Cars, people and (great) stories
For those who don’t know me, my name is Julia Santalucia, and I work as a Content Manager at COMON. I also have this role at AMIN, so you probably know me already, but I usually hide behind the stories that the agencies share here. This time, I chose to show myself more, because COMON was elected the agency of the month.
Ok, so we are going to talk about cars. It’s an interesting topic, right? Yes! Do I know much about it? Not exactly. Fortunately, I work with people that do. My idea with this article is to share one interview that unites interesting thoughts about this theme. Inês Carvalho, Team Managing Director at COMON, shared her experience with brands of this industry, her memories with this passionate category and some interesting stories about her connection with the automotive industry.
Inside the cars there are people, but also (great) stories. Check it out!
Why are you so in love with this industry? Do you remember when this has started? Tell us a little bit about it.
I was born in a family of auto enthusiasts: my Grandfather was an Air Force pilot who enjoyed driving very much, and my Father is absolutely crazy about engines (cars and motorcycles especially). My Grandmother would never let anyone sit at the table for Sunday lunch without first watching the F1 Grand Prix start, back in the days of Senna & Prost, so a big part of my childhood was spent learning about mechanics, physics, design, the geography of the industry, reading about motorsports and the big auto brands, watching films and documentaries and the endless VHS tapings of races everywhere. It was more or less inevitable that I’d form some sort of relationship with the automotive industry. The fascination for me is very much based on the richness of its history, the continuous search for innovation and the very primal and human desire to move forward and keep pushing boundaries, that I consider an essential trait of the industry.
In your opinion, which attribute belongs only to the auto industry?
One of the things we see as fascinating about the auto industry is its rich history. It’s hard to dissociate the evolution of the automotive industry with modern history itself. From the early days of painstakingly tailor-made engines that ran on little more than gas and wishful thinking, to the big conglomerates of today that are in the forefront of business innovation, the history of the automotive industry is one of perseverance, of desire to evolve and to improve our way of life.
What was your first car? What memories do you have with it?
The memories are endless, being that I’ve been lucky enough to have owned and driven many cars throughout the years – from a red Fiat Cinquecento that was just perfect for navigating the narrow cobblestone streets of Bairro Alto, to the poor old dark blue Toyota Yaris (my sister’s first car) that was the star of my first spectacular yet fortunately harmless accident. My Father always told me to drive every car with the same ease and not be afraid of machines, so that is pretty much what I’ve done over the years. I’ve never had a car for too long, though. Maybe that will change when I get my hands on a ‘69 Mercedes-Benz SL, who knows.
One type of car I’ve never had nor driven is an SUV – I don’t particularly enjoy cars with a lot of ground clearance, I like lowered centers of gravity and the feeling of driving very close to the road. I also tend to prefer cars that are on the smaller side, aerodynamics speak more to me about safety than size, and since I live in the city centre, parking is an issue in everyday life. In spite of that, the one I miss the most was a beast: a 2001 Mercedes-Benz CLK 230 Kompressor convertible, that I dearly named “The Tank”. It was slick, fast, reliable, and I often miss the sense of freedom that came everytime the top went down, as well as the amazing engineering that made the driving experience absolutely incredible. The perfect family car, if you ask me!
How does advertising/communication in this sector look like? How brands of this industry are communicating (in Portugal and globally)?
Auto advertising is usually very centered in the brand or category’s persona – luxury car ads usually have a darker aesthetic and are more focused on a specific aspect of the car, while family car adverts are often really dynamic and colorful, and the car is portrayed as a helpful member of the family. Cars are usually seen as an extension of a person’s life, and in Portugal that is particularly true in society: a car is definitely a symbol of social importance, it sends a clear message as to who you are as an individual and how you want to be perceived. A common expression you hear in Portugal when someone gets a new car is “it suits you”, as vehicles are seen as the ultimate accessory.
A car is not an impulse buy, since it has many variables to consider in the research process, but it also has a very important emotional component: you tend to associate a particular type of car or brand with a type of person, and there has to be a match between that association and the way you view yourself. And this is exactly what makes car communication important, in the sense that it can influence consumers deeply through the way it can change perceptions and stereotypes. To give you an example, despite my aforementioned dislike of SUVs, a remember a specific BMW ad a couple of years ago that portrayed the car as a sort of modern accessory for adventurous city types – it was successful in changing the perception I had of that particular model, because it directly created a link between the car and a stereotype I can easily relate to, which I hadn’t seen yet.
Have you ever worked with some brand of this category? If so, can you tell me a little bit about it?
One of the most interesting projects I was fortunate enough to be a part of was for Mercedes-Benz.IO, the company’s digital power house. They opened an office in Lisbon, and needed help creating a campaign targeted at recruiting developers at Web Summit – a very specific challenge, that could not be addressed in a conservative way. We developed The Best Chair, the first work chair completely designed for developers, inspired by Mercedes-Benz technology. The chair was customisable through a mobile app – fully adjustable height and back, built-in speakers you could pair with your playlists, calendar sync, and a built-in screen in the back for personalized messages. It was an amazing project you can check here. The Web Summit activation featuring the chair had great results, and other chairs were built to take to the Stuttgart and Berlin offices.
How do you think COVID-19 will shape the future of this industry?
The industry suffered an unprecedented blow, and at this stage, it’s hard to say what will or will not happen without a healthy dose of caution. It’s as realistic to accept the very negative impact of sales losses, as is that government incentives will be key to speed up recovery, but it’s harder to believe there are grounds for catastrophic scenarios where continued shutdowns and disruption of supply chains will force the industry to take an even darker turn. The auto industry will find ways to adjust and adapt and will certainly be a driving force (no pun intended) in shaping the “new normal”.
Permanent adoption of flexible work models can mean people will distance themselves further from the cities, with a direct impact on mobility. While cost-cutting is now a priority for families around the globe, public health concerns also persist, which may mean people will rather hold on to their personal vehicles than opt for shared mobility solutions. Google search data for April tells us that searches for car purchasing options have increased in both the US and Europe, and although search alone doesn’t automatically translate to conversion, it will be interesting to see how consumers will help shape this shift in the industry.
COVID-19 will certainly have a lasting impact on the auto industry, as in most of all the aspects of modern life, so one thing we can say for sure: innovation will be the key ingredient to fight disruption in every step of the chain.