Fit vs Yaris: A Tale of Two Cars
Ads for Honda's new Fit model starting playing around the same time that the ads for Toyota's new model, the Yaris, started airing. This is something that I've paid particular attention to, because my advertising class was involved in promoting the fit through EdVenture Partners, a company that matches up advertisers with college advertising classes in order to market products on campus through the students themselves. I would describe it as an unpaid in-class internship, although technically we were not employees of Honda in any way. Adrants has a short post on a video made by some members of the class (but which I had nothing to do with) here. A recent NY Times article ("A Car Campaign Takes Some Alternate Routes," April 18, 2006) explains Honda's marketing strategy for the Fit:
The goal is to appeal to ''people who are typically living in large cities, into art and music and fashion, who have a sense of 'doing your own thing,' '' Mr. Smith said, an audience RPA describes as ''metro-funky.''So finally, a car for hipsters on a budget. Anyway, the above apparently translates into ads with no real distinguishing factors except for a lame robot voice saying "The Fit is go!" It's almost condescending in a way, as if a bunch of RPA and Honda execs sat around in a room going, "You know what the idiot kids today love? Robots!" (Which, by the way, is not true: as many people know you should never trust robots.) It's actually somewhat reminiscent (in terms of its inability to understand the target audience) of McDonald's's Big Mac rap commercial, an urban-targeted piece that consisted of a "rapped" version of the Big Mac ingredients (two all-beef patties, special sauce, etc...) followed by the line "And as a matter of fact/to be exact/nothin' eats like a Big Mac." Oh yeah, and at the beginning someone yells out, "Put them Big Macs up y'all!" That is truly gangsta. If you live in Wisconsin.
The sorry state of the Fit ads is actually quite depressing, as the Fit is, in reality, a nice cheap little car that's surprisingly roomy on the inside. Car and Driver rated it #1 among its competitors, including the Yaris.
Speaking of which, the Yaris ads are far and away much better than the Fit ads, simply by virtue of not having that goddamn robot voice. While certainly nothing groundbreaking, they say what they need to without turning the customer off from the brand. In one, as C.W. Nevius of the San Francisco Chronicle describes it,
the Yaris stops in front of a cute pink piggy bank. But it isn't a toy, the pig actually blinks adorably for its close-up. The Yaris sprouts [an] alien arm...out of the hood. [Ed. note: it looks like one of the appendages on the Sentinels from The Matrix]. It whirs down to the little piggy and zaps it with what looks like a laser. Then a spinning blade pops out and goes all around the piggy's body. That done, a small hammer comes out, taps the pig once and it shatters into neat pieces. The alien Yaris arm reaches down, sucks up the money that was inside the pig, and snaps back into the hood.It's actually a well executed ad, and it makes a simple point that the car will save you money, especially in these times of rising gas costs. (It also makes me wonder if that laser/spinning saw attachment comes standard or costs extra.)
However, while not as aggressively inane as the ads for the Fit, certain Yaris ads also suffer from their share of creative shortcomings: for example, while watching Adult Swim (or, if you must, [adult swim]), I saw a Yaris ad that specifically apes the Adult Swim bumps. Let me emphasize that just because your target audience thinks something is cool doesn't mean that by emulating it you automatically gain all the attributes of that something. You usually end up looking foolish, desperate, or both. To paraphrase Patton Oswald, anyone who goes out of their way to show that they're hip or edgy is the exact opposite.
Generation Y is in on the joke: we know we're being marketed to, even though we're generally no less immune to marketing than any other group; however, we realize that bad advertising directed at us is the product of marketers misunderstanding us. This means that marketers have to try that much harder when they're trying to reach us. I realize it's tough work and it's a bitch, but going the extra mile in order to understand your target audience on something more than a surface level is what will, in the long run, create not only a competitive advantage but also real brand equity for whatever it is that is being marketed. Understand that, and the rest will come easily.
And that robot voice has got to go.