Car Marketing 1970s to 2018. What Has Changed?

Car Marketing 1970s to 2018. What Has Changed?

The only constant is change. Probably the best way to look at the changes in car marketing over the past 40 years or so is to look at the 4Ps – what has changed in Price, Product, Place and Promotion.

Starting with the easy ones first:

PRICE: Thanks to technology and reduced tariffs, even with “the South Pacific Peso” (Aussie Dollar), car prices have fallen significantly in real terms since the 1970s. A new Commodore, launched in 1978, ranged in price from $480 to $2970 for the top of the line. The average annual salary was $6000. A new Commodore back then was between 8% and 49.5% of the average annual salary.

Today, they range in price from roughly $33,690 to $56.,990 (HSV not included). With the average male annual salary at $82,436, a new Commodore today is between 41% and 70% of the average wage.

In addition, optional extras – powers windows, central locking etc. which were once paid for, are now included in the base price.

These are only averages and can debate the fine detail, but the fact is cars are far cheaper today, unlike say, house prices, which in Sydney have gone from 6 times the average annual wage to over 13 times.

Conclusion – Far more car for your buck.

PLACE: Cars have been made into a high-volume low margin business. The mark up on the product is “bugger all”. For years dealers have relied on F&I, servicing and accessories to boost revenue. Unsurprisingly, single franchise/brand dealerships almost extinct, replaced by large multi-franchise (brand) dealerships with significant used car stock. One stop shop.

People “check out” (research) vehicles new and used online but want to see and try before they buy. (Unless large scale commercial vehicle purchaser).  

PRODUCT: 70s and 80s, very much pitched to males. (Instead of racing stripes, should have put purple veins down the sides of V8 muscle cars.)

Raw, large and unsophisticated in the 70s and 80s, the shift started in late 80s & 90s. Rather than rely on engine size for power, technology (multi-valves, DOHC, turbos) came in to make smaller engines far more powerful.

And the female market was now deemed important. There are female rev-heads, but they look for the same things in a car a male rev head does. The difference is in how people view cars, not in the sex.

Smaller cars and SUVs have been the big growth areas. Commodore and Falcon were once the top selling cars. No longer. Fuel prices and environmental concerns have been major influencers on the car market. And the buyer has never had so many different brands and vehicles to choose from. Brand loyalty is much over-hyped compared to the 70s, when most men were born with a blue oval or red lion stamped on their bums.

The arrival of Korean cars in the late 80s and 90s, overturned the new and used car market – why buy a 4 to 5 year-old Commodore when can have a new car with 3 years warranty and free service for a few grand less? Just as Japanese cars did, their quality and acceptance has increased spectacularly.

Cars also much safer today. Been a number of reasons for dropping road toll, but vehicle safety played a key role. The technology in cars today, even the “bottom end cheaper vehicles”, is extraordinary and something most take for granted.

Annual Australian Road Deaths

  • 1975: 3834

  • 1985: 2941

  • 1995: 2017

  • 2005: 1353

  • 2015: 1209

The number of deaths annually has decreased by over two-thirds (69%) in the past 40 years, even though many more cars on the road. And there are far more cars on the road and women drivers today than in the 70s, so the old “women driver” joke been proven untrue. (Fact is it is young males, always has, who are most at risk).

PROMOTION: Like most other categories, the advertising today is driven by price and promotion – short-term tactical, as opposed to longer-term image building. Apart from price or some other offer (warranty, run out etc.), it is rare to see advertising which tells the customer why they should buy the vehicle.

And not because I am being part of the worldwide CO2 reduction – they should give away hair shirts with each new Camry Hybrid. (Is that from Tasmania?)

Maybe because today’s consumers are not as emotionally involved with their cars – very functional. There have been some real shockers – it’s a Mitzie stands out. (If I had a dog called Mitzie, I’d shoot it).

Occasionally something cuts through, such as the Holden Colorado racing the mountain goat.

Great idea tells me why I should buy it and it cuts through. You don’t need a Honey Badger to tell you bluntly it goes “like a rat up a drain pipe”. 

But just as many cars look as if they come from the same wind tunnel, so does the advertising.

Some of the best fun I ever had was making cars ads. If I wrote what we got up to, be arrested today. That doesn’t come across now – boring versus passion. Want consumers to buy with their heart, not their head.

Part of the problem is the propensity for digital dominance. Nothing beats TV/Video if selling emotion and image.

Over 40 years of car marketing condensed into a few hundred words. It would take a whole night drinking and laughing to go into detail about the past 30.

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