Opinion: Automotive marketing mistakes and how to avoid them

    Context is key for carmakers to avoid marketing gaffes, but they still happen all too often.

    Published on Nov 11, 2023 08:00:00 AM


    Opinion: Automotive marketing mistakes and how to avoid them

    The Laura name caused quite the stir, so much so that Skoda reverted to the Octavia name for the next-gen model.

    The other day I shared a meme with a bunch of friends from the automotive industry about how comprehension and translation losses can lead to communication blunders. 

    That led to an amazing exchange of anecdotes by many from their careers. Sujan shared, “The creative agency sent me a Land Cruiser ad with the SUV floating in the air, so I drew zigzag lines under the vehicle, wrote ‘put grass here’ and sent it back to the agency. The final creative came back for approval with my zigzag lines and a hand-written script saying ‘put grass here’.” Pallav recollected an incident during the Pulsar launch print campaign in vernacular. The English copy said, “Presenting two new scintillating motorcycles from Bajaj’s stable”. The agency came back with a literal translation that converted ‘stable’ into tabela. These are cases of loss in comprehension and translation. Then, there is also the loss due to cultural context. Sujan recounted one more incident where the Egyptian creative head simplified “Land Cruiser is the undisputed #1 in Oman” to “Land Cruiser rules Oman” triggering a telephone call from Sultan Qaboos to his chairman quipping, “Your boys have deposed me from the throne.”

    Communication gaffes have been the Achilles heel for many an automobile marketer. Especially when it comes to advertising either in vernacular or when using an existing creative campaign of one market in another. I have had my moments of embarrassment too. With the proliferation of communication channels and periodicity, the task becomes more complex. While the media agencies will always tell you they have it ‘all sorted out’, the responsibility finally rests on the shoulders of the marketing person.

    In my experience, two methods work best when it comes to comprehension, context and translation. First, if all communication is centrally ‘controlled’, always run every regional piece by the local team: print, video, social or outdoor. Here again, ensure the person(s) are fluent not only in speaking but also in reading and writing. The little nuances are crucial to understand. Second, if you follow a decentralised communication system, allow the regional teams to get the verbal/written parts done locally within the creative guidelines provided. That will ensure the core message is not lost in translation while the market and cultural context is maintained.

    I tell those who wish to listen that velocity, variety, veracity and vernacular are the 4Vs that will define communication for any auto marketer in today’s and tomorrow’s omni-channel marketing. In such an uber-hectic scenario, comprehension and context need to be ‘zero defect’ as the consumer does not give us second chances.


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