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So Many Smart Cars, So Few Smart Ads

automotive branding stamp

When it comes to cars, there is no doubt that the industry is getting smarter. From the Prius to the actual Smart Car to the Tesla, cars are starting to change the world, again. But when it comes to car ads, there is only one story being told by almost every brand, and it’s not a smart one.

Kylah Westerman headshot, agency intern

by Kylah Westerman, Agency Intern

Car brands are continuously trying to convince us, through their ads, that their car is the best on the market, either due to its technology, its performance, its design, or a combination of the three. But if every brand is claiming the same attributes, what makes a Honda different than a Mazda? A Volvo better than a Subaru? Why should we buy one over the other if they both offer us the same qualities? Robert Frost once said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Now we’re onto something.

There is no doubt that any car you drive will get you from point A to point B, regardless of the brand. Just as any peanut butter will bathe your mouth in delicious peanut goodness, regardless of the name on the label. So how do you get consumers to prefer your brand over others? Ensuring your advertising is smart and unique is a place to start. If you are attempting to make your product stand out against the background of sameness, you need to take the road less traveled. You want to find the one thing that actually does make you unique and use that truth to differentiate yourself from the pack.

Let’s take a look at a couple case studies.

Smart Car

smart car advertisement

Yes, Smart Cars are high tech. Yes, they have great performance. Yes, they are designed well for driving. But that is not the truth that Smart Car is advertising. Because those qualities aren’t a truth, they are simply qualities that any car can claim. Smart Car took the road less traveled and focused on the one thing that made them different from every other car on the market: they are so small that they take less gas to go the same distance. That is their truth and they are using it here to make their car unique in the minds of consumers.


jeep advertisement

The tagline for this campaign says it all: “Only in a Jeep.” Sure, Jeeps are high tech, offer great performance, and come with four-wheel drive. But this campaign chose not to focus on those substitutable attributes and instead concentrated on what Jeep can offer the consumer that other cars cannot: the ability to travel terrain that you would never be able to in any other vehicle. Their truth is that in a Jeep, you can go much further into nature than you can in any other car because they are built for off-road driving, unlike other four-wheel drive vehicles. They used that simple truth as a basis for the entire campaign, using their ads to tell a story about the literal roads less traveled. The road these ads took as well.

So how do we make our ads as smart as our cars? We turn to advertising and we start telling a different story. We take the BS out of car ads and get straight to the truth—that every car has something that sets them apart from the background of substitutable attributes. Instead of trying to outdo your competition with sameness, work on trying to out-truth them with smartness.