Consumers start to view cars as quality-of-life enhancers rather than acquisitions

KEY ANALYSIS

The recession forced consumers to think about car buying from a bare-bones cost-and-function perspective. But for the first time in years, Americans may have reasons to fall in love with their cars again. Storytelling apps make the journey more engaged and fun, car campaigns are switching up gears with a heavy emphasis on outdoor time, and consumers are leveraging their cars to help them collect more lifestyle-oriented Merit Badges. Ownership today is becoming less about the kind of car you have, and more about what you choose to do with it.

WHAT’S HAPPENING

Over the last few years, cultural and economic changes (including rising gas prices, recession and a heightened sense of eco-consciousness) shifted the motivation to buy (or even drive) a car. Basics like cost and “my old car died” began to trump most other car-purchase factors and, in short, owning a car simply became less fun.

But the rise in technology, the car’s role as the third space, and economic recovery are now turning the personal vehicle into a lifestyle enabler, a seamless extension of home and work life that has permitted drivers to do everything from managing their allergies to finding local movie times, all within the confines of their car. In fact, more than half of Millennials and Boomers say they are looking for a car that supports versatility and their personal lifestyle (CEB Iconoculture Values and Lifestyle Survey, December 2012). As these consumers find more ways to “live” inside their vehicles, cars are once again taking on a more aspirational, desirable value.

More apps help make the ride itself more enjoyable. Food Network on the Road helps foodies pinpoint all the spots featured on shows. Volvo Joyride’s social media campaign encouraged users to think about their ideal road trip and then Pin it. Drivers can document (Voice Record Pro), capture (Vine) and share (Instagram) their journey in real time.

Some car campaigns have shifted the conversation from performance and MPGs to unplugging, exploration, the human spirit and inspiration. Jeep’s “GPS to Get Lost” app fosters the pure love of discovery. Acura’s “ Made for Mankind” campaign features people climbing redwood trees, walking the desert, and scuba diving — the actual car doesn’t show up till close to the end of the ad. And in Hyundai’s “Epic Play Date” spot, mom blogger Heather Armstrong spends two minutes inspiring more parents to spend time with their kids outdoors.

These types of messages appeal to different kinds of car buyers for different reasons. For Millennials, who are often categorized under “not interested” when it comes to car buying, interest isn’t about ownership as much as it is a deeper understanding of what a car can help them do. If they perceive the car as an essential tool for interesting lifestyle discoveries, their stance on ownership may shift gears. Boomers, on the other hand, are driving new car sales but are all too familiar with what a car can do for them. The question for Boomers is what more a car can do to live a better, more enriching life in the later years.

At the end of the road, it’s all about redefining personal success through the collection of unique Merit Badges. It’s not about the car you have anymore, it’s about what you do with it.

Source: Iconoculture Consumer Insights, October 2013

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