Monday, March 16, 2009

Branding Lessons from the Geneva Motor Show

This weekend I went to the Geneva Motor Show.

I was struck by the scarcity of SUVs. There were a few (that's all Jeep makes), but not near as many as I've seen at car shows in the States. I'm not sure if this is
a) a European thing
b) a green thing
c) a tanking world economy thing.

I'm guessing a combination since almost everyone had their bandwagon green-hybrid-bio-eco car as the centerpiece to their display. The bold and blatant exceptions were makers like Ferrari and Lamborghini who know you're not buying their cars to make a smaller footprint.

Branding Lesson #1: If a trend or idea doesn't make sense for your brand (even an eco-friendly one), don't jump onboard.

As I've written before, some brands try to reinvent themselves when they're the new kid in school. For example, there was a Chevrolet display. But Corvette had its very own place on the other side of the exhibition center. (This would be the part of the TV drama where one sister pretends not to sit with her frumpy twin so she can hang out with the cheerleaders in the school cafeteria.)

Branding Lesson #2: If your brand's got baggage, don't be sentimental. Drop it. At the very least, move to a new market and hide it.

Other American positionings included this attempt by Dodge:

Seriously, Detroit? A giant guitar is your brand lighthouse? If you look a little closer, to the left of that rockin' six-string are some guys playing rugby. Maybe market research shows a correlation between European Dodge owners and rugby, but my bet is this originally had some American football players on it and the image was hastily swapped out for a euroequivalent when someone pointed out that Europeans don't get Monday Night Football.

Branding Lesson #3: Your communication has to be relevant. Otherwise, you're just paying for a giant guitar poster.

Jeep's display was fine. I love Jeeps because they're so solidly branded. They're rugged. They're about freedom and independence. And they were wholly consistent with their brand with this display...

But this is Switzerland. I'd spent the morning skiing, and by the number of sunburns I saw, I guarantee I wasn't the only one in the mountains this weekend. This shot of Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva was also on my memory card from a few hours earlier...

Branding Lesson #4: Home court advantage is huge. Even if it's Rockies vs. Alps.

One of the things I like about auto shows are the displays. There weren't too many amazing set-ups this year (again, not sure if that's Europe or the economy), but Volkswagen had the best with its exclusive member lounge (even if it did look a little like an IKEA restaurant).

Branding Lesson #5: Cater to those who've already demonstrated a willingness to spend money on you.

VW also had ultra-widescreen viewing pods that looked like something EPCOT would have designed for the Living Rooms of Tomorrow exhibit. Guests were drawn to them, but the content inside was so dull, most people exited before it was over. It was just a bunch of green landscapes with a bunch of vague terms like "environment" and "innovation." Another example of the execution coming before the idea.

Branding Lesson #6: No matter how cool a design is, without an idea behind it, it's a waste of money.

Finally, of all the concept cars I saw (and there were tons), here is my favorite...

Branding Lesson #7: If no one knows who you are, you can be whoever you want to be.

(Lesson addendum: Never design a car with a built-in backseat driver.)

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