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Eyes on the Road, Please

We are bombarded with car advertising and car marketing.  We know all the ‘ad’ enticements—Open road along the ocean’s edge, hugging the curves, top speed, wind in your hair, perfect day, perfect bliss in …pick your favorite ride.

Simple to conjure a ‘reality check’: stop/start traffic, rush hour, poor weather, work worries and ‘ToDo lists’ transforming your ‘ favorite ride’ into a chore.  Yet the appeal lingers …or, at least, the car companies hope this is the way it works.  We marvel at the super-original ads —‘The Cog’ for Honda, ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’ for Nissan’s Juke, Volkswagen’s YaYaYa among the highlights—what the brightest ad minds fuelled by unlimited advertising dollars can create.

Still, we remember them …or at least the car companies hope this is the way it works.  But for all our collective familiarity with car advertising and marketing, contemplating the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of it from the car companies’ perspective is unusual for the average consumer, as is ‘feeling’ for them as they struggle to reach the millennials, the demographic cohort with birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s whose growing indifference to obtaining a driver’s license and to car ownership is presenting an unprecedented challenge.

Apparently, there is even a sub-set, ‘hipsters’, fashion-conscious, educated, socially and politically socialist, and urbane proving the toughest to reach and yet the most desirable because they “hit above their weight financially.”

Millennials are now the dominant generation, nearly 100 million in Canada and the US alone, representing nearly 30 percent of the population and predicted to wield by 2017 when the eldest reach their mid-30s, more than $200-billion in buying power.  Marketing experts put it bluntly: “If you buy into the idea that this demographic doesn’t …[care] about cars, and you’re a higher up in the car industry, if we don’t fix this, we’re all sunk.”

At its simplest, target marketing aligns features and benefits with the target’s needs and desires.  Millennials are thought to care “more about whether they can stream their music over Bluetooth than how fast they get from zero to 60.”  Ford executive Sheryl Connelly has been quoted as saying, “cars must fit into the lifestyles of young people and not vice versa.  That means an increased emphasis on quality, versatility, durability, and technology. …They want to be behind the wheel of their iPhone as opposed to the wheel of an automobile.” 

From a safety perspective, of course, this phone culture only compounds the challenge.  Many studies have shown that ‘connectivity’ features, regardless of how they are configured or accessed, distract drivers from what should be their main and only focus—watching the road.

Distracted driving is now estimated to equal drunk driving as a major cause of fatal crashes.  In overcoming millennials indifference to cars as status symbols, heightened regard to cost, embrace of multi-modal transportation especially in urban environments, and dislike for the automobile’s perceived environmental impact, advertisers are now focusing on the benefits of in-car connectivity – a delicate matter when who all know that the driver’s full attention should be on the road.

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