Monday, September 24, 2007

"The logo is there to tell you what the car is, not who you are." "Shouldn't you drive a car that inflates your intelligence, not your ego." These are statements from Hyundai's new ad campaign, the one that instructs you to "think about it," and the directs you to Since I am nothing if not a slave to television advertising, I have done exactly what instructed. At first, I thought very highly of myself. My wife and I will be purchasing a new car as soon as we can afford one, and have been thinking very seriously about a Hyundai. They are affordable, at least for a car, and are well reviewed. Unfortunately, Hyundais are still Hyundais. That's more than just a few letters from a Honda, or at least that is the perception. I'm an American, so perception is everything. Hyundai has caught on to that truth. It took me a few viewings to catch on that they have caught on, and then I followed through with their instruction and went to the web site. It's nothing more than a fancy conduit to their main web site with annoying music, music that will play from both sites if you have both open and will be just enough out of sync to drive you mad. Their fancy ad campaign is really as unremarkable as the web site it sends you to, but really quite a little stroke of genius. When I first saw the ad, I felt instantly better about the possibility of owning a Hyundai. All those other people with fancier cars were shallow ego driven automatons. I was better than all that. I was real. I was a real sap. Don't get me wrong, I might still buy one. Money is money, and the ad is pretty slick. They tell you that "the logo is there to tell you what the car is, not who you are," hoping that you will feel that the Hyundai logo will tell people that you are someone who doesn't buy a car in order to tell people who they are. The campaign is so slick and smart because the folks at Hyundai, and/or the folks at the ad agency they hired, are right on. Most of us use the things we buy to try to define who we are and to feel better about whatever that really is. And, for once, I'm not claiming to be outside of the "we." I recognized this so quickly because I have lived it. I had Reebok Tennis Pumps for God's sake. They were the crappiest shoes ever, but they made a statement. So did jeans with elastic at the ankles. I can't convince my wife it was a positive statement, but that is what they were meant to be. I do wonder whether humans have always been like this. Maybe the answer is yes. Maybe farmers paraded around on their tractors, or their mules. Maybe nomads evaluated self worth by horse height. We certainly all fall prey to it, even and maybe especially the people that try hardest to convince us that they are different. I think, however, we can fight it. We can laugh at the Hyundai ad, recognize what they are trying to do, and then buy one anyway if it meets the set of criteria we lay out for a car that meets our particular individual needs. We can even laugh at it, understand it, and buy it simply so that other people think better of us. Maybe they will and maybe we'll be happier. If so, then what's wrong with that picture. So, I don't think I have any idea what message to distill out of this for future consumption by my daughter. Maybe the message is, be practical. If buying a particular car will help you be seen in a certain way and help you win a big account, or be accepted in the new neighborhood, then do it and write down somewhere in a diary or a journal that you know what you're doing and why. Be open, if only with yourself. And be sure to ask yourself if you want these things, or if maybe fuel economy and warranty length are better guides for automobile purchase. Maybe the best thing to tell my daughter is that I love her, and if some day I find myself paying any part of the bill for a car she is driving, I'll admit that I'm cheap and I don't care if the logo on the car broadcasts that fact to the rest of the world and all of her friends.


kadri_kallikorm_rhodes said...

But how about if you buy a Hyundai from a reverse sort of snobbery (and also because of the warranty and because you're cheap)- maybe because it says 'yes, gosh-darned-it, I am an academic type; I don't need to compete with anyone ; (and by the way, have you seen the cars they drive in Paris?' ;P

Sam said...

If we do buy a Hyundai, I will definitely justify the purchase with a mix of practicality and principle that goes beyond mere considerations of price. How much of that I will believe is a different question that may have a different answer.

I've never been out of the Paris train station. Are the cars different from those driven elsewhere in Europe? Are they smaller? Are they more pretentious? Are they more artistically aware? Do Citroen, Peugeot, or Renault still make cars?