Recently I came into some brochures for cars and found them so fascinating I couldn’t resist keeping them around in anticipation of sharing them with you—what? Yes, I know. I am not a car person. But I am a marketer, and up until this point I hadn’t really spent much time thinking about how cars are marketed. This was just such a splendid example of how it’s done, though, so let’s have a look!
Our two cars are in the same class: the crossover sports utility vehicle, called (Lord help me, but it’s true), the “cute-yoots” because they’re small-frame SUVs, built on car chassis instead of truck chassis.
This is a woman’s car. Don’t believe me; believe the sales figures the car dealers will quote you. They won’t try to sell this car to a man, but if a woman walks in, they point her at these first, because overwhelmingly they’re purchased by women with small families who need cargo hauling capacity but don’t want the enormous “can haul six kids and half the grocery” version. Given that assumption, let’s have a look at my two brochures here.
Here’s Mazda’s entrance into the field, the CX-5. Note the urban background, artistically smeared, the asphalt glowing, the fact that it’s taken at night.
The interior of the brochure continues this trend. The backgrounds are black, or the photos are taken at night. There’s a lot of smear and flare. Most interestingly, there are no people in the brochure. If there’s a car obviously in motion, the windows are tinted or there’s a reflection so glaring you can’t see inside. All of the shots are urban city scenes: some appear to have been taken in tunnels, even. The back cover is a river of lights at night bled into lines on a night-time interstate leading toward a downtown skyline.
Very sleek. Also, let me repeat that there are no people in this brochure, even when the car is being driven
. Maybe they got Google to operate the things for them? Dunno.
Fascinatingly, when the vehicle is shown hauling anything at all—only twice—it’s either mysterious (there’s one shot where I believe they’re packing some kind of avant garde furniture, but I can’t make heads or tails of it)…and then there’s this:
Have a close look at that one. At first glance, it looks like someone packing for a fun outing…very family-oriented! Right? But if you look closer, there are only two towels. There’s a cooler for drinks (wine maybe?) but no sack of supplies, like sunscreen, toys, hats, etc. And the real kicker: on top of the towels is a single pair of women’s sandals, implying that the woman is the one driving; she’s got a change of shoes for when she gets to the beach. So, two people going to the beach, no kids, woman driving? They know this vehicle is supposed to be mostly of interest to women, but they’re making their own statement about the kind of woman who’d be interested in it. My husband questioned my reading so much into this, but they put that photo in there, they put all the things in there, they bothered to sprinkle it with shells: someone was thinking this out, and you don’t hire a full-time marketing department not to consider the implications of your photos.
The brochure tagline reads: If it’s not worth driving, it’s not worth building. We build Mazdas. What do you drive?
So, Mazda makes a car in a class aimed at women with small families and talks about the driving experience, elides the kids, and makes sure there are no people in the brochure. Got it. Let’s look at the next.
Here’s Subaru’s contender, the Forester. The first thing I noticed about the cover is that there are four people in it: a man, a woman, and two kids. And they are walking away from their car into nature, apparently intending a camping trip from the luggage strapped to the top of the car.
Let’s look inside:
Wait, there’s only one picture of a car here… everything else is good clean family fun! Vegetables picked fresh from a farm (hauled in the Subaru, which is modestly tucked almost out of frame), Dad teaching his child to look through a telescope, happy family going down a path toward a gorgeous sunset…
All this is repeated throughout the brochure. Not only that, but almost all of the photos were taken during the day and are in outdoorsy locations, with a couple of exceptions, like the Forester parked outside the quaint little Organic Market Bistro (seriously). Most importantly, this brochure is full of people. If the car is in motion, you can see the person inside it driving. Even in the most distant photos, you can tell whether it’s a man or a woman, even what they’re wearing, which brings me to the most interesting detail (to me): this brochure is full of wedding rings. In at least two photos, you can see them prominently displayed on hands, and on one photo of a woman driving on the highway, they had to work at it for you to be able to see her ring on the hand that’s driving: someone used a sharpening filter to make sure that detail didn’t get lost.
Both Mom and Dad figure prominently throughout the brochure. They either have a humongous family or they run their own small business, one that requires a lot of vegetables. Oh, wait, there you go: they obviously own the organic bistro and they’re buying up produce for it! Mystery solved. They’re telling a story here about the kind of people who own their car.
Even the major color palette of both brochures is different: the Mazda is all gray, blue and black, the Subaru all green, brown and yellow.
The photo’s too grainy for you to see the person in this one, but in person it’s obvious.
Here’s what the back of the Forester brochure says: Responsible. Reliable. Ready to join the family.
Compare those two taglines for a moment. The Forester is subordinating itself to your existing lifestyle: “Hi! I want to join your already existing family! I’ll be really helpful! You won’t regret asking me to help you out!” The Mazda wants you to live up to their lifestyle: “You can drive any old car. You can even drive that pathetically useful Subaru. But are you (wo)man enough to step up to the plate and drive a real car?”
Now, Mazda knows its market is composed of people in love with their driving experience. And Subaru knows their market are outdoorsy types who are more in love with its utility. I think they aimed their brochures amazingly well. The biggest test of this? Their cars drive like their brochures. The Mazda was quick, agile, fun, fast, a really connected driving experience. It also had almost no visibility out the back and any number of other “accept this, because it’s our style” issues. The Subaru was stolid and utterly unremarkable to drive, and not very stylish, and extremely useful, from the visibility to the bed in the back.
So Marketing did its job well: there was truth in their advertising. I find it fascinating to see how deliberate the choices were, and how different the results, despite the market segment still being overwhelmingly composed of women with small families. It only illustrates the importance of positioning, no matter what business you’re in. Do you know your clientele? Do you know what they think of themselves? What kind of people are a good match for the product you’re selling, and how can you communicate that to them? Attention to detail is important!
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my breakdown here. I had a great time looking through these brochures and discovering all the techniques and tricks in them. Maybe next time you see some advertising, you’ll see some of the same sorts of things. And don’t forget to apply it to your own stuff! If you sell something, you no less than a giant car company have something to accomplish with your marketing, and it’s as simple as “connect your stuff with the people who’ll love it.” :)