Safety First: Automakers Convey the Message with Emotional Ads

By Motavalli on Auto Marketing Archives
Cover image for  article: Safety First: Automakers Convey the Message with Emotional Ads

Americans are trickling back into auto showrooms, and they're bringing in some pent-up demand. April was dismal across the board, but May brought some more encouraging news. With some automakers reporting sales quarterly instead of monthly, it's hard to gauge the full picture, but Hyundai, for instance, moved 57,619 vehicles in May. That's down 13 percent from the same month in 2019, but still much better than the dire predictions.

Given that people are traveling again, with some mistrust of public transit and shared Uber/Lyft rides, the auto industry has been—cautiously—reviving its marketing efforts, but the message is usually about more than selling cars. The automakers want people to know they have safe solutions for buying and servicing cars, and they also want to be seen as good corporate citizens—part of the solution to the ongoing pandemic. Hyundai is a case in point.

"When the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact the U.S., we quickly shifted our marketing strategy to address the current situation," said Michael Stewart, a Hyundai senior group manager for marketing public relations. "As you see in the 'Safe Families' spot we communicated about donations that our nonprofit organization Hyundai Hope on Wheels made to help. We also communicated about new customer offerings, like our Job Loss Assurance Protection program, and the availability of digital retailing, and pick-up and drop-off service. We recently introduced a program called Clean Assurance which are guidelines we've provided dealers to help safeguard the health of their employees and customers."

Here are some recent TV commercials and video messages from the last couple of months that revolve around the safety theme, with my thoughts on their effectiveness.

Hyundai: Safe Families

This skillfully edited spot hits all the bases for selling a family SUV. People want an oasis, and the car potentially gives that to them. A safe car is up there with shin guards and curfews. "Call me when you get there" speaks to our collective anxiety. The warm images support the words, and then the spot pivots to something viewers will also like to hear—that their automaker is also part of the solution, and is supporting COVID-19 testing. That's a lot in 45 seconds. How I'd Tweak It: Quick images of safe-looking showrooms could perhaps have been shoehorned in.

Chevrolet Cares: Doing Our Part

The Hyundai commercial makes you feel good about the cars and the company, but doesn't tout any special new service or offering. "We know that these are uncertain and challenging times, and your vehicle should be the least of your worries," says Chevy. The ad touts OnStar crisis assistance services and "complimentary Wi-Fi data" for current owners. And "you can even schedule your service appointments online." The ad definitely speaks to anxiety about breakdowns and bringing the car in for servicing, but stops short of offering service-related pickup and delivery—something luxury carmakers are doing. How I'd Tweak It: I'd try to convey the message that servicing will be worry free. Saying that technicians are standing by—at the dealership—doesn't quite do it.

Mercedes-Benz: Thanks to Everyone Giving Their Best

This spot is from March, a time when virtually everything was at a standstill because of COVID-19. And for that time, it's very effective. It's a gentle appeal to shelter at home, with your Mercedes-Benz standing guard silently outside. It's another MB that stands for safety. And the ad is a thank you to people still obligated to be on the frontlines—cashiers, firefighters, caregivers, medics, police officers. The lonesome-sounding barking dog is a nice touch. How I'd Tweak It: A quick image of a family sheltered safely inside might have been evocative. No actual appeal to get consumers into the showrooms would have been possible when this spot was made.

Volkswagen: We're here for You

After quickly hitting the bases with shots of families wearing masks and doing wholesome things like cooking flapjacks and taking baths, the ad pivots to a garage door opening on the VW that's "essential to you." The message, from a month ago, was that VW service was, for the most part, open for business. "Service departments are open to keep you mobile," it says. That speaks to people confined at home who needed to know they could make those essential trips. How I'd Tweak It: Again, bringing in the car for servicing was then and still is now something of a fraught issue, so how about something like, "We've got you covered with safe waiting rooms."

Honda: The Power of Something Greater

This is a classic "we're all in this together" message, from the end of March, for coping with COVID-19. It stresses working together, supporting our neighbors and first responders, volunteering. "Because the way we'll get through this is by remembering to care for each other," it says. It's striking how many of these spots keep the challenge unspecified, but there's no mistaking the message. How I'd Tweak It: Maybe at least one shot of an actual Honda?

Ford: Built For America, Why We're Here

The message here is pretty different from the others. Ford has pivoted to selling mostly trucks and SUVs to mainstream America, and the imagery supports the concept of vehicles for the first responders who keep America working in the face of adversity from natural disasters, medical emergencies and more. "If you're out there fighting through it, we know 260,000 people [Ford employees] who have your back," it says, as images of masked workers fly by. Ford works for America, that's the emotional message. How I'd Tweak It: There's a quick image of a little girl riding in a Ford; I'd try to get in a few more reminders that regular folks use these tough trucks and SUVs, too.

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