Marketing Vehicles

I’ve seen a number of motor vehicles used for marketing purposes lately, each with a different approach and, IMO, a different level of effectiveness.


The most “professional” of the three is this authentic antique Harley-Davidson police tricycle, dressed up as a Twisted Tea promotion in Shaws.

The vehicle is beautifully restored, and for people who are into vintage motorcycles, it’s an eye-catcher. However, I wonder if it’s a cost-effective marketing tool. To purchase the motorcycle, restore it, and give it a custom paint job must cost a bundle. Then there are additional display fees to the store. I have to assume that they don’t have a whole fleet of these, so all that investment appears in only one location at a time, and then you have to pay someone to load it onto a trailer and set it up at another store a few weeks later. For anyone who’s not interested in vintage motorcycles, it may not be terribly appealing. (Research into traffic accidents has indicated that car drivers who plow into motorcycles generally have no personal exposure to motorcycles, and therefore don’t “see” them.) There’s no apparent connection between motorcycles and beverages of any kind — although it might be possible to establish that connection through a broader promotional campaign (and for all I know, as a non-TV watcher, they might have a whole series of television ads doing just that).

So bottom line, the owner or marketing manager is probably a vintage motorcycle fan and thought this would be an awesome cool thing, but it’s probably not tremendously effective.


This lovely display is in front of the public safety building at the intersection of Simonton Road and John Street in Camden. In case you’re reading on a small screen, the sandwich board says “Don’t Drink and Drive.” (A couple weeks ago, it had an anti texting-while-driving message.)

Again, it’s certainly eye-catching (and really ugly). Unlike the Twisted Tea promo, it probably cost nothing, and everyone who drives will probably absorb the visual part of the message. I really wonder, though, if this will really help drive the message home to people who do, or might, drink and drive. If I were in the habit, I think I’d scoff at it as nagging. But I suppose if the wrecked cars help turn on the light for just one drunk driver, it’s worthwhile.

duck sign on roof of car

Photo from Penobscot Bay Pilot. Click photo to link to original story.

Finally, there’s the Duck Derbymobile, promoting a fundraiser by the West Bay Rotary. This is the most modest of the three, and I think it’s probably the most effective, due to i) its mobility — it’s seen all over the place, ii) the fact that the sign’s image relates directly to the event it’s promoting, and iii) its silly unpretentiousness. Rubber ducks make people smile, and a grown man driving around with one on his car just adds a bit of humor to one’s drive. Will it persuade anyone to attend the event? No. But will it make people aware of the event? Yes indeed.


Pink is for Girls

I was browsing in the hardware department at WalMart yesterday and this brightly colored electric screwdriver kind of jumped out at me (not in a good way).

Pink electric screwdriver

Screwdriver for girls

OK, I get it. Girls like pink things, right? In spite of this great routine by Ellen…

…it appears that a lot of big companies have the numbers to back up this kind of marketing-driven design. It can’t be the first time that they’ve made a pink tool and found that it performed in the marketplace. The number-crunchers rule at these places, and if it didn’t work, they wouldn’t do it.

And isn’t that nice? A percentage of the $39.97 purchase price goes to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Plus, the package include 5 screwdriver bits!

But RIGHT ABOVE IT, there’s this product:

black and red electric screwdriver

Screwdriver for manly men

Apparently the same tool, except for the colors. Same voltage. Same warranty. Same price too: $39.97. But gee, the pink one donates money to charity. Might as well buy the makes-me-feel-feminine-and-virtuous one, right?

Hey, wait a minute. The boy’s version includes TEN screwdriver bits, not the measly five in the girl-driver package. So some of that money that Skil is donating to charity? Sorry, Sucker-ette — YOU’RE actually making that donation by giving 5 driver bits back to the Robert Bosch Tool Corporation, the owner of Skil, while they get a nice little marketing boost on your dime!

p.s., I’m with Ellen on this. I suspect that if I were a woman, I’d be insulted by this pandering to my supposed girly taste. On the other hand, if the color kept my husband from borrowing my electric screwdriver…

The Challenge of Dichotomies

Every audience is diverse. If you’re selling cola or sneakers, the range is vast: your target market consists of everyone in the world except (respectively) health-food devotees and double amputees. But even for highly niche products and services, the message always needs to reach across a range of attitudes.

If your product is a vegetarian health food, you recognize that some, but not all, of your audience are vegans. Some are additionally gluten-free; Hispanic; upper-income; Presbyterian; bald; saxophonists. Any of these characteristics might influence an individual’s response to your product. Most marketers attempt to span these differences in their messaging, to smooth out the hills and valleys, find the common ground, appeal to as many as you can and offend as few as possible.


Rob Dietz, Principal at Pica Design + Marketing

This assumes that variability is somewhat evenly distributed across the audience, but not all markets demonstrate this quality. Rob Dietz, principal and creative director at Pica Design + Marketing in Belfast, feels that a defining characteristic of the Midcoast marketing environment is the dichotomous nature of its population: most people fall into one of two groups with rather distinct characteristics.

“Many folks in the Midcoast are local, native, deeply rooted here, proud of Maine and proud to be Mainers,” he says. “Many others are from other places, to a large degree well-educated, with a variety of interests, passions, backgrounds, experience, and connections with other parts of the world.” In other words, Maine’s perennial From Here/From Away division has implications for marketers.

Dietz says that in helping clients reach local consumers, Pica generally leans more toward “From Here” attitudes, without excluding or alienating those “From Away.” After all, many émigrés are here because they appreciate the local values. As a result, he says, “The methods that might succeed in New York or San Francisco may not apply here.”

“We generally take an authentic, straightforward approach,” he continues. “We’ll reflect on what makes a client special in this market without trying to make him or her out to be more than what he is. It’s a modest approach to marketing that requires sincerity on our clients’ part and in our recommendations to them.”

Another dichotomy that Pica deals with is not strictly local in character: it’s the shift away from compromise and shared purpose that’s discernible nationally. This, says Dietz, tends to affect attitudes and confidence throughout our communities.

“Uncertainty among consumers can change attitudes rapidly and dramatically,” he says. “Everyone is on an emotional roller coaster. I’m all about change: you have to adapt. But it’s a challenge to market to people who might be euphoric one day and reserved or frightened the next.”