Blog: What are they playing at?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Advertising is a funny old game. To pitch your product correctly must take immense skill and judgement. Not only is it about producing a snappy, memorable advert, but what appears on the screen should also look classy. There’s also the small matter of producing the killer strapline…. and there have been a few:

“The Ultimate driving machine”: BMW
“Engineered like no other car”: Mercedes-Benz
“Your mother wouldn’t like it”: MG
“The car you always promised yourself”: Ford

BMC managed to produce a few corkers in their time, but it seems that it lost its way in more recent years, with only one or two honourable exceptions to this. These exceptions have generally been for landmark cars: “Tomorrow, today” for the Rover SD1 back in 1976 hit the spot for the futuristic new Rover. A suitably forward-thinking ideal for a forward thinking car showed that British Leyland had a great deal of confidence in the car – optimism that was completely justified, only to be undone by the workers at Solihull.

Then there was the Austin Metro… anyone over the age of about thirty will have no trouble recalling the advertising campaign for this car. The television advert was a classic: a fleet of Metros storming through the English countryside to meet a cargo ship about to dump its load of imported superminis onto the beach. The Metros assembled at the top of the cliff as the Renault 5s, Ford Fiestas et al decamped, scaring them so much they scampered back aboard.

The strapline that adorned this patriotic advert was brilliant, tapping into the mood of the time: “miniMetro. A British car to beat the world”.

After that, things seemed to go off the boil. Maestro, Montego and Rover 213 were pretty forgettable, and things never really recovered until hatchet man Graham Day was on board. Then things improved, peaking with the brilliant “Britische Architekt” Rover 800 Vitesse and Graduate-inspired “Up Where we belong” Rover 214/216 television adverts. Sadly, Rover was not quite where it belonged, and although the late 1980s and early 1990s proved that marketing could drive the company forwards, its products were not quite strong enough. Towards the mid-1990s, the advertising went distinctly downhill and never really seemed to have recovered.

“Life’s too short not to” is where
MG is at now, and this attitude-
laden campaign seems to perfectly
dovetail with the cars’
in-your-face badness.

MG on the other hand, has done well. Since the company’s rebirth in 2000, the “Zed” models have been skillfully marketed and as a result, have carved themselves quite a niche in the “drivers’ car” market. “Life’s too short not to” is where MG is at now, and this attitude-laden campaign seems to perfectly dovetail with the cars’ in-your-face badness. One only has to look at the bodykit of the 2000 MG ZS and that lovely I-don’t-care rear spoiler to see where they are coming from.

So if MGs can be marketed so well, why can’t Rovers? I guess it comes back to the company not having found its place in the car market. Rover doesn’t have a USP, and marketing seem not have yet dreamed up one. And that’s a shame. Because Rover is suffering. MGR has graced the television in the form of a couple of eye-wateringly bad adverts (the “three years of freedom” one starring Matthew Pincent was terrible), but the latest one (click here to see it, thanks to mg-rover.org) is even worse. All it seems to do is tell us that buying an MGR is good for the economy and helps safeguard the 6,000 jobs at Longbridge.

What it is trying to do is sell the company to us: the message seems to be, “Buy a Rover and you’re helping us stay out of the shit”. This may be true, but history shows us that these campaigns plugging the company are, quite simply, not successful. During the 1970s, BL did it, during the 1980s, Austin-Rover did it… both companies lost ground. OK, advertising is not the only reason why these two incarnations of BMC>Rover struggled, but it should be a warning to the current marketeers.

No, what we need are strong campaigns pitched at selling the cars, not the company. My mate Richard Porter, better known as SniffPetrol could do worse than take a pay-cut and join MGR as its marketing director. Look at this, and tell me that it is not memorable!

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Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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