clique, or a small group of individuals with similar interests and comparable bank accounts. Aston Martin Manila, for one, has supported the creation of an owners club among its customers. This club has already held a track day at Clark International Speedway. If you’re a wealthy petrol head and you see the photos of the gathering in your news feed, you will likely feel a desire to get a Rapide or a Vanquish. Because the message you’re subliminally getting is: “You want to play with us? Buy our toy first.”
Lexus Manila, on the other hand, organizes an annual golf tournament for clients. Many of those who get invited to the game are the who’s who of the business community. Most of them know or at least recognize each other. The idea is to make members of said community want to belong: “If you’re relevant and important, you should be putting with us.”
Volvo Philippines, for its part, regularly uses the posh Volvo Ocean Race event to entice buyers. Get one of its cars and you get a chance to go to one of the race legs. PGA Cars, meanwhile, periodically fly in German driving instructors to spend a day at the track with select clients. Want to be taught by professional drivers? Buy a Porsche.
In the luxury car segment, many customers are not so much into the automobiles as they are into the prestige of owning them. Many of them don’t care about horsepower and torque figures — they just want a badge that will earn the approval of their colleagues and get them a free pass to an exclusive party or two. The brands that are able to come up with the most convincing lifestyle pitch will almost always win this FOMO marketing contest.