Let’s face it; car brands exist for one singular goal – making money. Like any legitimate business, automobile manufacturers are concerned about their bottom line and how they can profit from us consumers. Driven by the need to increase their sales and, consequently, their profits, car companies will do anything to move out their inventory, create more demand, ensure customer retention, and, at best, achieve customer base expansion.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a spanner on the well-oiled sales cogs of several car brands here and abroad. The resulting supply shortages have not helped the industry’s cause either, with demand unmet due to production shortfalls and semiconductor supply woes. Increasing interest rates have also made it harder for financing transactions to proceed, further stunting the rebound expected with the reopening of the economy. Finally, rising global oil and fuel prices have also affected the mindset of many consumers who are now considering alternative energy vehicles such as EVs and hybrids over the traditional gas and diesel-powered offerings in the market.
This confluence of events got us thinking. How do the various automotive brands and the industry, as a whole, manage to sell their wares in the volatile marketplace we have today? How has marketing evolved to meet the challenges presented by competitors and the ongoing social transformation happening now?
The car launch
Before the pandemic lockdowns, automotive events were left, right and center. Media outfits could hardly cope with the back-to-back schedules of car launches. Here they can control the information to be fed to the press and create excitement for the model through audio-visual presentations and song and dance numbers.
With motoring and business media on hand, the brands go after maximum exposure under the controlled environment of the launch.
With COVID-19 still present, car brands are playing it safe with their events. Some brands still require mandatory antigen testing, while others hold events with the common understanding that there are risks involved in attending them. In some ways, the reduced number of events has reshaped the marketing budgets of car companies. Livestream launch videos on Facebook have become the norm, giving rise to an even more controlled presentation where mistakes and bloopers are eliminated.
Media test drives
Imagine driving long distances with a fellow motoring media passenger or two in this day and age of COVID-19 prevalence. Scary, huh? That’s what some car brands were also thinking about when they paused the once dime-a-dozen media test drive activity.
While some manufacturers have been brave enough to live with the virus and resume media test drive events, they usually come with a prerequisite – a negative antigen test for every participant. But in this age where almost everyone is getting COVID-19, albeit with mild effects, it is becoming difficult to discern whether one is contagious or just recovering.
Next to a test drive, overseas trips are the next best thing to “immerse” a journalist into the culture of a car brand. But since the lockdowns started two years ago, such activities have nearly vanished.
Plane tickets are still expensive, not to mention accommodations. And some countries continue to impose strict health restrictions making overseas travel a logistical nightmare. But some brands have successfully resumed their foreign trips with a high degree of success. So it won’t be long until we see the return of overseas flights in the roster of marketing activities.
The successful staging of the Manila International Auto Show and the Philippine International Motor Show this year signifies the viability of trade shows and exhibits as a post-COVID marketing exercise.
At PIMS last September, people were shoulder-to-shoulder at each brand’s display booths, seemingly unperturbed by the lingering COVID-19 virus that may have been circulating inside the halls.
Mall displays are also back with a vengeance as car brands attempt to give their target audiences direct access to the products. The prevailing logic is if customers can’t visit the showroom, then bring the showroom to the customers.
Motoring journalists and company PR reps are people too. And the two-year social distancing guidelines haven’t been kind to both. Fortunately, as restaurants and public places have relaxed their health restrictions, there is now a chance to reconnect with colleagues in the beat and the brands for quick updates on their businesses and upcoming plans.
The press release
Something that always stayed was the press release, and it was the only way car brands connected with the media and the people for a time. Today, the written word’s eminence is being challenged by video production. Journalists and writers must now also add on-camera video-hosting to their repertoire to maintain relevance.
At the same time, YouTube vloggers and social media influencers have stepped up in importance. The thousands of viewers and engagements on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even pandemic superstar TikTok, prove that there are more ways to reach an audience than tradition suggests.
The ongoing digital transformation of former warm-body marketing events has shown that not only is the industry evolving, but the audience is also. How we consume information has changed because of COVID-19. And while automotive marketing may have been heading toward digitalization before the pandemic, the lockdowns only accelerated the transformation process.
Marketing is communication all dressed up. And like any party or event we attend, we must dress appropriately to be taken seriously. However, car companies are learning that dressing smart-casual is as effective as arriving in formal garb and is undoubtedly less expensive. Will this become the norm soon?