In all my long days as an automotive writer, not one single car manufacturer has asked me to attend their display at an international motor show, and drape myself alluringly across the hood of one of their vehicles.
When people (in truth, men) discovered sex sells, car makers jumped on the band wagon. They found that a seductive model adjacent to the product seemed to work. This has long since become a ploy beloved by advertisers.
It seems like a cheap, cheesy gambit to make the gullible male think he will meet more girls, but in reality, it is much more subtle than that. It seems that an attractive person in an ad excites the area of the brain that makes us buy on impulse.
Of course, even today there are plenty of pretty women at motor show stands, but they are much more demure; corporate even. Except at Custom Car shows obviously. We can be glad that in the here and now, overtly sexist advertisements are behind us (mostly) but that does not mean the days of subliminally awakening those more excitable parts of our brains are long gone.
Far from it.
In Europe, the populace have been well and truly seduced by the concept of the crossover car. This is a recent and much hyped sector of the motor industry whereby, putting it simply, regular hatchback cars are given more ground clearance and implied SUV qualities that are really just for show.
To be fair, there is considerably more engineering involved than my synopsis suggests. It is a response, in my view, to the worldwide drive for cleaner, greener automobiles. The European Union has issued draconian decrees to, in their view, clean up the motor industry. Stuck in the middle between east and west, we have a school of thought that the motor car is responsible for all our global ecological woes, even if that is patently not so.
To their credit, the car manufacturing industry has responded well and delivered fuel efficient, cleaner vehicles. They have done a great job and thus, to promote this brave new world of motoring, they have changed their advertising strategy.
Selling The Dream
The best way to bring a new car to the attention of the public is to find a niche to put it in. Instead of the box marked “Sex,” they are now exploiting the untapped potential of your life. With the crossover a new trend is established and we, the consumers, are buying into it.
There is a car currently being promoted by the French manufacturer Renault – the Captur. It is a Crossover. It looks butch but isn’t. Renault is selling it as a car that will change our lives. You will meet better, more vibrant friends. You will encounter the partner of your dreams. Everything in your world will be lovely. This is how the ad goes.
At no point is there any mention of engines, handling, power, tires, or any of the other things we relate to under the general heading of “dynamic automotive involvement.” In our present day, we prefer non-confrontational, made-up vehicle names in preference to names that conjure up sexual connotations. The Ford Probe. The Dodge Ram – Longhorn Edition?
How about the Dodge Dart Swinger (meet interesting new friends!). Those were the days! Now we have the “Captur,” a name which offends nobody because it is not a word. And it’s being sold quite successful via the medium of manufacturer hyperbole.
The Real Unique Selling Point
It would be much better if cars were sold by what they can do rather than what you dream they can do. Recently my family and I went to the coast for a few days of R&R. As luck would have it, I was driving the new Volvo XC90 with its genuinely huge trunk. Metallica takes less gear on a world tour than we carried on this trip and yet, the XC90 swallowed it all.
Now that’s a USP, not some amorphous lifestyle concept.
I have driven the Renault Captur and it is perfectly acceptable as a vehicle but vibrant it is not. It is taller and therefore, does not handle as well as the smaller car equivalent. The engine choice is adequate but you won’t be breaking any records or laws. It is plain ordinary but, to make it more interesting, it’s loaded with the latest technology, some of which, if we’re honest, we will never use.
Nevertheless and especially in the UK, this car is a best-seller, proving without question, that ad agencies know what they are doing. No sexual connotations required.
Technology Is The New Sex
Increasingly we are being seduced by high-tech gadgetry, much of which is superfluous to the needs of drivers. I am all for the safety technology trickling down from high-end cars to everyday motors, but to suggest a vehicle is better for having fancy electronics is the height of hype.
Even the brilliant Volvo XC90 gets in on the act. It’s a truly great vehicle and does all the things we needed from an SUV.
One feature it doesn’t need though is Multicolor Theatre Lighting. Say what? Where am I? Broadway? Sure, you might play with it a couple of times but it serves no useful automotive purpose. It’s a gadget and an enticement in just the same way a bikini-clad beauty is. It is designed, as part of the whole hype exercise, to excite that part of the brain that guides buying impulses. This is not news.
Back in 1871, Pearl Tobacco featured a naked maid on their package cover. In 1885, W. Duke & Sons introduced sexually provocative trading cards into Duke Cigarettes to boost sales, which it did. Soaps and tonics were next and it did not take long for the car industry to catch on. Society went along with even the most overt advertisement, giving rise to claims of sexism and exploitation.
Thankfully we have almost moved on now. We are still enticed; just enticed differently.
However, if any manufacturer is looking for a new angle and wants to feature a “fuller-figured” mature male model as an enticement to sell cars, I’ll let it be known that I am available.
*Geoff Maxted is a motoring writer, photographer, and author of our Letter From The UK series. Follow his work on Twitter: @DriveWrite