Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Marketing, Out of Control

This is not your father's Oldsmobile. Heck, to the folks at Nissan, it's not even a car. It's a "mobile device."

Here's the New York Times' spin on this spin:

The phrase, borrowed from the digital domain, signals that the intended market
for the Cube is younger drivers. It also signals the focus of the campaign:
presenting the Cube as a part of a fun, busy life that can be customized and
personalized as easily as a cellphone ring tone or a Facebook page.

To underscore all that, the campaign borrows terms from technology like “search
engine,” “browse,” “storage capacity,” “add friends” and “set preferences” to
describe features of the Cube. And the media mix skews decidedly toward
nontraditional elements like iPhone games, wallpapers, text messaging, the
Internet and MP3 downloads.
May I throw up now?

Oh, it's a cute campaign, sure to win some kind of marketing award somewhere. But it's my opinion that when it comes to shifting, what should be shifted in vehicles is the transmission, not necessarily the paradigm with which one is asked to interact with the product.

I know it's been done before, and I present a lame example: Used to be on those old manual typewriters (nobody under 25 knows what I'm talking about) had something called a "carriage return," which was (stay with me, young 'uns) this turn-signal-like lever on the side of the kyeboard (we called them keyboards in those olden days) that you'd manipulate to preserve your margins and keep typing on the next line of paper. We all know it today as the "enter" key, with the carriage return's more laborious functions performed with the sroke of a key or automatically when the computer senses we're at the end of our typing line.

But that change in terminology was due to a true paradignm shift in technology, from analog to digital. When I look at the Cube, the only thing I see, paradigm-shifting wise, is a real maintenance and repair headache if that wraparound back window gets cracked or broken.

I guess I'm kind of a purist, or kind of a fool, when it comes to the things I buy. If I buy a car, it's because it performs the functions for which I bought the car: It moves forward, backward, and side to side at my command, with a minimum of mechanical breakdowns. If it happens to look good, so much the better, but be advised I have driven a 1976 Chevy Nova that was about 60 percent rus and a 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais that had a tiger-striped paint job after a wreck, so I'm not particularly picky. And I use a cell phone to make calls. Nothing more. I just don't need to be thinking about adding friends and setting preferences and these other lame social media things when I'm more worried about my gas mileage and whether the rack and pinion thingy is working correctly.

Nissan may indeed sell a few cars to the technologically-inundated with this campaign. But if this campaign is a joke in six months, I wouldn't be more surprised.

Addendum: As commenter Carl points out, the irony here is that we're not seeing a new product -- Nissan has sold the Cube in Japan for lo these eleven years as a panel truck fit for plumbers and other tradespeople -- but a new marketing niche. How do we appeal, the Nissan execs thought, to an audience already so oversold they'll buy just about anything that starts with a lower-case "i." Then brilliance: Market the Cube not as a car, but as a "mobile device." And market it at a demographic similar to that as the Toyota Scion, which has seen success but has struggled, according to Edmunds.com, as more marketers ahve entered this coveted demographic of selling to callow youths who will buy most anything as long as it makes them appear edgy and cool.

1 comment:

carl g said...

Clearly a marketing campaign designed to go after young drivers, same as the similarly styled Scion xB. But in fact, the Cube has been out since 1998 in Japan, where it is more likely to be driven by plumbers than hip kids. It's a mini panel van.