On the Marketing of Automobiles

Large billboard posters around my city recently advertised a Lexus saloon with the following slogan:

MOVES YOU In more ways than one.

Can you see what they’ve done there? I was tempted to explain how the slogan worked, and why I thought it was a clever use of words, but then I realised that, like all of the best slogans, it “speaks for itself”.

This set me off thinking about the names of cars. Why is it, for example, that while there are many instances of cars named after cats, there are, to the best of my knowledge, no instances of cars named after dogs?

Whilst I’m not expecting the branding people to counter the elegance and coiled sexuality implicit in the word “Jaguar” with something like “Labrador” or “Basset”, there are surely suitable dog breeds that can be harvested for this use.

“Bulldog” – resolutely British 4×4

“Retriever” – reliable city runaround

“Whippet” – nippy little two-seater

And so on.

Ford, in fact, could do worse than selecting all their car names by sticking a pin in a big list of dog breeds and just going for it. Indeed, they already have done far worse. Who, for example, came up with the bizarre plan of naming their cars after pornographic magazines? Were they furtively working their way up through the range, culminating in an executive saloon called the “Ford Mayfair”, before someone spotted it? Perhaps then they had to lie low for a while, opting for the more innocuous Spanish theme with names like “Granada” and “Sierra”, reminding their bosses of happy days spent knocking a golf ball up and down the Costa del Sol. The wags had the last laugh though, managing to slip “Cortina” past the board, and ensuring that the classic 1970s saloon would forever go by the name of the “Ford Curtain”.

They were back at it with the “Probe” of course. As close to calling a car the Ford Looks Like A Penis Driven By A Prick as you are likely to get. John Hurt did the adverts, only a few years after he had been the voice of the AIDS euphemism.

My favourite though is probably the mysterious “Ka”. The counter-intuitive marketing intelligence of giving a car a name that not only nobody knows how to pronounce, but also makes you sound like an idiot however you try. I should know, I bought one. The salesmen had clearly given up and just spelt out the letters, as if they were talking about an adult concept within earshot of a pre-literate child: “John, this gentleman would like a K-A, do we have one in red?” Of course, given the manufacturer’s track record, and the fact that for all we knew “ka” might actually be Hungarian for “good fisting”, this was probably a sensible policy.