Smart's Unbig Idea a Small Step for Brand's US Awareness

Posted by Dale Buss on September 23, 2011 10:59 AM

"Unbig. Uncar." That's it? The slogan at the end of the the first-ever national TV spot in the US for the Smart auto brand is a little underwhelming — pardon the pun. The whole point of the ad seems to be that Smart is, well, different — that there's virtue in simply being small while everyone else emphasizes how great it is to be big.

Even so, this is no VW "Think Small." The proposition comes off rather unconvincingly, sort of like those Nissan Leaf commercials that lionize electric vehicles for the simple and unadorned reason that it would be awful if everything in the world ran on gasoline — although at least Leaf hired a winsome polar bear.

Yet the effectiveness of the campaign per se isn't of utmost concern to the brand, which is owned by Daimler AG. Awareness is the whole point of this commercial and another that is to follow it next month. Finally, Smart USA branders hope, Americans will be able to put into a larger and more familiar context those funny-looking, stylish little runabouts they see here and there on our streets and roads.

"You very rarely get a second chance to make a first impression, but this is where we have a chance to do that," Tracey Matura, Smart USA's general manager, told brandchannel. "We can put the full suite of our marketing efforts behind it, and that's the good thing about having an organization like Mercedes-Benz USA behind us. They're known for marketing."

The brand, to be blunt, was moribund. U.S. sales of the Smart ForTwo mini-car soared to nearly 25,000 units in 2008, when enthusiastic Americans anted up sticker prices starting at about $12,500 for a "city" car that could traverse 41mpg on the freeway. But then gasoline prices fell and recession struck, and Smart's quirkiness and dubious practicality plunged from favor. Sales dwindled to fewer than 6,000 last year and to a slower pace for the first several months of this year.

But the new team running Smart USA for Daimler believes that Americans have been shunning the ForTwo not for what they know about it but for what they don't know about it. So launching a major marketing campaign is the first order of business for the executives who have been in charge of the operation since the German automaker took over U.S. oversight for Smart from Penske Automotive Group earlier this year. The US website has also been redesigned, with the tagline "unboring. uncar."

Matura said that Smart wasn't able to build on its 2008 success in the U.S. in part because Penske couldn't simultaneously build long-term brand awareness for Smart. Penske's strategy emphasized social media and event marketing, not TV.

The next step? "We need," Matura said, "to bring it to the next level."

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