Marketing Winners and Losers at the NY International Auto Show (Part 1)

The lights!  The cars! The pumping music!  The attractive people on spinning turntables!  My aching back!

Yes, I attended the New York International Auto Show and lived to tell the (precautionary) tale of experiential marketing done well…and not so well.  Over the new few posts, I’ll point out how some marketers really made the most out of their residency at the Jacob Javits Convention Center and those who didn’t.

I’d like to start out with a winner, at least in my book: Subaru.  Subaru understands its audience, also known as nerds.



Here’s what I learned:

  • Experiential marketing is a great opportunity to capture email from an interested party
  • There is no substitute for understanding your customer

Revenge of the (Station Wagon) Nerds

Oh, Subaru, you get me.  Your exhibit shot a marketing arrow right through my heart.

Let me give you some context: I like station wagons.  We’re a one-car family with two kids and too damn much gear to haul around.


Lookin’ for the ghost of Tom Joad

As a result, our vehicle choices come down to minivans, SUVs/CUVs and wagons.  I like cars that handle like, well, cars.  That puts me in the exclusive company of station wagon nerds.

At the auto show, only four of the eight companies that sell a true wagon in the US even bothered to display one (I’m calling you out, Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Mercedes).  And all but one failed a crucial test for wagon owners.

The Test: What Can I Cram in the Back?

Visit manufacturers’ or auto publisher sites and you can generally find a wagon’s cargo capability listed in cubic feet.  While this number allows for easy comparisons (e.g. the Volvo v60 has 43.8 cubic feet of space in the back vs. data not supplied for the VW Golf Sportswagen [shame on you, VW!]).

Here’s the problem: when’s the last time you hauled around a cubic foot?  Maybe, if you work as a footwear distributor, you have cargo that you can estimate in cubic feet.  However, if you want to know whether the flat-pack dresser you bought at IKEA or the vintage Schwinn adult trike you saw at a flea market will fit in your car, you need to know specs like width between the wheels, depth from the back of the seat to the lift gate and height.

Good luck finding that online.

I had meant to bring a tape measure to the auto show to find out for myself (we nerds are like that), but my research assistants were acting up and I forgot.  What I learned by asking the booth staff really revealed something about how companies understand their audiences.

Volvo: Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Volvo brought its V60 wagon to the show.


Baby’s got back, but how much?

The guys behind the counter couldn’t answer dimensions and really seemed dumbstruck that I would even ask.  However, they were kind enough to point out another member of my cult measuring the back with his own tape measure.  I flagged my brother-from-another-mother-wagon and borrowed it.  For the record: 45″ between the wheel  wells and 38.5″ deep.

As a current V70 owner, I feel let down by the brand.  I don’t know whether it has anything to do with Chinese ownership, their new focus on performance or the decline of liberalism, but the brand that defined rational car ownership just doesn’t seem the same.

Toyota: Email Marketing Opportunity Recognized

Toyota doesn’t sell a true wagon in the US, but they do offer the nifty Prius V.  Yes, it’s really a mini-minivan, but it’s nerdy enough for me.  Again, the booth staffer couldn’t answer my question, but she did something smart: she said if I gave Toyota my email, they’d get back to me.

In effect, Toyota’s booth set up a triggered email, an email based on a consumer action.  These emails historically perform well.   When a consumer takes an action, whether it’s browsing an item on a website or asking someone a question about a car, he or she has telegraphed intent.  It takes very little guesswork to deliver an email around that intent.  Toyota understood that I had an active interest in a particular model.

That said, I still haven’t received any info from Toyota 24 hours later.

FIAT: Close but No Cigar

Again, FIAT doesn’t sell a true wagon, either.  But I like the lines on the 500X.  The staffer valiantly searched for the answer on the company’s website via an iPad, but to no avail.  I’ll give them an A for sforza.

VW: How Do You Sell So Many Wagons?

Upon finding the Golf Sportswagen, I found the liftgate locked.  I couldn’t have measured the inside even if I had remembered to bring my tape measure.  Moreover, when I went to the counter, the staffers looked at me funny when I asked about dimensions and made no effort to help me find the answer.

I find this lack of interest in catering to wagon nerds strange given how popular these wagons have become.

Subaru: Relax, You’re Among Friends

Subaru knows the secret to pleasing nerds: make them feel like normal people with normal questions.

A friendly Subaru staffer seemed genuinely excited when I asked her about the cargo area dimensions of the Outback on display.  “Oh,” she said, “I have that right here!”  She produced a binder and flipped through pages until she found the answers: 42.5″ between the wheels and 41.8″ front-to-back.

I thanked her and told her that I had meant to bring a tape measure and then she delivered the coup de grace:

You could have borrowed ours! (emphasis added)

And that, friends, is how you win a prospect.  I can’t say that my next car will be a Subaru (I’ll drive my Volvo until the wheels fall off), but they’ve proven that they understand me.

One thought on “Marketing Winners and Losers at the NY International Auto Show (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: It’s Not a Car Show: It’s Speed Dating for Brands | Plannerben | Anecdata

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