February 12, 2015 | Soon after I posted about Volkswagen's practice of designing horn honking alerts specifically for US and Canadian markets, I caught the new Jetta ad. In this commercial, the setup describes the car's highy sophisticated engineering, while the "punch line" is that the car is being driven by a college kid in flip flops drinking a gigantic soda. In the last seconds of the ad, the Jetta honks just as the father approaches the car (Ha ha! The second punch line!)
Like many suburban neighborhoods, the houses are close together, and the single driveway is so narrow that the father has to walk on the neighbor's lawn to approach the car. This is a great example of our proximity to our neighbors. That honking car is ten feet from someone's living room window.
It's interesting to note that son in the ad is wearing flip flops. Clearly this is supposed to send a message:
"This is a kid! All of this highly sophisticated German engineering FOR A KID, because you don't have to be sophisticated or rich to own this car!" Unfortunately, wearing flip flops while driving is not a good idea. Consumer Reports has mentioned this, and several studies have shown that driving in flip flops is not safe. Several accidents and one fatality have been blamed on driving while wearing them. The same message could have been conveyed by having the son wear Converse sneakers or anything other than flip flops.
This is just a commercial, but if one is going to create ads that target a specific audience and adopt technology only for a specific market, all the better to realize that we are not fools, and we are better represented by characters who are not buffoons. Are there German or Swedish or French Volkswagen ads where the main character wears flip flops and drinks a giant soda while driving, then uses horn honking technology in a parked car ten feet from his neighbor's window? Or is this an example of "only in America"?
Looking at old Volkswagen ads gives you a sense of how much the image of "Americans" has changed over the years in terms marketing stategies. Pick any random VW print ad from several decades ago and your immediate impression is that VW was targeting a sophisticated and literate US consumer. There were no buffoons in the print ads, and no incongrous horn honks added to commercials to "win us over" or show us what "we" like or want. How does a company with a product this great fall so out of touch with its market that it will adopt a ludicrous technology and include the technology in its ads?
Recently General Motors announced the company's decision to review consumers' online and other social media comments to get a broader sense of safety issues and other concerns. Every automaker that isn't already doing this should, and some might align more closely with their stated social responsibility missions if they set aside more time for reading. Institutions of higher learning have reading days, we have World Read Aloud Day, and Germany has Bundesweiter Vorlesetag. Why shouldn't automotive product developers set aside a day to learn about details they might have missed along the way? A good place to start would be:
1. US state highway code related to non-emergency horn honking
2. US and Canadian local noise codes
3. Online posts in car forums about horn-based lock alerts written by car owners and car owners' neighbors
4. Their own owner manuals and marketing materials, where they will find descriptions of their own recent and not so recent innovations, many of which can easily prepare horn-based non-emergency technology for its long overdue retirement
5. And for good measure and inspiration, some of those buffoon-free archival print ads 1 2
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