Auto brands craft their comeback avatars for post Covid-19 world

Topics Coronavirus | Audi India | Lockdown

Tata Motors, Maruti Suzuki, Toyota, Morris Garages, Kia Motors are exhorting their community of customers to play board games, create and share videos, add colour to their possessions with do-it-yourself videos on how to sew, paint and remodel old go
For an industry that is considered to have mastered the art of perception and persuasion, the present pandemic is proving to be a critical test of its skills. With everything an auto brand once stood for, now under threat—the fast life, speed, mobility and status upgrade—marketers are looking to create an alternative positioning platform, one that extends the scope of the brand beyond the remit of just wheels on the road. 

 
The first step has been to show solidarity with their customers, said experts. Hence Mercedes Benz has a tagline with its campaigns that show a parked model of its car that says, ‘Another Mercedes stands for safety’. Jeep India has been active on Instagram with regular gardening lessons for its followers; ‘Right now you can go anywhere, but only in your dreams’ is one of its campaign taglines that has a man dreaming of interesting things with the hashtag ‘Stay off the road’.

Several others such as Tata Motors, Maruti Suzuki, Toyota, Morris Garages, Kia Motors are exhorting their community of customers to play board games, create and share videos, add colour to their possessions with do-it-yourself videos on how to sew, paint and remodel old goods. These are all repositioning efforts by an industry that has taken a heavy battering in recent years, said experts. The pandemic is a good time to work towards a new identity kit for the post Covid-19 world. 

 

“As a product category, automobiles have always had a lion’s share when it comes to capturing imagination. But not any longer, today, it is struggling to remain relevant,” said Rohit Kumar, vice president, Hansa Research Group.  So at a time like this, it only makes sense for the brands to change tack and craft their communication that helps establish a long term connection with the community, he added. 

For the moment, most brands are playing to the overarching sentiment of rewinding to a simpler life. Kia Motors India, for instance, is running its old ad for Carnival (its premium limousine offering) that stars actor Jim Sarbh backwards. The video plays in reverse ending with the message, ‘Let’s all just rewind. Stay home.’

Toyota is asking people to pick up their favourite musical instrument, Tata Motors has a ‘gibberish challenge,’ Ford India and Honda India are working with activities that would encourage children to stay indoors and stay occupied.  

 

 
“We have been using the social media platforms to convey responsible messages, and keeping our community engaged,” said a Tata Motors spokesperson, adding that the idea is to help customers stay positive with interactive puzzles and games.

The big shifts in the way the auto brands are speaking to their customers are in the tone and targeting. From talking up their brands for their style or technological capabilities, the focus seems to be on designing a brand that values the simple pleasures of life and one that talks to a family as a whole, not to the individual desire for status or speed. But how will this play out once the crisis lets up?

“Most of the engagement is a stop-gap arrangement, (companies are) waiting to be back in action with showrooms opening and hopefully footfalls happening,” says Avik Chattopadhyay, co-founder at brand consulting firm, Expereal.  He says that apart from the solidarity messages, there is a lot of communication on LinkedIn and Instagram too, on relief activities being undertaken by the brands. “The latter is more effective from the perspective of a brand as it shares on-ground stories and builds empathy and credibility,” he added.

 
There are many brands tinkering around with the logo and their visual identities too, much like what other brands in other sectors are also doing. In the Audi campaign for instance, the rings of its logo can be seen apart to drive home the message of social distancing. Balbir Singh Dhillon, head of Audi India explains, “We wanted our audience to think and act out of the box by creatively innovating and engaging with us during their downtime.”


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