Sunday, October 21, 2007

Brilliant Marketing or Alienation of Customers

Chevrolet has a new line of commercials for their Malibu sedan. In these commercials people are wildly ignorant to the existence of a late model beige Malibu. Then the announcer promises that soon the Malibu will be noticed. What does that say to the owners of the existing Malibu?

While the ad is true, the old Malibu in almost any color is urban camouflage, it's a little offensive to hear that from the people who designed and sold those cars. I'm kind of torn as to what this really says. Does it say that they feel they made a mistake in this design? Are they actually admitting that their old product was inferior?

I'm pretty sure that if I owned a Malibu I would be offended. I would take this commercial to say that I made a mistake in my purchase. This essentially says that Chevy thinks Malibu owners have bad taste. Why would these people buy from this company again? I wouldn't. Especially the new design, it doesn't fall in line with their existing customers tastes.

The same goes for Scion's latest campaign that displays the polarization of opinions toward their tiny car-based utility vehicle. Love it or loathe it, they say. Eye catching or eyesore. While I think that this may fool a few teens into thinking that Scions are rebellious vehicles that their parents just don't understand, I perceive this as a reminder that these cars are found ugly by many. This may help to positively influence the purchase process for some, but I think there's a good chance that it will plant that seed of doubt into the minds of others.

At the same time, I'm really happy to see this move from Chevy. One of the big factors that has created such a gap in quality between foreign and domestic automobiles has been the desire to please return customers. People don't like change. When you change the way a car feels they will resist it.

Buick is a great example of this. Only now are Buicks starting to come with firmer suspensions. It wasn't that GM was unable to produce a firm suspension that would still take bumps well, it's that the customers didn't like it. Buick's return customers wanted the bobbling boats of yore.
When the engineers worked to finalize Buicks for production they had to dial in a suspension that wouldn't offend their core buyers. They never forced those buyers to choose from better suspensions. The problem is that the pool of repeat buyers can never be larger than the original pool of buyers, as your first time buyers dwindles, so will your repeat buyers. Thus you'll see a slow death. Buick has started to turn around, and they're losing some repeat buyers but they're gaining more first time buyers.

Sometimes alienation is a good thing. You can't please everyone. I think that it's important not to be offensive about it, though. Telling someone that their taste is bland is a bad thing. Simply not offering a bad attribute just because they were accustomed to it is another. I think the new Malibu looks like a big improvement, but the marketing is still sub-par.

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