Formulaic holiday car commercials fall flat

Who needs it?

Bad news for all the car dealerships along West Broad Street and Midlothian Turnpike (and their counterparts across the U.S.A.): Your manufacturers’ ad departments are letting you down — to say nothing of boring the pants off your potential customers.

Formulas for a fantasy world

According to research just released by Ace Metrix, all those commercials featuring cars with oversize ribbon bows being given as gifts or end-of-year sales just aren’t working. In the consumer research company’s scale of zero to 950 points, rating for relevance, persuasion and watchability, most makes’ spots — particularly most luxury makes’ — are falling below the norm for fourth quarter 2011.

That’s because they’re irrelevant and unpersuasive in anything resembling the real world, while their trite, overused formulas make them unwatchable.

“[T]his is certainly the time of the year when a veritable caravan of auto ads rolls across the video desert bearing gifts in the form of year-end deals, incentives, promotions, close-outs, mistletoe and a dab of frankincense for good measure,” Ace Metrix notes, but for more than 150 new commercials, “reception from U.S. consumers this quarter to those car-as-gift pitches suggests automakers are way off base.”

“[I]t’s astounding that four of the ‘Top 10’ luxury automotive ads were below norm,” says Ace Metrix CEO Peter Daboll.

Lincoln, Infiniti and Jaguar are all below norms this quarter, while Lexus’ give-an-expensive-car-for-the-holidays “December to Remember” campaign dropped a full 14% compared to last year. Adding injury to insult is the fact that as a high-interest category, car commercials in general and luxury-car commercials in particular usually score well above the advertising norms.

Earth to carmakers…

This, says Daboll, is “a clear signal that many automotive brands have stepped away from good creative this season and fallen back on ‘Buy it now, you idiot’ messaging wrapped up in sales events and bows.”

And the “idiots” aren’t having any of it. Among consumer verbatims:

  • “It’s the Christmas car bow ad…I think advertisers should know we’re tired of these…”
  • How many times are car companies going to show a car as a Christmas gift?…It makes me NOT want to buy [from them].”
  • “People don’t buy other people cars, and even if they did, do you think hearing one annoying jingle would really clue them in to the fact they were getting a new car? No!”

…face a few simple facts

Carmakers need to leave their Bizarro world and reconnect with a few basic facts of life and advertising, which apply as strongly to local Richmond advertisers as to Jaguar, Infiniti and Lexus:

  • Consumers don’t do what you want them to do just because you tell them to. They have minds of their own and base purchase decisions on their own wants and needs. If you can persuade them that your product fullfills those needs, great. But if not, all the sales and bows in the world won’t help.
  • People make buying decisions emotionally. They buy with their hearts first, then use their heads to marshal facts and rational support to justify their emotional decisions. Snow scenes, holiday music, bows on cars and other overused devices don’t generate emotion — other than revulsion and boredom.
  • People don’t give expensive cars as gifts. Even in the best of times, few did. And in a seemingly endless, three-year-long recession that has consumers despairing over the country’s future, they’re certainly not about to.

Consumers who have high five-figure sums to spend on cars aren’t dummies. Advertisers need to respect their intelligence, their context and their timing.