Cars with weak brands are endlessly advertised on TV, all trying to push some invariably mendacious message

Brand is the big motor industry buzz word. Most car makers now have brand managers whose sole job is to work out what the brand should be, and then single-mindedly reinforce it through marketing, advertising and PR.

Yet the majority of car makers have little or no brand identity. The exceptions are Mercedes-Benz (solid, well engineered, expensive), Volvo (safe, but so badly driven you pity every other poor sod on the road), BMW (flash, German, driven by image-conscious thrusters in a hurry), Rolls- Royce (regal, if now a touch vulgar), Jaguar (gentlemanly, mature), Ferrari (sexy, fast) and Porsche (flash, fast). Of the mass makers, only Volkswagen has a consistently strong brand (well-made, won't let you down). These are strong brands because, by and large, they accurately reflect the product and have done so for many years, reinforced by suitable promotion.

Weak brands are those artificially fabricated by some highly paid marketing consultant or ad agency, and then foisted on an ill-informed brand manager, usually to promote a wholly unexceptional car.

Cars with weak brands are those endlessly being advertised on TV, all trying to push some meaningless and invariably mendacious message. Ninety- five per cent of car ads fall into this category.

Despite the intentions of the brand manager and the ad agency, they will usually fail to build a brand because their message bears no relationship with reality. Rover (ex-slogan: "Above all, it's a Rover") has no brand value partly because that slogan was nonsensical. Underneath, Rovers are Hondas. More important, the cars Rover makes today are nothing like the cars it made 20 years ago, when it did have a strong brand (comfortable, strong, genteel). It will take many years for BMW, Rover's new owner, to correct this. And BMW, expert at brand management, knows it.

Vauxhall is another maker with no image - partly because its slogans are silly. How can the Vectra be a car for the next millennium when it's so ordinary in this one? It is also because Vauxhall, as a car maker, stands for nothing. Its cars have been consistently unexceptional.

One reason for car makers becoming brand obsessed is that as cars become more mechanically similar, so their brand identities become more important as buying differentiators. Nowadays, there is virtually no difference in engineering quality between a Nissan and a Citroen and a Peugeot and a Fiat (or, for that matter, a Renault and a Ford and a Vauxhall). They are virtually mechanical clones. So their badges, and all they stand for, matter more and more.

Even some manufacturers who do genuinely offer distinctive products are moving to the middle ground of mediocrity. They, too, have to reduce costs and now borrow manufacturing methods and components used by their less distinctive but frequently more cost-efficient rivals. Mercedes cars, although still the world's best built, are not as exceptionally solid as they were a decade or so ago, because they are increasingly being manufactured like Fords and Renaults and Nissans. The latest and fine VW Polo, although still better made than any rival, is not as tough as an old Golf.

In terms of product, the biggest difference between cars is now in their style. A few distinctive shapes are starting to pepper the roads after years of same-again styling - notably from Fiat, Ford, Audi and Renault. Good car designers are now being lauded like the fashion couture kings. Like clothes designers, they are asked to put sex appeal and emotion into goods which, materially, are much the same as the rivals.

When people at parties find out what I do, they invariably ask me what sort of car they should buy. Years ago, when cars were more mechanically distinctive, I would answer their questions at length. Now, I simply ask which car they fancy (there is invariably a car that appeals - usually on the basis of style and brand). As long as there is a dealer close by, as long as it is not East European, Korean or Malaysian (although new Skodas and new Hyundais are fine) whose cars really are still technologically a decade behind, then I advise them to buy it. They are rarely disappointed.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.


ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

    Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

    £40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

    Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent