ADM serves Car Dealers, Automotive Marketing Pros and Internet Sales Managers
What does the color of your car say about you?
My current lease is a ruby red Honda Crosstour. The car before that was a ruby red Cadillac CTS. And the car I purchased before these two was a dark blue Chevy HHR, which still sits in my garage and serves as a second car. In addition to technology and safety features, color is important to me when it comes to making a car purchase. I’ve been on a ruby red kick for the past 6 years. The blue was my husband’s fault. He got a “deal” on the car, so I found myself driving this average-colored car after the lease was up on my champagne-colored Nissan Murano. Champagne sounded sexy, but it got boring, and the car ended up feeling like I was driving a bus. Blue is boring too. But ruby red—now that’s a sexy color, but I think I’ve outgrown it. What's the next color? We’ll see come March when my lease is up.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: This looks like a sales lead for some savvy ADM member...)
Do automobile manufacturers consider color when they think about how to market to women? After all, they can’t sell pink cars if they want to sell a whole bunch of cars. (I wonder if there is a trademarked shade of “Mary Kay pink?”)
Not that I haven’t seen the occasional pink car. There's even the Pinky Tow towing service rig that appears every so often in my neighborhood.
What brought car and color to mind was not my own preferences. Rather, it was thinking about the oddly and overly female-oriented promotional effort so many companies have fallen into when it comes to marketing to women. "Pink = Women! Yay!" It’s as if guns, laptops, pans, tasers, and everything but the kitchen sink suddenly have a gender just because they are colored pink.
However, pink signals to men, “Hands off! This product is for the ladies!” Pink also signals to men, “If you like this, then you should be questioning your masculinity AND your heterosexuality.” How can one color have so much power over men and threaten their masculinity at the same time? The better question would be, why do men let one color have so much power over them and threaten their masculinity? Of course, I’m speaking about the straightest of straight men here, because I’ve known many straight men who feel good enough about themselves to wear a pink shirt without the need to assert their heterosexuality through obnoxious macho posturing while doing so.
So, back to cars—how do auto manufacturers let the women’s market inspire how they create and market without alienating men? After all, men buy cars too. Branding expert Denise Lee Yohn suggests, “Companies should take care not to over-emphasize the gender orientation of their products. To capture the widest appeal and to avoid reinforcing stereotypes that alienate, they should pursue specific styles and aesthetics that resonate with both men and women.”
GM must have pondered this gender color conundrum with the 2013 Malibu, especially with the knowledge that the car sold strongly to women. How could they maintain their female base without alienating men? There are both pros and cons to the tactics that GM decided to take in its partnership with gay fashion designer, Isaac Mizrahi. Meaning, they found a way to incorporate pink, so to speak, without alienating men.
The current “Malibu Style” commercial features the sleeveless arm of a young woman, which doesn’t scream, “hands off boys, this is a woman’s car!” There’s a similar commercial with a man’s arm, so Chevy made these commercials appear gender neutral.
While these commercials avoid gender stereotypes in marketing, an article in Automotive News raised the issue of gender, which is why I thought about it too. Clearly, Chevy wants to engage consumers on a level that goes beyond gender marketing stereotypes, and these two commercials do just that. They tout design, color, form, texture, as well as technology, which are all important features to any car buyer. So I have to ask, why does Automotive News mention gender at all?
Because it did, I followed up on something else it mentioned. To be more specific, I looked up its partnership with Isaac Mizrahi, and this is where I think Chevy made some odd choices.
Why Mizrahi? How does he demonstrate GM’s commitment to the growing women’s segment (without alienating men)? There seems to be a split personality after viewing the Malibu commercials I mentioned and the Malibu associated with a fashion designer.
The first Malibu commercial is gender neutral and has just enough features to appeal to both male and female car buyers. Its presentation is practical and unobtrusive.
The second presentation of Malibu Style is pink. This campaign introduces the gay boyfriend who helps you (meaning the woman) look good and makes you feel good about yourself. After all, don’t all straight women love gay boyfriends and seek out their advice about fashion and proper accessorizing? Mmmmmmm……….. I’m not even going there.
Mizrahi is GM’s way of coloring the Malibu marketing campaign to women pink. He’s gay. He designs women’s clothing. He's understands design, color, form, and texture. And, he’s creating a new clothing line called “Malibu Style.” He's turning clothes into fashion accessories for your car. After all, who wants to wear clothes that don’t match their car?! Ew! Yuck! That’s so unfabulous!
According to interviews, color is inspiring his new fashion line, and I can see why this is important. The cut and color of a car is a major factor in purchasing decisions.
GM is committing to a Facebook page as well as a series of 50 videos that showcase Mizrahi driving to several cities and visiting several fabulous women and talking about style with them. Clearly, this car isn’t for country bumpkins. It’s for the Sex & the City type of gal based on what I'm reading and hearing.
In Detroit News, lead creative designer, Rebecca Waldmeir, also alludes to a sophisticated Sex & the City type of female car buyer:
"Our Chevy Malibu customer is very smart, very savvy," said Rebecca Waldmeir, lead creative designer for color and trim for Chevrolet passenger cars including the Malibu. "She doesn't want to sacrifice anything. She wants to indulge a little." Waldmeir said she often looks to the fashion industry to help her with colors and trim. She said the interior colors and texture and feel of the Malibu's leather seats were inspired by a luxury handbag.”
So when women get involved in creative, do they really think about color and handbags?
From where I'm sitting, these cars aren’t for the Lena Dunham urban Girlstype of gal either. Only smart, sophisticated, and sexy women need apply, because this is the sense I'm getting from the pairing of Mizrahi and Malibu and marketing to women. So if you consider yourself the fair-haired-stepchild of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, or Charlotte, then you epitomize the Malibu Style, and you know what makes you look good and what colors to wear (or drive).
But how often did we see anyone in Sex & the City drive? I wasn't a regular viewer, but I saw enough episodes to know that I never saw a main character behind a wheel.
Vanity Fair interviewed Mizrahi and asked about his partnership with GM. Mizrahi describes his foray into automotive using the royal “we:”
"We’re on this road trip across the country, stopping in four or five cities. And we’re going to meet different women and kind of get their take on the way they put themselves together, they put their lives together, and that’s going to inspire me to do the collection. I’m also being inspired by the design of the car. I’m a design person. So every single angle I look at, every single color, gives me ideas. So I’ve been kind of looking at the car a lot, driving the car—I’m not a huge driver, but I’ve been driving the car. That’s what’s going to inspire this collection, I hope. And then after that, it will hopefully launch sometime this fall."
What??!! He’s not a huge driver? What does that mean? Again, I ask GM, why Mizrahi?
Not much further into the interview he says,
“I’m not a car person, but I’m not a non-car person. I notice a beautiful car when I see it. Any great piece of machinery, any great piece of design, is something that’s going to inspire me. I just think that this a very good marriage between brands.”
Next, the interviewer asks him about his fantasy car:
Do you have a car that you’ve always fantasized about owning, or a car that you see on the street and think: that’s my spiritual home on wheels?
"I don’t really. I notice a beautiful car. And when I notice a car, it’s usually about the color of the car—that’s what makes me notice it first. The new Malibu has some really amazing colors. There’s a new Red Ice color. There’s a great silver color that’s dazzling. It’s the greatest neutral I’ve ever seen. It’s this bone, but it has a little shimmer to it, yet it’s unlike any other white car that I’ve ever seen."
So let me wrap my head around the idea of GM, Malibu, and Mizrahi playing in the same sandbox. Women love fashion and are very conscious about color (gender stereotype). Mizrahi is a fashion designer who knows what women love and what colors look good on women. Mizrahi is gay and so women will love Mizrahi< because he has a queer eye for the straight gal (gender stereotype). Did I forget anything?
Oh, yes!........... Mizrahi is not a big driver (does he even own a car?), and he’s not a car person (but he’s not a non-car person). I don't get it.