Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The 10 TV commercials under the spotlight at last week’s AdForum event, held in association with Ornico, were a mixed bag, with a number failing to make a positive impression on the audience. Commercials are selected based on the frequency of their flightings in the previous three months.

The acquisition of a car is a significant expense, but there was some doubt about the ability of much of the advertising on offer to convince buyers to consider their brand. 

Ford Ranger’s most recent TV commercial was largely well received by the AdForum audience, which commended it for its human element and the fact that it told a story. Bakkie marketing in SA typically focuses on the vehicle being tough and rugged, said Publicis Machine creative director Willie Struwig. He argued that this commercial did the job and managed to cut through the clutter by adding a human story rather that falling back on the “tough and rugged” narrative.

Mongezi Mtati, Ornico marketing manager, agreed, adding that the story would also carry over well into the digital space. “This ad changes Ford’s identity and gives it a more human personality,” he said.

But creative art director from Bonfire Media, Thalia Bruinders, had a slightly different take on the commercial, claiming it was rather forgettable, providing nothing new or eye-catching.

The audience had mixed feelings about an ad for Hyundai’s Grand i10, an entry-level car. Struwig gave it the thumbs-up, saying the commercial quickly presented the benefits the car offered to both parents and young drivers. “Most TV ads are only 30 seconds long these days, so it’s more important than ever to get the message across in a very short time,” Struwig said. It is possible, he said, to get the audience to connect emotionally with a brand in 30 seconds. “Emotion is not only about the warm and fuzzy but also about making people laugh.”

An ad for Kia Sportage depicting a black family’s morning “slice of life” felt staged, fake and contrived, said one audience member, commenting that it did not depict a typical black family’s morning scenario accurately. “The thinking behind the ad is on the right track,” said Struwig, “but in trying to tick every box through a target-consumer portrait the commercial misses the mark. When you’re looking to achieve return on investment it’s imperative for the ad to be 100%-correctly targeted. In this instance, the ad tries so hard to target a specific kind of person that it totally misses the point.”

Kia has been focused on communicating the message that the brand delivers more car for your money, and this ad does communicate the added benefits of the brand much better than automotive ads of a year ago, when everything including the kitchen sink was  thrown in, but it is still too cluttered, said Mtati.

The big take-out

In a cluttered media environment commercials that fail to engage or resonate with viewers will be skipped.

A Mazda commercial for the CX-3 was largely red-carded by the audience. The panel agreed that the ad did not work, pointing out that the ribbon analogy used in the commercial was distracting and that it failed to be convincing about buying the car. The panel also agreed that the ad undersold a great car. “Most viewers would choose to skip this ad,” said Bruinders.

A commercial for Mercedes-Benz A class related to SA viewers despite being conceptualised and produced internationally, most members of the audience agreed.  But Struwig said he was not convinced that the ad would persuade local car buyers to invest in the particular brand or model. Mtati, however, argued that the commercial did successfully position the A class as a young person’s car.

A cut-down version of an ad for a limited-edition Mini Cooper left both the audience and the panel ambivalent, raising the question about how successful a cut-down version of a commercial can be if the majority of the audience have not seen the full version. The panel agreed that the version of the commercial did not make sense unless a person had seen the longer version. “The long version of this commercial is a stunning story,” said Bruinders, “but this version really bastardises the ad.” The challenge for marketers, she said, is how to tell a story successfully in such a short time.

While automotive advertising is by and large fairly predictable now, any ad that manages to generate a laugh is probably going to be seen in a positive light. This was exactly the case in a humorous Subaru ad, an international commercial that was localised. The panel lauded it for its simplicity, its link to the brand’s positioning, and its clever humour.

A commercial for Toyota Rush, an entry-level SUV model, was another ad that received mixed reviews from the audience. Some called it gratuitous and a commercial created for the express benefit of the advertising fraternity. However, as pointed out by a member of the audience, the ad has generated a positive reaction on social media and sales have been double what was expected.

A Volkswagen ad, a very clear retail promotion, was seen as a missed opportunity, because viewers tended to see it as creepy rather than communicating the message that everybody could afford a Volkswagen. The panel agreed that in an age of limited budgets there is only one opportunity to get it right.

A big-budget international ad for Volvo fell flat in the SA context, agreed the panel, as most viewers would probably not recognise the British actress featured in the commercial. “This shorter version looks like a suicide bid,” criticised Mtati, adding that the commercial failed to resonate with him.

The longer version, pointed out Bruinders, told a more detailed story. However, she agreed that the ad did not work.

All told, there appeared to be more advertising that did not work or failed to resonate than worked with a SA audience. Is it perhaps time for those automotive advertisers to go back to the drawing board and rethink how they are spending their budgets?