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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

    £38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

    Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

    £35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

    Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

    £15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea