In case you haven’t noticed, car marketing tends toward irrelevancies. The objective of a car advertisement isn’t to sell you the car — there are professional salespeople for that — it’s to make you aware of the car, and get you thinking about how your life would improve if that car were your own.
When I was growing up, car advertising was pretty dang sexist, but those days are gone. Women are half of today's car market, so of course…wait a minute, there’s one sector of the car market where the message remains unchanged, and that’s the high performance sector. The message is: Buy this hot car, and hot women will seek your company.
"Men talk about women, sports and cars. Women talk about men inside sports cars."
That’s a quote from a Mercedes ad. Mercedes may be right, but in my experience, often women are saying, “What a poser!” when talking about men in sports cars, and that’s when they’re being polite. Mercedes advertisements pitch their regular cars to everybody, but they target guys for their performance cars. The 571 horsepower engine in their SLS AMG gullwing is electronically limited to a top speed of 197 mph, which presumably is fast enough to get you to your next supermodel in time for your next date.
How about Lexus? They produce a wide range of models, including five hybrids, which they promote to women and men alike, but the only ad I’ve seen for their LFA was in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, with a Lexus LFA, Supercar, doing tire-smoking donuts around Rianne Ten Haken, Supermodel.
The LFA is covered in bright yellow paint. Ms. Haken is covered in…in skin, for the most part. Apparently the $400,000 car took up most of the budget and there wasn’t a lot of money left for swimsuit fabric, but the swimsuit is bright yellow too, so it is perceptible. The ad’s tagline is “What does it take to stand out in a magazine full of beautiful women? About 552 horsepower.”
Perhaps Rianne Ten Haken is in the ad just to catch our eye. Perhaps there’s no implication that girls like her would be drawn to guys like us if we had a car like that. I found a making-of-that-ad video on YouTube that knocked the “perhaps” out of the park. Quoth Ms. Haken, “I really think the car just sounds like testosterone, like full on, like strong power…” and her demeanor indicates that she finds this favorable. Yes indeed, The Sound Of Testosterone; women love that stuff, it's music to their ears.
Okay, let’s get real. We’re not going to buy an LFA, so let’s check out the Lexus GS, their latest sedan. They have a high performance model of that one, the GSF Sport, “With a range of performance enhancements and exclusive styling, this is a GS honed for even more exhilaration.” It has roughly 10 times the horsepower MAX has (306 vs. 32) so naturally, they got a race driver and a stunt driver to race in the Tori 500. Let’s see what the participants have to say.
Tori Praver, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model: “I thought it was so awesome when I found out that Lexus wanted to make a track around my body, I thought it was a really cool idea.”
Scott Pruett, Professional Race Car Driver :“You know, I have driven on tracks throughout the world, but I have never driven one in the shape of a woman’s body.”
Okay, you get the idea. They made a race track traced over a photo of Ms. Praver, blown up 1200 times, and the winner got to take a hot lap with the real Tori Praver, who said “I would love the chance to drive around the curves of my own body.” Many men who watched that video felt similarly.
Believe me, I have loads more examples, I just picked Mercedes and Lexus because they’re considered to be classy car companies; and yet they gave us Women-talk-about-men-inside-sports-cars and the Tori 500.
So here comes my point (and about time): the people I like to hang out with, the people I like to meet, those people think MAX is pretty cool, and that includes people I haven’t met yet. When I take MAX on trips, complete strangers start conversations and sometimes they have intriguing questions and the conversations go on for a while. Most (not all) of the long conversations are with women (I lose a lot of guys after “What’cha got under the hood?” and “How fast does she go?”) who for some reason are more likely than men to be impressed by MAX’s low environmental impact, and much more likely to ask insightful questions such as “Can I take a picture?” and “Can I have a ride?” and “Have you ever been to the Hot Springs?”
MAX proves daily that you don’t need 571, or 554, or even 306 horsepower to draw the attention of interesting women. I wish more guys knew that.
I was talking with Charis Carter at last September’s Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs, about this very subject. Charis is an activist, educator and performer, she was touring with the Sustainable Living Roadshow when we met, and currently she’s a driving force for sustainable living and social responsibility in her home town of Johnson City, TN. If you’re in the neighborhood of Northeastern Tennessee this Saturday (May 24) don’t miss the Bike Kitchen Event and Benefit, and plan on staying ’till 2 AM because they’ll have lots of live entertainment; Charis will be playing with the Penny Dreadfuls and I think she has a solo set in there, too.
The point is, Charis is an archetype of Interesting Woman, and she was riding in MAX with me while we were talking, and I doubt she would have even given me the time of day if I’d showed up in a car that costs as much as a house and gets 12 mpg. She totally gets the absurdity of how performance cars are marketed to men. And how can we convince men that guys in small footprint cars can out-allure guys in conspicuous consumption cars? That’s easy: interesting women have to tell them. So when the Fair was over, she tasked me to park MAX next to the SLR bus, and bring my camera.
Nothing draws attention to a car like draping it with an attractive woman in eveningwear, particularly late-in-the-evening eveningwear. Admit it, my fellow fellows, that photo up there at the top caught your eye, and that was a thousand words ago and you’re still reading. You can see the first draft of this MAX ad here — don’t worry, it’s safe for work — and I think it presents a positive message. I recognize that Charis is making playful fun of us guys for being such goofballs, but I’m okay with that…and by the way, she chose her own hairstyle and pose and outfit; all I did was loan her some goggles and make her take her shoes off before she climbed on the car.
I know I’m preaching to the choir on this blog, and if I want to make my teeny tiny positive difference in the car culture, I should get the message out to the muggles. Carmakers advertise the way they do because it works, and I’m willing to fight fire with fire if I can do so with some wit and style. I’ll be bringing MAX to the Mother Earth News fair in Puyallup, WA in a couple of weeks, and the one in Seven Springs, PA in September, and I’ll be bringing my still camera and my GoPro video camera. So if you have some clever marketing ideas, I’m eager to hear them. Just don’t mention the sound of testosterone.
Eyecatching photo by Jack McCornack
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