I don’t suppose you remember Easter, do you? It was a long time ago now: a slightly faded memory, like yesterday, through an Instagram filter. The main thing I remember is the chocolate: for a month or three all of the chocolate in all of the shops came in the shape of a freshly laid egg. Then it didn’t.
My question regards the brands involved. For instance, Creme Eggs: Only available between January and April; for the rest of the year there is no product to fill the cavity-inducing void. There are people who claim it increases anticipation: they get giddy for the release of their favourite confectionary.
In my case the situation was reversed. I actually forgot they existed one year, when I was about 10, and didn’t get around to remembering about them again until I was in my mid-thirties. Between, they were just part of the annual background: culturally invisible. It’s a similar story with Christmas.
For a full quarter of the year, everything we buy is festooned with holly, or reindeer, or Satan; it is flavoured with cinnamon, or orange, or gin. And then it goes away all of a sudden. Every year. This year I got hooked on brandy butter in January; I now have to wait a full year to get my hard sauce fix.
A similar tale, albeit tangentially, comes about with Porsche: I have always had one gripe with their business model; it is not with the quality of their cars, or their aesthetic, but their intransigence. All of their vehicles have a distinct family resemblance. This is demonstrably a good thing when it comes to not losing your child in a crowd, but arguably less so when it comes to not losing your car in one.
Having your entire output, from your entry level models to your ultra-prestige hyper cars all looking remarkably similar seems counterproductive when building a defining brand image. If a blind man on a galloping horse cannot tell the difference between, say, a Boxter and a GT3 RS, what is the point in shelling out for the better car? I understand that a large part of owning a high performance car is the way that such things are designed, built, and so perform, but what about the status symbolism?
Car nerds can hang on one cotton-picking minute here: I know that you can tell the difference, even at high speeds, but the majority of us cannot. And therein lies the rub. What’s the point of flaunting your hard-earned wealth if the central two thirds of the bell curve can’t actually tell you’re wealthy?
The end result tends to be that all Porsche owners are tarred with the same unkind brush; that the ill-informed views of the beholder get mapped across the entire product range. This creates a brand image where only the views of the inducted are based on tangible fact; everyone else just sees that one car shape and assumes that the driver of one is at the same level of human evolution as the rest.
Another version of this which caught my mind was the sponsorship by Lexus of Drama on Channel 4. Programmes such as Timeless (Canadian Sci-Fi) and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. both feature arty bumpers paid for, and advertising, this luxury car brand. How likely is the average viewer of a cheap Sci-Fi import to be able to afford a high-performing, luxury car? I understand that they are trying to expand their brand prominence, but I doubt that they’re achieving a great deal of sales from it.
This conceptual mismatch between luxury cars and pedestrian science fiction is so complete as to render the bumpers invisible. I don’t see any connection, so I mentally turn off. They may as well be advertising ham, or bras or microwavable garden furniture. I fast-forward through them every time.
Then again, I’ve clearly registered them. There’s a monkey on the shoulder of a night club bouncer at one point. In a hobbit house there are triangular canapés. I’m still not about to buy a Lexus, but I am in the act of writing about their cars. I can’t even drive, so I fail to see the point of my awareness. All the car company, and their marketing people, care about is that I am aware that they exist and think they are swanky. Swank is very much in the vein of what their pretty bumper films make me think of.
In a world of TV advertising, where we have the ability to scroll past anything we don’t want at the touch of a button, this is surely the best anyone can hope for. Getting people talking, then sharing, your content is the ultimate goal of every ad campaign in this modern era. Spend the money, not on production, but on a coherent set of ideas: the distribution can perpetuate itself on social media.
And that is how Easter does it now. Facebook groups exist, and Twitter hashtags come in to being, in order to facilitate any and every seasonal product. From Pumpkin Spice Lattes and hot cross buns to Starbucks’ red cups and Cadbury Creme Eggs, they all attract their own fetishistic online followers.
We’re a marketer’s dream in some cases. We are voluntarily telling them everything they might like to know about our appetites, for every product we can think of, without them having to lift a focus-group-shaped finger. The internet is a focus group now. While that means that some of the more old-fashioned forms of advertising become less relevant, new avenues are opening up all the time.
In the past, it used to be possible to forget about a favourite thing. In the past, we used to pay at the least some attention to what we had advertised to us. In the past, we expected our advertising to be clear and make rational sense. Those days are all long gone: our post-modern, information rich age has put paid to that, for better or for worse. What comparable changes will our children experience?
What then of Porsche? Does it really follow that each of their cars looking the same devalues their brand? Or is it that the prevalent, cheaper, models advertise the more expensive, luxury, models? Having customers aspire to your luxury brand, and then pay considerable sums of money in order to advertise your most prestigious product is a very smart move, even if Jeremy Clarkson disagrees.