Is it the end of the ultimate advertising slogan?

August 1, 2006

In 1974, BMW sold 15,007 automobiles in the American market, which made the brand the eleventh largest-selling European vehicle. Here are U.S. sales of the top ten that year.

• Volkswagen ]]>

• Capri . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75,260

• Fiat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72,029

• Opel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59,279

• Volvo . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53,043

• Audi . . . . . . ]]>

• Mercedes-Benz . . . . . 38,170

• MG . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25,015

• Porsche . . . . . . . . . . . 21,022

• Triumph . . . . . . . . . . 18,396

The following year, BMW’s new agency ( ]]>

It’s been 31 years since the launch of the ultimate driving machine. So how is BMW doing? Not bad.

Last year BMW was the largest-selling European brand in the American market. Here are U.S. sales of the top ten.

• BMW . . . . . . . . . . . 266,200

• Mercedes-Benz . . . . 224,269

• Volkswagen . . . . . . 224,195

• Volvo . . . . . . . . . . . 123,587

• Audi . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83,066

• Land Rover . . . . . . . 46,175

• Mini . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40,820

• Saab . . . . . . . . . . . . .38,343

• Porsche . . . . . . . . . . 31,933

• Jaguar . . . . . . . . . . . 30,424

One of the most important conceptual ideas in marketing is “owning a word in the mind.” In almost every market, in almost every category, the leading brands are brands that can be identified by a single word or concept. BMW owns “driving.” Mercedes-Benz owns “prestige.” Volvo owns “safety.”

Three of the top four European automobile brands own a word in the mind, but what about the No. 3 brand, Volkswagen?

Volkwagen is a fading star. Among today’s European market leaders, it’s the only brand that has actually lost sales in the U.S. market in the past two decades. Ironically, it’s a brand that got to be the leader by owning a powerful concept in the mind. “Small, ugly, reliable.”

After its remarkable marketing victory, what do you suppose BMW is going to do next? It’s the Curse of the New Generation. According to an article in the July 10, 2006 issue of Automotive News: “BMW’s longtime tag line – the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ – is not driving sales to a lot of potential buyers. So BMW’s new ‘Company of Ideas’ ad theme touts corporate independence, safety, fuel economy and all the features that the brand isn’t used to selling, says Howard Mosher, executive vice president of operations at BMW of North America LLC.”

A company of ideas? Sounds more like General Electric than BMW. According to Automotive News, one of the first print ads in the campaign delivers the message “Safety isn’t just ABS and DSC but also DNA.” In other words, forget about performance, let’s go after safety.”

BMW says it isn’t changing its long-time advertising slogan, “The ultimate driving machine.” But the issue isn’t really what the slogan or theme or strategy or positioning is all about, the issue is what the advertising should be talking about. And it isn’t “corporate independence, safety, fuel economy.” BMW has no credentials in those areas. BMW should be talking about the “fun of driving,” the concept that made the brand successful in the first place.

Meanwhile over at Volvo, they are playing around with the opposite idea. Forget about safety, let’s go after performance.

It always happens. The grass is greener on the other side of the freeway. Maybe so, but it’s not as easy to make a U-turn in the mind as it is a U-turn on the highway.

Any successful brand got to be successful by standing for something in the mind. Changing what you stand for is almost impossible unless you don’t stand for anything at all. In other words, a brand that is nowhere in the mind is a brand that can be changed. A brand that stands for something in the mind is a brand that is forever locked into its position.

In the cemetery of failed launches are thousands of products like Xerox computers, IBM copiers, Tanqueray vodka, Listerine toothpaste, Coca-Cola clothes, etc. These products didn’t fail in the marketplace, they failed in the mind. They tried to stand for something that didn’t fit prospects’ perceptions about the brands.

Mind first, market second. You can’t short-circuit the process by taking a good product to market to demonstrate its superior performance and then, in the process, changing perceptions in the mind.

I have been in more meetings than I can count where a CEO or a CMO has said, “Here is our product which out-performs our competition. Now it’s your job to communicate that superiority to prospects.”

Forget reality. Forget product superiority. Marketing is a game of perceptions. The perception is the reality. Start with the mind of the prospect and figure out a way to deal with those perceptions, even if those perceptions are negative.

• “Avis is No. 2 in rent-a-cars. So why go with us? We try harder.”

• “The taste you hate, twice a day.” Listerine.

• “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.”

Many marketing people don’t have the courage to deal with negative perceptions.
That’s understandable. But what’s not understandable are the number of marketing people willing to walk away from positive perceptions.

Take Pepsi-Cola, for example. What comes to mind when you think of Pepsi? Back in 1963, the brand launched an advertising program that has to be the “ultimate” cola campaign.

“The Pepsi Generation.”

This idea took advantage of a key psychological principle. The younger generation looks for ways to rebel against the older generation. Since the older generation was drinking Coca-Cola, it was easy to convince the younger generation that they should be drinking Pepsi.

How long did the Pepsi Generation slogan last? Just four years. For the next 16 years, Pepsi experimented with a number of different slogans.

1967: “Taste that beats the olders cold. Pepsi pours it on.”

1969: “You’ve got a lot to live, Pepsi’s got a lot to give.”

1973: “Join the Pepsi people feelin’ free.”

1976: “Have a Pepsi day.”

1979: “Catch that Pepsi spirit.”

1981: “Pepsi’s got your taste for life.”

1983: “Pepsi now!”

Sixteen years wasted until, in 1984, Pepsi went right back to what made the brand a strong No. 2 to Coca-Cola. “Pepsi. The choice of a new generation.”

Nothing is as vulnerable as a powerful advertising slogan. Year after year, creative hot shots take a crack at it, figuring that if they can topple the king, their reputations are made for life.

Finally by 1992, they did it. At the Super Bowl that year, Pepsi-Cola introduced a new advertising slogan with three 60-second commercials.

The new slogan: “Gotta have it.”

The TV commercials were loaded with celebrities including such old-timers as Yogi Berra, Regis Philbin and George Plimpton. “At first, I was upset that all these old folks started drinking it,” says one hip-looking teenager in one of the spots, “and then I said, Hey, they’re people, too.”

One of the biggest mistakes a marketer can make is appealing to everybody. If you appeal to everybody, you appeal to nobody.

In one of the commercials, a little girl notes, “If the taste of Pepsi is so big, then everybody’s gotta have it.”

One of the reasons given by BMW’s new executive vp for its new approach is the fact that a recent research study revealed that only 25 percent of its target market would consider buying a BMW. I think that’s pretty good. After all, you have to expect that some prospects would prefer an ultimate comfort machine, an ultimate economy machine, an ultimate capacity machine or an ultimate prestige machine. Even an ultimate Japanese machine or an ultimate American machine. No brand can appeal to everybody.

Appealing to everybody didn’t work for Pepsi-Cola. “Gotta have it” lasted about as long as a heroin hit. By the next year, it was back to the younger generation. “Be young, have fun, drink Pepsi.” As the years rolled on, Pepsi kept changing its slogan.

1995: “Nothing else is a Pepsi.”

1997: “Generation Next.” (Close, but no cigar.)

1999: “T he joy of cola.”

2002: “The joy of Pepsi.”

2004: “Pepsi. It’s the cola.”

Tell the truth. Do you remember any of these Pepsi-Cola advertising slogans? Isn’t the only idea connected with the brand its appeal to the younger generation? Isn’t the Pepsi Generation the one slogan that most people remember? I think so.

In his book, Adcult USA, James Twitchell tells a story about Rosser Reeves. An executive of Minute Maid once complained about Reeves’s refusal to fiddle with the advertising, saying “You have 47 people working on my brand, and you haven’t changed the campaign in 12 years. What are they doing?”

Reeves replied: “They’re keeping your people from changing your ad.”