Does a global industry need global advertising?
Yes, says Automobiles Cit-roen. No, says Skoda Auto UK. It all depends, says Honda.
It is a confused picture, but some trends have emerged. One is that the auto industry increasingly will favor global advertising. This already has happened with liquor, soft drinks and sports shoes, says Bill Britt, editor of AdAgeGlobal.com, the online version of Advertising Age, a sister publication of Automotive News International. Britt says car companies 'are assigning advertising on a global and regional basis, even if they use local advertising on a case-by-case basis. They need to ensure that everyone (in the company) is singing from the same sheet.'
French carmaker Renault embarked on global advertising - excluding North America - to build awareness of the marque. The company adopted a global tag line: 'Createur d'automobiles' for the forthcoming Avantime model, and paired it with a European-made ad featuring French designer Jean Paul Gaultier.
The ad did not get an enthusiastic reception in South America, where speed and testosterone were more important, says one Renault insider. Nevertheless, the company kept its 'Createur d'automobiles' motto.
GLOBAL IS CHEAPER
Saab also used global advertising to promote its brand. In its 'Saab vs. ...' campaign, each magazine ad featured a provocative photo with a visual riddle for the reader. The reader answers the riddle by reading the ad's words. Saab sells in 50 world markets, and the company wanted a common feel for the brand.
'Saab buyers worldwide are very similar,' says Gary Axon, communications manager for Saab in Great Britain. 'They are predominantly business buyers in their mid-40s who drive farther and fly farther than average.' It was therefore important to have a similar global message. But even Saab had to develop a series of ads to accommodate national tastes. There were four different diesel ads, popular in France, Spain and Portugal. But only one was shown in the United Kingdom, where diesel ownership is much lower.
For a small automaker such as Saab, global advertising carries another advantage. It's cheaper. 'Bulk-buying media space meant greater cost efficiencies,' Axton says.
Pan-European advertising promotes brand awareness. 'If you are not well known for your volume, then you have to have a strong brand,' says Claude Satinet, managing director of Automobiles Citroen. 'Pan-European ads help us. If we have a strong European ad, individual countries are not allowed their own campaigns. We are very strict on this!'
Citroen, for example, uses model Claudia Schiffer in its advertising across Europe. The automaker uses the same ad agency in each country. 'For a new campaign, the same brief is sent to each branch of the agency, and we select from each country to see if there is one unique ad that will work across Europe,' Satinet says. But there are problems. The original Xsara ad was pan-European, except in the United Kingdom, which bans ad footage of crash tests.
Skoda's Ad woes
The consensus is that prestige brands should use advertising created for a particular country, while value brands should stick to pan-European branding ads. Unless you are Skoda. The Czech automaker had a huge image problem in the United Kingdom, a problem many in the company refused to accept, says Chris Hawken, head of marketing for Skoda UK. Skoda was running cliched car ads for Europe, which could have been for any car, he says.
Even the launch of the much-acclaimed Octavia failed to solve the problem. It was with the launch of the Fabia supermini - again much praised by the motoring press - in 2000 that Hawken had his chance. 'The United Kingdom is the third-largest market for Skoda. So that gives us a fair amount of cash - and clout,' Hawken says. 'Skoda means very different things across Europe,' Hawken said. 'It had a particular stigma in the United Kingdom. That's why pan-Europe ads wouldn't work.'
Why does pan-European advertising succeed for Citroen but not Skoda? 'Citroen tends to mean the same thing across Europe, so they can have great creative ads, and use them across Europe. Skoda has had to play catch-up,' says Hawken. Skoda is a value brand in the United Kingdom but a more upmarket brand in Eastern Europe.
YOUNG AND NAKED
When Chris Brown considers international ad campaigns, he pays close attention to the age of his target audience. Younger buyers are more receptive to international advertising, says Brown, who is communications manager for Honda UK. That is why Honda's HR-V multipurpose vehicle was easy to promote in a pan-European ad. The HR-V ad showed young (and naked) people jumping off the vehicle into the ocean. While the ad was not especially racy, it was definitely uninhibited. As such, it was suited for a younger audience of 30- to 40-year-olds who tend to speak English, listen to the same music and watch the same films. 'There is no difference between a German 30-year-old and an English 30-year-old,' Brown says.
International ads are best suited for brand awareness campaigns. They are sometimes less effective when the automaker is promoting a particular feature, such as safety equipment. 'Safety means different things in different countries,' Brown notes. In general, safety is a strong seller in Germany and Scandinavia but doesn't rate in Italy and Spain, where speed and performance still are the main messages.
International ads also run afoul of media regulations in individual countries. In the United Kingdom, for example, regulations ban ads that promote speed. The Civic Type R due to be launched this year 'is all about performance, so we have to find a metaphor for speed,' Brown says. Meanwhile, French regulations do not allow alcohol to be shown on dining tables, which meant the new Civic ad featuring a restaurant scene had to be carefully photographed.
Brown and AdAgeGlobal.com's Britt believe that global car ads will play a prominent role within five years. The auto industry 'must raise its game,' Brown says. 'We are too middle-aged, too cautious. It's an expensive and risky business. Mistakes can be made, but why should an American customer be treated differently than a customer in Thailand?'
Despite Saab's global campaign, most luxury automakers do not prefer international ad campaigns. BMW's headquarters in Munich, Germany, develops advertising campaigns, but the company's marketers in each country can create their own.
Companies such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW use different ad agencies in different markets, with a preference for small, independent agencies. 'The brand personality tends to be different in different countries,' says Patrick Adams of BMW GB's agency WCRS. 'It is, for example, more arrogant in the U.S., and more subtle - more humorous - in the United Kingdom.'
Britt believes the auto industry needs to learn from the liquor, soft drink and shoe industries, where products are the stars. 'It's important to have the same brand image as we travel around the world,' Britt says. 'If a drink that is rotgut in its own country is sold as a premium drink elsewhere, than you would wonder why you were paying so much for it.'
E-mail writer Anthony Lewis at [email protected]