Automotive marketing takes a new stage at CES

Dialogue’s technology contributor, James Day, checks in at CES, Las Vegas and explores a new chapter in automotive marketing: the increasingly blurred lines between traditional car shows and tech expos. Is this a reaction to tech firms encroaching on its turf or an attempt to win over reluctant millennials?

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is the world’s largest gadget show, but one of this year’s main keynote speakers came from a car company, marking a new evolution in automotive marketing.

Ford CEO Jim Hackett shared his vision for the future of transportation that doesn’t just involve cars, but operating systems and networks instead – two distinctly ‘tech’ terms.

It’s no secret Apple and co. have an increasing interest in the automotive world extending beyond autonomy, connectivity and electrification that could culminate in building its own cars.

So, could this mean OEMs like Ford feel threatened? Have they ramped up their automotive marketing activities at tech shows to fight back and avoid being silenced by Silicon Valley?

“It’s obviously a strategic decision to move into new areas. But the automotive and tech industries are getting closer and closer together in terms of what they do,” argues Stuart Jackson, VP of brand & communications at Nissan Europe.

“A lot of car companies have moved into showing what they can do in a technology space. That’s what you’ve seen from Nissan at CES regarding brainwave technology.

“Consumer tech is now an expectation when people buy a car. The tech industry is having a dramatic effect on the automotive world and over the next five years you’ll see a lot more partnerships taking place.”

Jackson may have a point; other automotive marketing endeavours saw Toyota using CES to announce a collaboration with Amazon, Kia revealed it’s working with Google, and Jaguar Land Rover unveiled a partnership with Qualcomm among others.

Car brands have actually exhibited at CES since 2007. But it’s now almost an invasion with a huge dedicated hall and several outdoor parking lots reserved for brands like Jeep, Honda, Nissan, Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai.

The ripple effect means CEOs like Hackett now has a place at tech’s top table and CES can count itself among USA Today’s 10 Best Automotive Shows.

“Traditional tech shows are a real automotive marketing opportunity for manufacturers like Jaguar Land Rover to showcase creativity, expertise and advanced technologies,” says Fiona Pargeter, global PR communications director at Jaguar Land Rover.

“The automotive industry is changing rapidly and the lines are blurring between traditional automotive and tech worlds. We know our customers are adopting new technologies quicker than ever.

“We are on the verge of completely reshaping the car as we know it. Not only to our established customers but to new, younger generations and the more tech savvy consumer.”

Customers want gadgets

Pargeter hits upon another reason for a shift in automotive marketing activities: Generation Y typically covers anyone aged between 20 and 35 and worryingly they were less interested in buying cars than those before them.

Dubbed the generation that killed car culture, they turned the corner in 2015 contributing considerably to a record year of automotive sales. Around the same time the impact of car brands at tech shows was starting to be felt.

Given gadgets play a major part in many aspects of millennials’ lives it’s no surprise it affects their taste in cars. A J.D. Power survey noted as many as 31 per cent of new drivers aged 34 and under bought a car based on its tech.

Therefore it was crucial for the brands to highlight these features in automotive marketing and advertising operations to stay relevant to this demographic. Tech shows represent an obvious outlet for engagement.


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