The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Bad Metal …
February 1, 2012, 6:20 am
Filed under: Comment

Car ads are notoriously bad.

So many are either like shampoo ads [showing the same gleaming visual from different angles over and over again] or beer ads [basically a sponsored joke, probably relating to how stupid a man is or some other pile of sexist, low-rent, unimaginative twaddle]

They used to be so good … from Volkswagen to Rolls Royce … but now, apart from the odd exception, they’re all about as bland as their overall design.

In some respects, that should be good for the smaller car brands because there’s a real chance to stand out, but no … instead so many go for the same bland and boring approach as the big boys, as if they think by acting like them, they’ll be perceived in the same way as them.

I remember once being kicked out of a Hyundai meeting – and told never to come back – because I dared suggest they should be positioned as ‘the Robin Hood of cars’.

My basic premise was that the general public thought they were cheap and nasty and we could change this perception by suggesting they ‘borrowed’ their thinking and technology from the wealthy and well respected competitors and say this is what allowed them to build a great car at a fraction of the price of brands like VW, Ford or Toyota.


Instead they ran a campaign that said something like “$15,000 On The Road” and cemented their reputation as nothing more than cheap [built] metal.

OK, so I can sort-of understand why they would be pissed, but ignoring the ‘cheap metal’ label that had been bestowed on them wasn’t going to do any good either.

As we saw with that awesome Skoda ad [after VW had bought the brand], tackling negative perceptions head on can be far more powerful than simply ignoring them [ala my ‘unplanned’ view] though I do have to credit them for that great ‘give it back & don’t suffer the consequences’ promotion that they did in the US that drove sales even when the economy was keeping car buyers locked in their houses.

Anyway, I digress.

The reason for this post is that I recently saw this:

‘Inspired by what you like?’


As opposed to being inspired by what you don’t like?

Seriously, even their ‘Power To Surprise’ line – which was shit – was better than that bollocks because it at least hinted they accepted how people currently perceived them and that the reality was soooo much better.

OK, to be fair I do think it could be made to be interesting and intelligent, but given this is a brand that has paid Rafael Nadal a fucking fortune to appear in their ads, it appears they are purveyors of ‘the lowest common denominator’ approach to advertising.

Talking of Nada, do Kia really think that:

… people will believe he really drives one of their cars of his own free will?
… people will buy a Kia simply because Rafael Nadal appears in their ads?

I appreciate celebrity endorsement is very powerful – hell, I live in the region of celebrity endorsement – but that is fucking ridiculous.

Like Hyundai, I really feel they would be better off strategically if they tackled the issue head on.

Sure, that might make them nervous but if the goal of a car ad is basically to get on the ‘consideration list’, even if it’s just to ‘check it out’, that’s a damn site better than being in the position where people dismiss you before they’ve even seen or heard what you have to offer.

Again, I’m not talking about doing a bunch of overly rational ads, spouting off an endless list of features … I’m talking about pulling everything together under a single idea that takes the negative public perception and plays with it rather than sticking their head in the sand and ignoring it.

While I’m at it, can I complain about all these car positioning’s with lines like ‘POWER TO SURPRISE’ … ‘ENGINEERED TO EXCITE’ … stuff.

And I include those brands that say their line in a foreign language … especially a foreign language where you can’t tell what the fuck they are trying to say.*

Yes, I know it’s all a play on words associated with cars and driving experience, but in the main it’s all bollocks and completely undifferentiated.

Like so many of the new car designs that roll off the production line.

Seriously, the biggest thing most car ads tell you is how delusional – or myopic – the senior management of the car brand is.

Which is another reason why our Chrysler work is so good.

Oh god, I am digressing again aren’t I.

OK … OK …

So to KIA, please accept your brand realities because I honestly think that as soon as you do that, you’re on the road [sorry, couldn’t resist] to a much better future and that would be a lot more fun to watch than any of your current ads.

[* Audi is excluded from this, because they did it first and did it brilliantly]

72 Comments so far
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I thought car ads were realistically only about post purchase reassurance, but that’s not why I’m here. I’m here in my role as part owner of Burnley FC to bring you this newsflash.

Nottingham Forest 0 Burnley 2.

Comment by John

another fucking loss. fucking excellent. that means the twat will be pissed off, upset and angry which means less fucking annoying blog posts and his annual season ticket purchase was even less value for money which was never value for fucking money in the first place.

win fucking win. which is more than forest can get.

Comment by andy@cynic

you have shares in fucking burnley? why the fuck would you do that except to have 2 occasions each fucking season when you can take the piss out of campbells losing forest. oh, just answered the fucking question myself.

Comment by andy@cynic

post purchase reassurance? which marketing/planning prick told you that. tell them to repeat it to the salesmen at ford burnley and see what those evil fucks say to it.

Comment by andy@cynic

I was in a bad mood when I woke up and didn’t even know the score … but losing to Burnley [again], selling our longest serving player to Leicester City, selling our brightest striking hope to Chelsea and being in a position where relegation is all but guaranteed, I’m positively super-fucked off now.

Comment by Rob

fucking excellent.

Comment by andy@cynic

“Sorry, Rafael. That wasn’t high enough. Can we go for another take?”

Might it be that new car adverts are aimed at a captive audience and that anything that is commercially interesting happens when a vehicle is sold a second time?

Comment by Chris

As it’s tied in with the tennis, are you saying that they only need to think a little bit harder to come up with something that plays on the controversy of the grunting of women tennis players or the fact that the rising stars are coming from countries you’d previously not associated with tennis or the predictability of the make-up of the men’s semi-finals?

You probably answered this in chapter 4 of your post, but I haven’t read that yet.

Comment by John

Sorry about the football score Rob. Who am I kidding, I’m sorry for all the colleagues you’ll abuse today for the football score.

Another great post.

I remember the Hyundai story well and for what it’s worth, I still think it would work.

Car ads are terrible but what category isn’t these days. To stand out from the sea of bland is arguably easier than it has ever been but the risk adverse culture in corporations mean spending money on a tennis player is seen as a smarter move than investing in a more provocative point of view.

Final point, it’s unsurprising that so many tag lines are so similar when the overall shape and design follow the same approach.

Great post with good points and a lovely reminder of a fun time in my past.

PS) @John. Who told you car ads are for post purchase assurance? I’ve worked on car accounts a few times in my career and never heard that. If anything car ads were there to give confidence to the trade and salesmen but the overarching goal was always to get “bums behind steering wheels” whether as a new car or a retained value used.

Comment by Pete

its bad enough campbells blog posts are longer than war and fucking peace but not the fucking comments. dont fucking do it again pete, it’s the only thing on this blog i bother checking out and i dont want what minimal enjoyment i get from this shithole to be taken away.

Comment by andy@cynic

I don’t recall Pete. Ive had no commercial involvement with the industry, but it was somebody from a car company. I remember challenging him, but he was adamant. Keeping the dealerships happy was also mentioned but it wasn’t the primary thing in his mind.

Comment by John

bet he worked for british fucking leyland then with bollocks like that.

Comment by andy@cynic

My own view on the dealership angle is that they basically just want to see TV campaigns – the content doesn’t really matter to them. If it did, then surely there’d be better ads out there, because the dealerships would be complaining and listened to?

Yes they’re a “customer”, but it’s the customers who buy that are the ones that count.

Comment by John

dealers have a fucking big say in car ads. that’s the fucking problem. they think the shit put out is good shit. but then when they stand next to a boxy fucking volvo all day you can understand why theyve got such bad fucking taste and judgement.

Comment by andy@cynic

Good point Pete … it’s probably easier to stand out in todays risk adverse culture than ever before. The thing I find interesting is that they would rather their communication left no impression whatsoever [ie: throw cash down the drain] rather than make something that could drive stronger growth.

Of course not everyone is like this, but it seems a high majority are.

And John, in my experience, once a car company has your cash, they couldn’t give a flying fuck about you – so the person who told you otherwise was either lying or in the PR department of a car company … ie: paid to lie.

Comment by Rob

look at campbell trying desperately to keep this fucking blog post on a straight trajectory. i almost admire his passion and then i remember we all know its fucking futile so i just think hes fucking stupid.

Comment by andy@cynic

one day youll find some twat to flog that “robin hood” to. maybe the same pricks wholl buy your “ugly mouths dont get laid” idea that youve been flogging longer than a dead fucking horse.

Comment by andy@cynic

At least I’ve moved on from using impact … even if I haven’t moved on from using the same presentation time and time again!

Comment by Rob

after seeing that ad, i would literally prefer dinner with a planner than drive a kia. of course id stab the bastards with my fork, but that woul be more preferable to me than own a car by a company that likes making badly art directed ads.

Comment by andy@cynic

If you weren’t allowed to fork them to death [is that some sort of unsubtle code there?] would you still feel the same way?

Comment by Rob

how many times can you talk about that fucking chrysler ad. its fucking good but it was a fucking year ago.

Comment by andy@cynic

what do i expect from a man who still talks about queen like it was 1976 and latches on to anything fucking awesome that he can claim some sort of association with. makes a change from him hanging on to my fucking coat tails.

Comment by andy@cynic

It’s my English genes … afterall we still go on about WW2 and 1966 so at least I’m a bit more errrm, ‘topical’.

Comment by Rob

You’re going to loathe Fridays post then!

Comment by Rob

you fucking corporate fucking bastard toady.

Comment by andy@cynic

if this blog was a car it would be a lada. dont cry campbell it would be top of the range. well it would be when it came out in 1982 and it would be launched under the positioning of “engineered to do absofuckinglutely nothing except cost you time, patience & money.”

Comment by andy@cynic

if this blog were a car, it would be the car you keep telling us Rob wants to make.

Comment by John

nice doddsy. fucking nice.

Comment by andy@cynic

The way Rob drives, he should never be allowed anywhere near a car in whatever capacity.

Comment by DH

his driving and cowardice are the only italian fucking things about him.

Comment by andy@cynic

I am a good driver.

But I am a coward.

Comment by Rob

for fucking f1 perhaps but nothing fucking else.

except maybe the rac fucking rally.

need i remind you of the time you crashed a porsche within 12 fucking seconds of driving it out of the garage. or the fact you personally blew about 5 fucking turbo bollocks in your fucking car which was fucking made for the fucking german autobahn.

good driver? dont make me fucking laugh.

Comment by andy@cynic

Someone drove into the back of me, it wasn’t my fucking fault and you know that you bloody stirrer.

For the record – in case anyone thinks I am an advertising cliche driving a Porsche – I should point out it was not my car, worse … it was a clients.

Sadly that’s not a joke.

Comment by Rob

I only travel by chauffeur driven limo. Anything less is a blight on my sophistication.

Comment by Billy Whizz

A taxi driver doesn’t count as a chauffeur Billy.

Comment by Rob

well fucking said campbell. fuck me, im agreeing with you, time to get fucking pissed.

Comment by andy@cynic

where the fuck are the following fuckers.


i can do without fucking auntie after his pete/oprah type comment yesterday. fucking embarrassing.

Comment by andy@cynic

i dont miss them, i just cant work out why the fuck they can get away from this shithole and i cant.

Comment by andy@cynic

Wanting to share the pain is so considerate.

Comment by Rob

Having a life?

Comment by Rob

Really? No-one’s going to bring up the execrable Honda effort with Matthew Broderick selling out a great move to attempt to flog a generic SUV?

Bad enough because of its contrived BS, but then you consider that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is all about driving around in a Ferrari. Did it not occur to anyone involved that Honda’s car doesn’t exactly compare favourably with a Ferrari?

No wonder Broderick can’t find a friend to share his day off with – no-one else would want to be seen getting into the damn thing.

Comment by Felix

The less said about that US ad the better …

As I wrote on my Facebook status, it’s so sad to learn that Ferris Bueller has become a boring, podgy, cardigan-wearing, suburban accountant who – quite possibly – is also a pedophile.

Comment by Rob

fuck me, im agreeing with you twice. in a day. what the fuck.

that broderick bollocks is fucking terrible. when i think of the work you fuckers do for honda in the uk and compare it to this pile of utter shit, i wonder what sort of drugs the us honda marketing manager is addicted to.

Comment by andy@cynic

Another good post Robert. Will it officially become a trend?
The ad you show for Kia is obviously to promote their association with tennis (though why they would have a tennis connection is beyond me) so to get a fairer perspective, I wasted 8 minutes of my life investigating their “everyday” ads only to find all the comments you make in this post, still stand.

Comment by George

Another excellent post, you should do more like this.
I’d love to know who keeps saying that car ads are about post purchase reassurance and smack him or her in the face.
I became convinced working on Nissan and Infiniti it was about fluffing the dealersm but there you go.
Incidentally, I once got a new Nissan ‘tone of voice’ document from Intebrand they wanted us to ‘optimise for creative use’- which meant they knew they had spent over $200 dollars on something that was as useful as a Media Arts workshop run by George Costanza but couldn’t bring themselves to admit it – I swear the document was as thick as a book.
If you could see the so called thinking behind ‘shift how you move’ by the way, you would weep for the future of humanity, or at least the future of an ad industry that surrendered its credibilty to brand consultancies, which is a bit like someoe telling you could learn a thing or two about morals from JR Ewing, or Hamburglar

Comment by northern

When I first saw ‘SHIFT_’ … I quite liked it and then – over time – I realised it was literally a line rather than something more fundamental and I was left feeling both ripped off and empty.

With that in mind, I’d actually love to see the thinking behind it because what it could have been … and what it ended up is about as far as France and England are in agreeing what to do with the economy.

As for brand consultancy ‘tone’ documents … sadly, I know them all to well and I still cry that a bunch of disconnected, suit wearing fools can command so much money for literally producing a document full of pointlessness.

I’ve told you the time I worked with Landor and they gave the client their overpriced recommendation and then, when I asked where the ‘tonality’ was, they said that would be an extra fee.


I’d like to say I acted in a professional manner to this news, but I remember I snorted out loud and then said that was similar to buying a car but not including the engine.

Actually, when I think about it, that was probably the most professional response to such an act of bollocks.

Comment by Rob

If fluffing the dealers is a legitimate advertising goal, then all advertising should be aimed at retail staff.

Comment by John

You should see this if you want to know baddddd means (no pun intended!You’ll know what I mean when you see the ad).
Nissan Sunny selling spacious as a key feature in this category in India is bizarre.
Good Post Rob.

Comment by swati

That is fucking terrible. Or should I say, fuuuuuuucccccckkkkkkiiiiiinnnnnnngggg terrible.

Seriously, what were they thinking.

Space is an attribute that could have quite a lot of interesting approaches – and to think this is what they came up with – and worse, what the client bought – is a damnation on humanity.

Mind you, it could have been worse, it could have been an ad where every time the actors speak, there’s an echo because there’s just so much spaaaaaaaaace in that ugly caaaaaaar.

If I have nightmares tonight, I’ll know who to blame.

Comment by Rob

happy to help…
this is revenge for your lovely ‘space-docking’ post…
I am scarred for life…

Comment by swati

very, very, VERY good post. And that is what Australian open tv viewers were forced to watch during commercial brakes

Comment by toto

I guess this is the ad that proved to George my comments were fair.

Kia, the power to make me want to slit my wrists.

Comment by Rob

What an appalling ad. Power, accuracy and challenge – they’re the cliches every driver likes. Obviously. And talking of cliches, there’s the image immediately after Australian Open. Did they get many complaints?

Comment by John

Not to be a smartarse, but when you speak about car taglines being “bollocks and completely undifferentiated”… where does Honda’s “Power of Dreams” fit in?

Comment by Age

At awards ceremonies?

Comment by John

I should add… from a consumers point of view being exposed to advertising, not the miopic one of the client.

I like Honda ads btw. Apart from that Ferris one, fucken fantastic attempt at disspointing a whole geenration of people and the car looks shit bottoming out to a sparky hell at the end of the ad.

Comment by Age

I have my personal point of view on that … and it came from the client rather than the agency … but at least the guys embraced it and gave it meaning through spots like Cog and Hate/Change.

But the point is – endline aside – they made the ads interesting and made Honda a brand that more – and younger – people suddenly started considering and that in itself is a massive difference to the approach many car manufacturers have, despite that actually being the goal of fucking marketing the thing. [John Dodds contact aside]

And no, I’m really not saying this because I’m a toady. Honest.

Comment by Rob

You know how I wrote how great the VW ‘Vadar’ spot was?

What a shame they ended up producing this as the ‘sequel’.


And what is it with launching superbowl ads before the superbowl?

Isn’t the whole point to leverage the attention of the massive crowd and keep the downtime interesting, exciting and ‘eventlike’?

As Billy would know, launching the ad before the actually event is akin to climaxing before you’ve got your pants off. Disappointing, uneventful and unlikely to make anyone interested in seeing it a second time.

Comment by Rob

And another thing … why do the client and agency think the masses wanted a sequel?

Talk about delusion and ego …

They thought the audience were like kids waiting for the next Harry Potter novel when really the audience just thought it was a nice ad.

Comment by Rob

Without wishing to be a Dodds and go all pedantic, didn’t your own agency claim in it’s Effie entry for the Old Spice work that a big part of thinking around maximising exposure was stoking conversation and buzz by pre-seeding?

Comment by northern

Good point, though isn’t pre-seeding an Old Spice campaign somewhat different to pre-seeding a singular ad made specifically for a singular sporting event that is to be broadcast on a singular, mass audience focused day?

Comment by Pete

Apologies for the overuse of “singular.”

Comment by Pete

I guess so, but in said case study, it sounds very much like that’s what they were trying to do, and what came after was riding the cultural wave they never expected to be so powerful
But I wasn’t there so I can only go on what they’ve written

Comment by northern

is this what planners fucking talk about? and you dont kill yourselves because of it?

Comment by andy@cynic

I think all 3 car ads that have been place in the comments validate your point in this post Rob. That VW superbowl spot is possibly the worst of the lot because you know the agency were given the freedom to rewrite the rules and instead fell for stroking their own ego. That said, the melding of 2 ads into 1 smells like client meddling so maybe the blame can be more equally shared.

Great points about releasing the ad prior to the superbowl and the Harry Potter analogy. That should be a post in itself.

Comment by Pete

fuck pete, youre almost being objective there. lie down before it gets too fucking much for your blood pressure. do planners even have fucking blood?

Comment by andy@cynic

Tiger blood

Comment by northern

[…] an international audience they don’t just make cheap metal [even though the powers-that-be already think they make Merc equivilents], but seriously, this is totally and utterly fucking […]

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Not only are you inarticulate, but you also show in the above and in many other posts on your blog, your narrow view and limited understanding of the advertising world.
Occasionally in the advertising industry, we feel as though we’re taking advantage of consumers, we’re operating within a shallow existence or we could be doing more for society. This blog reassures us that at the end of the day we can be reassured, that there is a lower form of scum in cyberspace.
I’m not sure what you do for a profession (obviously it is not advertising), or who would employ you, but a tip for your career – ensure the decision makers in your organisation never see your blog. Or you’ll be in the streets faster than the duration of a groan delivered by the average online user when reading one of your poorly worded assumptions in your advertising ‘literature’.

Comment by Byron

Hi Byron, this is excellent – I love that you have me bang to rights, please put me out of my misery and show me what ‘great work’ is because as the head of planning at Wieden+Kennedy, I have no idea.

Comment by Rob

Do you work for tbwa Byron ?

Comment by Northern

CEO of MediaArts?

Comment by Rob

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