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September 26, 2006
The Consumer is Not a Moron. Or am I?

After nearly 150,000 miles, my car is finally starting to act like a decrepit senior citizen. Time to start thinking about a replacement. With no particular car I really want, I’ve become an impressionable customer, open to looking around.

So here I am now, playing Mr. Target Audience. But am I too jaded to pay attention to car ads? When you work in advertising, can you ever really turn off the work valve and act like a true consumer? Does advertising work on you?

Having worked on automotive advertising at the local, regional, and national levels, I never once worked on advertising that actually talked to consumers in a humanistic tone. Mostly, it was clichéd babbling about the car, the dealership, or the year-end closeout event.

Like a good media junkie, I started leafing through the auto section of the newspaper. I poked around on the web. Even halfway through listening to some local idiot yelling on the radio, I’d perk up my ears and see if this weekend was the best time to head to East Bumble to get a incredible deal on an ’06.

None of it worked. No one was really influencing me.

Then I grabbed a couple of car magazines, just to see if anything caught my eye. I jotted down a list of all the taglines I saw in the ads.

Some of the brands imploring me to do certain things:
Acura: Advance.
Audi: Never Follow
Hyundai: Drive your way
Lincoln: Reach Higher
Nissan: Shift_2.0
(getting clever here with the webspeak)

Some talk about their cars:
Chrysler: Inspiration Comes Standard
Saab: Born From Jets
Hummer: Like Nothing Else.

And many are just meaningless chest-beating anthems:
Suzuki: Way of Life! (Yes, there really is an exclamation point!)
Chevy: An American Revolution
BMW: The Ultimate Driving Machine
Cadillac: Life. Liberty. And The Pursuit.
Toyota. Moving Forward.
Volvo. For Life
Buick: Beyond Precision
Ford: Bold Moves.
Mazda: Zoom Zoom
Maserati: Excellence Through Passion
Mercedez-Benz: Unlike any other

Now, I don’t necessarily believe automotive advertising directly correlates to sales. Friends, family, Consumer Reports, the area of the country one lives in—all play a role in what you drive. But now I see the vast amounts of cash automakers are spending--and wasting--trying to convince me to life the lifestyle their brand says I should.

Would buying a Ford Focus really be a Bold Move on my part? Can I truly Advance in an Acura or Never Follow if I’m in an Audi? Hyundai tells me to “Drive Your Way,” but I sure can’t do that, because I’d like to run red lights when no one’s at the intersection and drive 85 down a sparsely populated highway.

Frankly, as both an advertising professional and a consumer with disposable income, I will readily admit I have been swayed by advertising in the past. I don’t think I’m above its influence—nobody is.

Yet my foray into car buying, and car advertising, has convinced me that our industry regularly loses sight of how we really should be speaking to people. We’re pretty good at identifying and profiling our target audiences, but we rarely seem to find the right message and tone to communicate to them.

If you want to know whether an ad campaign is on the right track, just ask yourself this: Would I really want to be talked to that way?

Believe me, we are part of the audience. And if we ever find a way to rid ourselves of the chest-beating, condescension, and other nasty habits that permeate most of what we produce, advertising will be vastly improved. Now that really would be an American revolution.

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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