What supercar commercials teach us about luxury brands

Every boy has dreamed about driving a supercar. Those beautifully designed engines on wheels that cost more than a typical Vancouver condo turn heads at every age. When I was young, I had posters of the latest Ferraris and Lamborghinis covering my bedroom wall. I followed the results of Ferrari and Porsche in Formula 1. I built scale models. I tore the ads out of magazines and lusted after those gorgeous vehicles. The closest I ever go to actually driving one were the all-too-brief years I owned a Porsche. While not quite in the same league as a Bugatti Veyron, it was a delightful experience. Every time I got behind the wheel was an absolute thrill.

Today I’m too practical to want one of these cars. But I still enjoy the thrill of seeing them and, well, there’s nothing like the sound of those perfectly tuned piston-powered orchestras.

Lamborghini released a new commercial/trailer for the Gallardo, and it got me thinking. I took a look at other recent commercials for the competitive brands to see what they might communicate about marketing luxury brands.

Let’s be clear on a few things that are pretty well understood. We all know that the market for supercars isn’t all that big. We know it is primarily made up of males. These are luxury purchases where the “value” of the product is not the issue. These brands are fighting for supremacy of image, not on the basis of which one is a better purchase value or gets higher gas mileage.

Chances are, the audience already has a favorite luxury car brand, maybe because of dreams while growing up, racing heritage, or design traditions. But a surprising shallowness becomes apparent in these messages. Lamborghini comes right out and claims that you’ll find it easier to get the phone numbers of women. Really? Someone with this kind of money needs a car to get phone numbers? That says something about what these manufacturers have learned about the maturity level of their target market. The ad also says you’ll get into clubs being denied to you. Again, really? These messages cheapen the brand experience but underscore a common motivating factor for all luxury brands: prestige is, by its very nature, an immature motivator.

All of the ads share a few common characteristics:

  • Muted colors or black and white are a consistent theme. If you want to reach these high-end audiences, you can’t go wrong with black and white images.
  • Each ad reveals the car in dramatic, gradual presentation. They don’t just assume the car is already in your life. This suggests that the audience is anticipating the purchase, perhaps intended to reach first-time buyers.
  • The commercials show off the design and lines of the vehicles, essentially automobile porn. After all, half of the reason to own one is just to show off your taste in design.
  • The videos minimize the use of people. Many luxury brands focus entirely on the product, uncluttered by potentially challenging elements like people of a different age group or social class, and letting the viewer place themselves in the picture.
  • The ads are heavily focused on showing the vehicles driving along winding mountain roads, not necessarily at high speed. They are emphasizing driving as an experience in itself, with the car extending that experience and making it richer.

What I saw as shortcomings were poor audio editing choices, some weaker than expected photography, and a surprising lack of engine sounds.

Ferrari 458 Spider

Ferrari does it right in the audio department, allowing you to hear the legendary v12, but the first 30 seconds of the commercial are a bit disappointing, especially from a brand with that kind of heritage. The lighting as the sun first kisses the car should be saturated with color but ends up looking a bit cheap, like a snapshot from a disposable camera. The rest of the ad is very good, and the audio is the best of the lot.

Audi R8

Lots of black and white hero shots get the video off to a slightly slow start. Not much in the way of driving shots, but better than some of the other brands. The engine is pretty much absent in the audio except for two quick revs. Music is okay.

Lamborghini Gallardo

Overall a pretty good trailer, except for the cheap parts about getting phone numbers and access to clubs. Like most of the ads, no engine sounds at all. But the Lambo ad has a marvelous bullfight sequence that highlights the brand identity in a powerful way. It’s the best part of all the commercials — distinctive and memorable.

Lamborghini Reventón Roadster

At a price point of one million Euros each, this ad focuses on what ownership says about exclusivity. Until the last 30 seconds of this two minute spot, you don’t even see part of the car. No shots of it driving make you wonder if they’ve actually produced one yet.

Bugatti Veyron

Like the Reventón, the Bugatti Veyron is one of the rarest production cars in the world. The video is exceptionally weak, with only interior shots. No engine sounds. The music is unimpressive, adding nothing to the brand impression.

George Pytlik

George Pytlik has been involved in the advertising industry for over 30 years and designed his first website when the Internet was one year old. He was an internationally recognized speaker on advertising and branding and served on a number of communication committees at various times throughout his career, as well as writing a regular column for Marketing magazine.

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