I continue to be fascinated by what appears to be a huge gap between the reality of the market and what I see on television advertising. Take automobile ads. For months now, we’ve been reading about disastrous financial results for the Big 3 automakers (and even some of their competitors) as customers move away from gas-guzzling SUVs and macho trucks. The CEOs of these companies are finally acknowledging that their business model is broken, and are belatedly changing their product lines, manufacturing priorities and supply strategies.  So where does that leave their advertising? Apparently, firmly entrenched in 2002.

I’ve made no secret that I think most automobile advertising is depressingly timid, repetitive and devoid of creativity. But now the marketing also appears to be hopelessly out of sync with reality. In the past few weeks I continue to see numerous TV ads pushing trucks, SUVs and beautiful vistas. The push for large vehicles seem to vastly outnumber those for newer models (like Ford’s Edge.)  Even Toyota has been relentlessly pushing their Tundra, their version of a truck behemoth. The one campaign that stuck out to me was, ironically, the pitch that Chrysler would guarantee 3 years of locked gas prices for buyers. How’s that for delaying the inevitable.  

Even acknowledging the fact many of these campaigns were purchased and developed months ago and there is a built-in lag in the system, it’s surprising to see the torrent of advertising that appears oblivious to the existing reality. And most importantly, they are clearly not working. The Honda Civic has become the hottest selling model and smaller, fuel efficient cars are booming in popularity. This past quarter the U.S. auto firms reported decreases in sales ranging from 20% to almost 40%. The Big 3 appear to be mortally wounded, bleeding money and seemingly unable to change their fortunes. Perhaps their archaic advertising is part of the problem.