Clarkson is right - Car ads suck nowadays

I recently read an article by Jeremy Clarkson who was moaning about how car ads nowadays were too ‘safe’ and boring and driven by pencil-pushing number crunchers who know not what the word ‘emotion’ means. Okay Jeremy didn’t say that exactly but it was along those lines. I agree Jeremy!

I work in the Marketing game so I know the value and power of a good ad. When I see it, I feel it. What car ad today do you feel? Really? What happened to the days of on-the-edge-of-your-seat car ads, where cars blitzed through the countryside, flew through the air, drifted around a hairpin bend on a mountain pass and made the curves of your mouth rise and your heart beat a little faster….know what I mean? What happened to the Car ads that sucked you into that world for 60 seconds and left you feeling like you just wanted to see more, feel more. What happened to those commercials that married art and engineering to the human heart?

Nowadays, the game seems to have changed. Some car ads are very clever, some are very funny, some are well shot, but NONE that I can think of leave a lasting impression. In 2011, the one that sticks most in my head is the Hyundai Accent commercial. ‘Haawsit? Check you tomorrow hey’ – It’s very funny, and very South African.

The other is the Darth Vader ‘The Force’ commercial which is amiable and amusing.

But let’s face it, I doubt these won any awards or will be remembered for years to come.

Some car manufacturers seem to get it right more of the time than others, and I assume this has to do with budgets and sales where the number crunchers do have work to do. Even so, Toyota’s latter campaigns have been clever and cute with singing and talking dogs etc but again, the clever, funny, cute boxes get ticked, but nothing else.

Mercedes tried to do the right thing with the SLS AMG by hauling Michael Schumacher from his private jet and getting him to drive the car upside down in a tunnel. Yeah right. It was so faked up and his grin at the end was terrible so that didn’t work at all. Even for Schumacher fans.

I recently asked my Facebook friends what their favourite car ad was of all time. “VW You and me” popped up with which I see the logic. There’s engineering, people and emotion.

BMW’s ‘Beat the Bends’ ad popped up too. Who would have guessed it? I don’t remember this ad personally, but it was clever and touched a nerve (obviously) so full marks for that BMW.

BMW’s M5 ad from 2006 hit the spot for me. It was hardcore, clever and about performance. That’s what an M5 is about.

Who remembers the Volvo ad about safety with the little girl in the back seat? The ad references armoured cars transporting Gold, and what then, would you choose to transport your children? It’s simple but very effective. Good ad that one.

For me, the best ad I remember is the Volkswagen Touareg ad also from 2006 I think.

Why you may ask? Well watch the ad and tell me how you feel? Brriliant! I quite enjoyed the VW Amarok commercial ‘As the Crow Flies’ that came out this year. It’s typical VWSA but it works, it’s beautiful, it’s funny, it’s South African and it showcases the car in every sense.

At the end of the day, advertising is about numbers. Car ads need to sell cars, increase brand presence and power and ultimately turn a profit. How do you do that by producing ads that are only about service warranties and 5% below prime interest offers?

For me, buying a car is more an emotional decision than it is a rational decision and I am assuming most consumers are the same. And I am not talking about fleet car purchases or commercial vehicle purchases – I am talking about passenger cars: the things that we get into every day to go to work and back, the things that trek us to and from our holiday destinations, the things we change our babies diapers in when there is no alternative, where we kiss(ed) girls on dates. Those things where we make life’s big decisions, where we sing to the beat like Usher, where we laugh and cry and scream and shout. How else will you sell me a car, if not by gripping me with riveting, hard-hitting, on the edge of my seat TV ads?

Next time you watch a really great car ad, share it with all the people you know. Until then, let’s laugh at the Nandos ads – there are no great car ads to chat about.

Twitter: avonmiddleton

The Roc in Jo'Burg

There are many reasons I love Jo’burg city - the biggest reason is that Jo’burg is filled with people who share the same passion for motoring as I do.

So picture this: I am standing at a robot – (that’s a traffic light by the way) and next to me is a bakkie with a few owes in the back. I notice some movement through the corner of my eye, standard JHB caution being exercised, and I quickly realise that 2 of the guys in the back of the bakkie have raised their cellphone cameras and taken some snaps of me. That’s odd, I think. Then it dawns on me – it’s not you dumbass; they’re loving the VW Scirocco TSI you’re driving.

It’s something I have to get used to as I spend the day with the Roc. Yep, VW have made a head-turner.

The other thing I love about Jozi is the great labyrinth of highways that connect this great city. The Roc seems to love them too. Having driven the GTi a few months ago, I have to make some comparisons. First off, The Roc seems to have a harder ride especially when driving on the corrugated M1. Secondly, and this is a big plus, the Scirocco seems to have a lot more grunt than the GTi. On paper, the two should be exactly the same, but I am telling you, The Roc is faster. I have no proof of this, but it feels much faster. The car also sounds more aggressive with a deeper burble than the GTi. This too, is a pleasant surprise.

I headed off the highways in the direction of the Cradle of Humankind, an area of Joburg that is such a pleasure to drive during the week when everyone's at work and not trekking to the outskirts to stay in their holiday homes for the weekends. There is one particular stretch of road that is generally quiet, pig free with miles of unspoilt black stuff. It is here where I open the taps of anything I drive and the Roc didn’t get anything different.

It’s not the fastest car in JHB; but it’s very capable of keeping a smile on your face all day. The power is great but not the greatest; the handling is very composed but I’ve driven better hatches; the rear seems easier to get off course than the Golf which was a welcome surprise but I still encountered a small amount of understeer when giving hell to traffic circles. Please note, I'm knit-picking here.

So it’s not the performer of choice as mentioned about the Golf. BUT….and it’s a big but – this car has 3 things that shoot it close to the top of my list:
1) The flaired rear wheel arches that extend into the cars booty are a very welcome site when sitting in the driver’s seat looking in the side review mirror.
2) Secondly, the car sounds so much more appealing than the Golf 6 GTi. It’s hard to explain but the sound is bordering on that manic, rip-roaring sound that comes out the back of a Opel Astra OPC. It’s bloody awesome.

3) And lastly - there is absolutely nothing on the road at this price that is as beautiful in the flesh as this car. It turns heads everywhere and rightly so. It's just a great piece of art.

After falling in love with this car during a whole day in the driver's seat, I decided to ask a fellow Jo'burger what he thought of it. This was at the carwash, another popular Jo'burg hangout. His words were 'It's a nice-looking car, but it probably suits gay owes more than an owe like me you know.'. Now that gave me something to think about.

That’s Jo’burg for you.

Nothing but a G-Thing!

In 1998, I had a dream car - it was a simple and obtainable Audi S3. I wanted it; and I knew that one day soon, I would have it. 6 years later, the dream came true and that was that. No sooner had I felt the short lived fulfillment of that boyhood dream, did another one pop up. A bigger one. A more manly one.

Enter the Mercedes Benz G-Class. In those days, it was the 'Bruce Willis in Diehard' of all Mercedes products: tough as nails; rugged and ready for anything. What struck me was that there weren't too many around and I soon learnt that the very few I saw, were imported at hefty prices by hefty men. This exclusive car seemed too distant. Literally.

So with my dreams dashed, I have wandered South Africa a sad and miserable soul - up until last week when I heard the most exciting Car news I've heard in many years. The off-road department at Mercedes Benz have decided to bring the G-thing back to South Africa. The dream continues!

Word has it that the G-Wagen is here in 3 variants: a Turbo-Diesel G300 CDI; a G350 BlueTec and the big G55 AMG. The 'entry level' prices start at just under R800,000 and the big gun will hurt the pocket to the tune of R1,875,000.

With defence companies and defence forces having used these vehicles in their fleets for many years now, I think it's safe to say that as a 4X4, the G-class ticks all of the tough boxes. The G-Class is not a 'Defender' however, instead it boasts the luxury and niceties befitting a high end Mercedes with a host of extra overland options that you can tick if you are heading to Kubu Island for the weekend.

Is it expensive? I don't know - I suppose a car with a reputation and ability to go almost anywhere; carries a 3-pointed star badge; is endorsed by the protectors of nations and is sold in South Africa is bound to be a little hefty on the price tag, and I'm actually cool with that. Dreamcars shouldn't come cheap right?

But I am trying to figure out what it is about this car that has shifted my paradigm from being performance oriented to being more interested in the ruggedness and offroad prowess of a Mercedes. It almost seems like a paradox to speak about a Merc like this, but not this one.

Perhaps it's the fact that I am due to be a father in just a few months; so things like speed are less likely to get me excited. Perhaps it's the fact that though I am a big fan of Mercedes Benz, this is one of their products that I don't know too much about. Perhaps it's because I seem to appreciate the overland adventure a little more than I did when I was driving a sportscar.
I don't know, but either way, my dream car is back in a blaze of glory! When Mercedes Benz decide to offer me a drive, I will let you know if it has lived up to my dreams in the same way that my 1st dream car did. For now though; I am smiling; and I can't wait to have a little adventure with it.

- Ave -

What's all the fuss about the VW Golf VI GTI

When I was a little boy we used to play a game while travelling aptly named 'Golf' (I don't know why) but the game was simply to choose a popular car and hope that you score points as the car you chose drove past. The more your car drove past, the more points you got. So you needed to choose a car that was popular on the roads. Usually the winners were Toyota Corolla or Hilux and sometimes you could get away with a Nissan Sentra or a VW Citi Golf. But I am convinced that if I had to play that game now, I would choose the VW Golf 6 GTI. They're everywhere. And I just didn't get it. The thing about popular cars is that generally they're either really cheap or really really good so that we don’t mind paying extra for it. The Golf is certainly not cheap. In fact, emptying the pocket of R322, 000 without all the fancy options, one could argue it to be quite expensive. So it had to be good.

Recently I spent a good bit of time with the GTI and decided to find out:

In the world of Hot Hatches, you win some and you lose some. It’s a world of street fights and robot to robot dices and they just don’t stop. Get to set of lights, survey the competition, find the opposition and BAM! Just like that you launch into a series of short throws between the gears and make the guy behind you eat your dust. In the GTI it must be said, you’ll be eating a bit of dust yourself. It’s not the quickest cowboy in the dirty South and the numbers don’t lie: o-100km/h in about 7.3 seconds? Bout against any Opel Astra OPC; Ford Focus STi or Renault Megane RS and you’re sure to be a little behind on the straights. So in this contest the GTI loses.
So: it’s not the fastest hot hatch around, not even close so I ask again, whats all the fuss about then?

Well when you dig deeper and start to see the car for what it was intended for, the picture seems to change. The GTI seems to have come in without the brash, loud, arrogant personalities that so many Hot Hatches have used to differentiate themselves. The car is subtly beautiful with clean lines and eye-catching grille detailing. The rear sports a low slung bumper with a single tailpipe jutting out from each side. The car I drove also had yellow fog lamps and red rear indicator lenses and that set it apart from the crowd I spoke of earlier. These finer details are thanks to the car belonging to SA National Rally Champion Gugu Zulu also known as 'the fastest brother in Africa!'. But back inside the car. The cabin is just perfect as a driver’s car. All the switchgear is in easy reach and the seats are brilliant. The car is built with a quality that is hard to match. It is mind-blowing how well everything has been put together and you feel it, see it and appreciate it the minute to get inside. What’s even more fascinating is that the sort of build quality is unheard of in any of the other competitors. On the comfort front, one of my passengers remarked that the front seat was too bucketed and uncomfortable when cruising. Point taken.

Under harder driving, the bigger, brash hatches have loads of torque steer which is a little challenging for those of us who fancy some entertaining driving. They are a bit of handful especially in the rain and though some of them come with fancy tech to beat torque steer, the truth is, it still creeps in to spoil the party. In the Golf however, I would say it is minimal. You would guess that it’s because there is not as much power but no, I have driven less powerful cars that proved quite unstable yet in this car, it stays composed. The steering feedback is fairly clinical I admit, and the understeer is expected but again, the car is much much more controlled and composed when turning into a corner with the heat on.

As an overall package then, I think I have changed my mind. The Golf VI GTI is not the fastest car in the world of hot hatches but that doesn’t mean it’s not fast. That’s like saying Arsenal is not a good football team because Chelsea and Manchester United beat it. It is a fast, driveable, comfortable, well specced, well built piece of VW genius. It handles better than you would believe and it’s a subtly styled, easy to live with, 5-door machine. It is very very cool. I get it now.

Popular cars are either very cheap, or VERY GOOD and the VW GTI is definitely the latter.

(Psst: If you are looking for something just as good if not better, but more exclusive, I would strongly recommend the VW R32. You won't win at the Pumps though but it's a good car and a lot more exclusive. And then of course, the Audi S3 is the next step up. It's pricier sure, and it's a different make altogether but trust me on this. It's not too bad either)