The image drivers: headstrong, suggestive, sexy . . . . . . but for women it's the Wax factor that sells the car

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The Independent Online
Sex sells to men but Wax works best for the independent, affluent, professional woman who wants to buy a car rather thanan image. Television advertisements for the Vauxhall Corsa, fronted by the effervescent Ruby Wax are, according to new research, the "least" disliked by women.

The advert that women dislike the most is the sex-on-the- bonnet scenario for the Peugeot 306, in which a sultry-voiced female propositions a beautiful man with the line, "Nice car - want to show me me what it can do?"

Images of bondage, black magic and domineering women, intended to entice the gentler sex into a Nissan Micra - "The car they all want to drive" - also get the thumbs down. Seventy per cent say that the "women on top strategy", also used by Fiat for the Punto, "does not reflect women's needs".

"Basically, anything that focuses on the car as a means of sexual attraction is disliked by women," says Julia Jobling of the Cowie Group, one of the country's biggest car retailers which has surveyed 200 women drivers. "What women want from a car is reliability, safety, and economy - boring concepts for the creative egos in advertising agencies - and what they want from the advertising is realism about the way they live, as wives, mothers and people with jobs.

Yet the "buy the car, get the bird" mentality of the 1970s, which demanded a blonde in bikini to be draped over every new motor, still permeates thinking by car manufacturers and agencies. And when women cease to be sex objects in adverts, they become sexually-aggressive instead.

Manufacturers may invest heavily in developing cars for women - who account for more than 60 per cent of sales in the small car market - but their attempts at promoting the vehicles on television, at a cost of pounds 200m a year, leaves almost two-thirds of the female population feeling patronised, and three-quarters complaining that the adverts stereotype women. Gavin Green, editor-in-chief of Car magazine agrees: "Some of the advertising is so obscure, so image-oriented. It's allegedly being done to appeal to women, but it's all emotional imagery, nothing to do with the fact that the car is good because of . . .etc, etc."

The classic advert of the 1980s, which launched model Paula Hamilton as the Volkswagon Golf girl who ditches her rich lover, a fur coat and her jewellery but keeps the keys to the car, may represent the peak in women-oriented car advertising. "She may have been a kept woman but she was making a break for her independence and that summed up everything about the car and appealed to women everywhere," one industry source said.

Moderation is the key it seems and research carried out by Renault for its "Papa and Nicole" Clio campaign, the second most disliked advert in the Cowie research, suggests that viewers object to any attempt to make Nicole too sexual or even too independent.

Cathy Baker, strategic advertising planner for Publicis which devised the long-running "Nicole" campaign, said the adverts were intended to appeal to men and women across the board, hence Papa, and his glamourous lover, plus Nicole and her boyfriends and her grandmother, too.

"Television is used traditionally to create an image, to stimulate interest and to get the viewer on the long list. Other advertising outlets - like magazines, newspapers, mail shots - are used to target buyers," Ms Baker said.

Advertising that most appeals to women combines humour with an independent image, which is probably why Ruby Wax works so well - whether she's marshalling men on a shopping trip, or escaping from her colonic irrigation session at a health farm in her nippy little Corsa. The Wax advert also succeeded in the most important rating for car manufacturers. It topped the brand awareness league with 90 per cent recognition by women drivers.

Leading article, page 13

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