How To Market Station Wagons, Maligned Steeds Of The Americas

August 15, 2010

Good marketing and advertising is crucial in making or breaking a car, and there are many examples of good, great and poor marketing in the automotive world, regardless of the continent, language, market segment or company. And one prime example of how not to do marketing, at least in North America, is the station wagon, a maligned yet trusty steed that is truly an under-appreciated and insufficiently loved vehicle genre. And I say this based on recent experiences. You see, I just got back from vacation and in the last two weeks I have driven thousands of miles. And while travelling those highways and B-routes and rutted roads, there were many types of cars and trucks, but one in particular stood out due to its scarcity. The Station Wagon!

Marketers in North America have nightmares when they hear that term and wish it would die. Frankly, I like the German term “Kombi”--a combination of sedan and carry-all. But the term “station wagon” is like automotive marketing death. Only a select few appreciate that type of vehicle and fewer still have made good ads showing off its true value. Usually they are of a Volvo, Subaru, or sometimes Audi or Mercedes ilk.

As automotive enthusiasts, it is our duty to revive interest in an automotive form that was left for dead here on North America, and sadly replaced by the hulking, inefficient SUVs and crossovers, just because the automotive marketers couldn’t find a good way to convince people that the “wagon” kind of cars are truly great. I say this being a Mazda 5 mini-minivan owner. It’s a cheap replacement for what I want.

Station wagons are lovely to look at, efficient, let you go do Costco or other big box stores to buy the gross of diapers or cola you need, plus they carry 5 adults very well, and if you really need it, you can get a roof cargo box for the child or pet you dislike and use it as a punishment chamber. Just look at the Volvo R wagon, 300 horsepower and a manual trasnmission. Mercedes and Audi make great wagons. Subaru used to, so did Saab a few years ago. I just saw a Buick Roadmaster Station Wagon in good condition this evening. Retro fun! But now you get BMW X5s and other hideous automotive creatures. Where did North American society go wrong? What is our low fiber, high fat diet that sent us astray? Or did the automakers receive a collective blow to the head at birth? Probably both.

However, if you want a good example of making wagons cool, there is a film on YouTube, a really Jim Jarmusch-like derivative movie that is essentially a 15 minute ad for the Volvo V50 containing a mildly annoying Robert Downey Jr. It’s not unique, but the filming is nice, the car is ever present, and it’s a great showcase for the vehicle and great passive marketing. It’s a shame this kind of ad wasn’t pushed hard here  in North America. You have to dig to find it. Enjoy. I did.

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