Posted by Jennifer Sokolowsky on November 18, 2010 10:00 AM
Most car manufacturers these days are probably hoping that Americans will stop saving and start consuming. Smart USA, however, is boldly moving in a different direction.
Better known internationally, the distributor of the smart fourtwo electric car manufacturer hopes to build brand awareness by taking Americans to task for overconsumption with this opening shot on its Facebook page: “Smart is against dumb, mindless consumption, are you?” Talk about a loaded question. Who would possibly want to answer no?
Other points in smart’s US manifesto include: “Dumb thinks 12MPG is A-OK” (ouch!) and “Let’s take the junk out of our collective trunk.” Smart is planning on rolling out the campaign (or “social media initiative,” as smart prefers to call it) in coming weeks with street teams, events and social media content. The brand is also looking for examples of dumb, mindless overconsumption to include in an upcoming video.
It’s a brave line that smart is drawing; the brand is banking on the fact that the people who agree with smart’s “Against Dumb” manifesto (not, it seems, a swipe at Diesel's Be Stupid campaign) will also put its 41-MPG vehicles in the “smart” category and not the “dumb” one. And it’s probably a good bet.
The campaign certainly seeks to differentiate the smart brand in a society where cars are the ultimate status symbols and bigger has been better for most of the history of the automobile. The message is reminiscent of the classic “Think small” and ”Lemon” ads for Volkswagen back in the ‘60s that introduced VW as an iconoclastic brand for a burgeoning counterculture.
The campaign should resonate with those who already own smart cars or who wish they did: customers who value the environment, prefer an urban lifestyle and who probably consider themselves more enlightened and conscientious than the SUV-driving, suburb-dwelling masses. But will those masses also be interested in smart’s message? It seems like now would be the time, with many people tightening their belts and experiencing firsthand the effects of amassing debt to support a materialistic outlook.
But then again, Americans have notoriously short memories and seem to gravitate back towards gas guzzlers every time some fuel-cost crisis has passed. Is the time ripe for a real re-examination of the church of consumption?
In the end, smart is probably not necessarily expecting converts from the initiative. Those who really aspire to a Lexus are probably never going to buy a smart car. But it will certainly spark a conversation and give those who are already “smart” people a chance to pat themselves on the back and to engage more closely with the brand. Pretty smart.