The Dos and Don’ts of Authentic Automotive Content

George Chapman

With increasing global focus on reducing carbon emissions and corporate social responsibility, automotive brands are now feeling the pressure to not only deliver branded stories and content that are high quality—but also authentic and meaningful. Creating authentic content is not particularly difficult, nor does it necessarily need to be hugely costly, but there are some strategies that are certainly worth considering and some that are best left in the last millennium. Here we consider three dos and three don’ts, through the lens of some of the best successes and worst failures we’ve seen in recent years…

First off, what to do:

DO…

Focus on a bigger issue, but be positive

Although it may seem very dated now, Honda’s wonderful ‘Hate Something, Change Something’ ad from 2004, introduced Honda’s groundbreaking new diesel engines that were considerably cleaner, smoother and quieter than virtually anything else on the market. In the ad, singer Garrison Keillor delivers a specially written, and wonderfully catchy folk song in which he asks the question ‘Can hate be good?’. With this, Honda chose to take a refreshing new approach on a widely accepted truth – that diesel engines are dirty, noisy and hateful. Complete with fairytale-style visuals of animals destroying a flying pack of old-fashioned diesel engines, the film explores the idea of talking about hate as something positive, a passionate force that could actually be turned to good use. ‘One of the biggest challenges was how to talk about hate in a really positive way that felt right for Honda’, says Kim Papworth, Creative Director at agency Wieden + Kennedy, London. ‘Writing a song and creating an animated world of positive hate was the natural next step.’

DO…

Inspire the next generation (and spend virtually zero in the process)

Having signed current F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton at the tender age of 13, the McLaren Formula One team is well rehearsed at nurturing talent from an early age. The race team takes a similar approach in its social media activities, too. Back in June, the company spotted a tweet to driver Lando Norris’ twitter account, featuring four-year old Logan enjoying himself in an improvised F1 car, created from a cardboard box. Seven weeks later, Logan and his family were invited to McLaren’s MTC HQ to meet his hero and to see the real thing. McLaren’s engineers also provided Logan’s now-famous box with a few dramatic upgrades. The result? Heart-warming authentic content, one very happy little boy who will remain a McLaren fan for the rest of his life, and a great big message to the world that McLaren has its eyes on the future—all for the price of cardboard box and some sticky tape.

DO…

Celebrate landmark calendar events in style

Creator of the ‘people’s car’, Volkswagen, doesn’t always get it right (the recently banned eGolf advert blatantly breached new gender stereotyping rules – see below), but when the brand celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, it undoubtedly did. Very simple in format, the ‘Drive Bigger’ film, in my opinion, is a masterstroke in timing, effective strategy, on-brand messaging, copywriting, editing and post production; just about everything that falls into the content marketing film galaxy. Featuring an early recording of David Bowie’s seminal track Space Oddity, the film begins with a fascinating selection of images showing people watching the moon landing on TV from all over the world, united by one incredible common goal. The clever bit however, is how VW spins the landmark event to remind the automotive world of our next common goal – electrification, as we head towards a better, cleaner future. The words, ‘Now we have new one’ appear before VW reveals its big plan, which ultimately is to go carbon neutral globally by 2050. The sound edit is also timed perfectly, so that Bowie’s countdown line is utilised to reveal each of VW’s specific goals. Finally, the pay-off line ‘Drive something bigger than yourself’ is paired back to read simply ‘Drive bigger’ in reference to VW’s global campaign designed to shake the emission scandal ties of recent times. Genius.

And now for what not to do:

DON’T…

Go anywhere near politics—and watch your timing

Here’s a tricky question… where does British patriotism end and outdated colonialism begin? There seems to be some overlap within the ranks at Vauxhall (and indeed its agency McCann) if its latest film celebrating the Great British van driver is anything to go by. Which is a shame, because it’s a well produced piece of film featuring a script inspired by words from famous Brits such as Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill and the ‘Saint Crispin’s Day’ monologue from Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V.

But hold on for a moment, let’s talk about bad timing and the arrival of the almighty political car crash that is Brexit. First of all, if releasing an advert that celebrates a form of outdated, pastiche Britishness in the current political climate isn’t risky enough, then releasing said film on the same day as an announcement by your French parent company – which stated that 1,000 potential UK manufacturing jobs are at risk in the event of a no-deal Brexit – is quite another. Do I really need to say much more?

DON’T…

Be sexist. End of. 

I’m talking to you, Volkswagen. Banned by the ASA for breaching new gender stereotyping rules following only a handful of complaints, the recent e-Golf advert is clearly sexist and downright confusing to boot. The film depicts a series of tableaus where male actors appear to be achieving incredible feats of physical and mental achievement. In its final moments, it cuts to a woman falling asleep on a park bench guarding a pram, as the silent e-Golf drives by. Concerned by the message this portrays (and rightly so) the complaints said that the ad ‘perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes’. We’d probably go one step further and suggest that it simply isn’t a very good advert, at all. Not only does it breach the ASA code for gender neutral content, it’s also rather arrogant. VW seem to presume that its audience have a considerable previous knowledge of the product in question, as the content on screen tells us literally nothing about the e-Golf. In fact, we only see the car for all of 2 seconds. Given that our recent research has proven that 88% of consumers want marketing content around EVs to be at least partially informative, we’d argue that this spot really misses the mark.

DON’T…

Employ a Hollywood actor to drive a car down a road and call it content.

We love an A-list celeb here at Foxtrot Papa, and there’s no denying the power they have for grabbing headlines and all-important viewer traffic for your brand’s latest big budget promo film. (In fact, check out this film we produced where Fast and the Furious star Michelle Rodriguez reached over 200mph in the desert, driving Jaguar’s awesome F-Type SVR.)

But, and it’s a big but, it’s important not to waste the opportunity. The case in point here is Lincoln’s recent series of commercials featuring Oscar-winning actor Matthew Mcconaughey, showcasing the North American brand’s range of premium saloons (sorry sedans) and SUVs. First of all, the adverts tell you next to nothing about the product, which is a huge missed opportunity. Secondly, why is Mcconaughey rubbing his fingers together like that? Finally, let’s discuss Mcconaughey’s script. This is LA-LA ad-land so we’ll forgive it for not being too complicated, but it is so woefully implausible and perfume-ad-inspired, you can almost taste Johnny Depp’s ‘Sauvage’ all the way from this side of the pond. Terrible, terrible, terrible. It isn’t just us who found this ‘content’ lacking in authenticity. The brilliant director Rhys Thomas clearly also felt so frustrated with Lincoln’s efforts that he felt the need to produce a spoof version for Saturday Night Live, employing his own A-lister, the brilliant Jim Carrey. Watch and learn, Lincoln.

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