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Holden opts for emotion over clichés and stereotypes, and wins

March 2019

This is a self-funded case study using our Advertising Testing solution.

Two years ago, we took a closer look at the state of automotive advertising in Australia, and wrote a piece focussing specifically on the SUV segment. The results were clear: the most effective advertising in the category focussed on a singular benefit and wrapped it up in a unique and memorable story, while the weaker performers overloaded viewers with clichéd product messages and stereotypical vehicle imagery.

Fast-forward to today and, sadly, not much has changed in the category, which is why we were excited to see Holden’s new SUV-range TVC: “This is how we SUV”. The Hollywoodesque spot produced by AJF Partnership, told the story of a daring heist to retrieve a (seemingly) stolen painting. The vehicles were used as the getaway cars, with their agility, nimbleness and performance on full-display for viewers.

Could this brave new direction for Holden showing a complete disregard for category norms and conventions actually work? We tested the 60″ spot amongst a representative audience of auto-intenders from Australia and New Zealand to find out the answer. The results were fascinating.

As a reminder, the success of advertising is a function of 3 key elements:

  1. Captivate people by engaging them emotionally
  2. Connect back to the brand in a meaningful way
  3. Compel a change in thoughts, feelings and behaviours

How did the ad perform?

After testing 12 SUV TVC’s in 2017 and having only a quarter of them exceed our Cubery Rating average, “This is how we SUV” not only joined this illustrious group but, more importantly, was the number one performer overall.

The action-packed narrative amplified by Blondie’s energetic ‘One Way Or Another’ soundtrack was a hit; not only did the ad stand out from the automotive clutter, but it kept viewers’ captivated through to the end.

Overall emotional engagement was strong, with the ad tapping into high-arousal feelings including happiness, amusement and excitement.

Did performance differ across Australia & New Zealand?

The entertainment factor, fast-paced storyline and music were the key sources of viewer enjoyment across both countries. Together with the clever integration of the vehicles – showcasing their features, versatility and performance – this helped amplify perceptions of quality and style along with softer associations around Holden being a fun and exciting brand.

Impressions around the latter were considerably stronger amongst Australians, which subsequently drove a greater perception of difference versus other automotive manufacturers. This was the key area where performance deviated between the two countries, with perceptions of difference a staggering 20% lower in New Zealand.

While the daring heist and associated adventure were the standout elements of the ad for Australians, Kiwis were much more fixated on the vehicles, their features and performance. Furthermore, impressions around the vehicle range and versatility were taken-out more strongly in New Zealand. However, while this information was seen to have news value, it didn’t provide enough depth to differentiate it from the messaging conveyed by other automotive manufacturers.

What are the key learnings for advertisers?

This may not come as a surprise to anyone who has ever launched a multi-country campaign, but assuming what resonates with consumers in one market will directly translate to another, is fraught with danger. Advertising has the difficult task of fitting with the brand, its life-stage and positioning in the market, while accounting for the unique dynamics of the category. Advertising generally doesn’t travel well across borders, because more often than not these elements don’t align across countries.

Fortunately, the outcome in this instance was not dire, and the ad remained highly effective in New Zealand – albeit slightly weaker than Australia. The entertainment-route works for Holden in Australia because the brand has a rich history and occupies a well-established position in the category. Thus, employing an emotional strategy will help to more deeply engage consumers, and subsequently set Holden apart from other manufacturers.

If Holden was operating in a magical world where marketing budgets were infinite, then we would recommend tailoring the ad to more closely match the brand’s positioning and life-stage in New Zealand. Messaging with a little more substance – specifically highlighting the unique aspects of Holden’s SUVs – would help drive greater impact. Holden could also consider up-weighting media assets that feature more product-specific information in New Zealand, in order to enhance overall campaign effectiveness.

Holden Auto Advertising Testing - Performance Results

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