Walking around a large suburban shopping mall recently – not a regular occurrence, so it was surely Christmas time – I was flabbergasted to come across a Jeep shop, selling everything but Jeeps. I was later relieved that my family had not similarly stumbled across this outlet for all things Jeep-branded because they may have decided such goodies would be the perfect present for the man who has everything he needs. And I really don’t need my jeans to be “rugged” or my hat to be “tough”.
What this observation brought into sharp focus was just how successful Jeep has become as a branding exercise. From the moment I saw the “Yes, Michael, I bought a Jeep” TV commercial and spent the rest of the day whistling Don’t Hold Back, I knew the company’s advertising agency was not only populated by geniuses, they all knelt at the altar of marketing pioneer Elmer Wheeler.
It was the automotively named Wheeler who in the 1930s coined the phrase “Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle”, and that remains a guiding principle of advertising to this day. With Jeep, it’s not about selling a Jeep, but the idea of a Jeep. People have been sold on the concept of owning a vehicle that is tough, rugged and can take them anywhere, whenever they like. They may never get around to it, but the concept of being able to escape the rat race at any time is exactly what Jeep is selling.
I’ve yet to discover if our Cherokee long-termer can hack it off-road, but I’m hoping it’s more at home in the forest than in the urban jungle because I’m still battling its (mostly electronic) demons. Notably, a schizophrenic throttle that makes smooth driving almost impossible and a suspension that has passengers reaching for a packet of Quells. I don’t mind a ride on the comfortable side, but I’m questioning if Jeep’s engineers bothered attending the briefing on rebound. A little bit of Australian (or European) tuning would certainly be welcome.
Still, not many people will look past the badge, the shiny trinkets, the comfort and the electronic whiz-bangery. And if you need any convincing of the benefits of that brilliant advertising (plus new product and improving the value equation), Jeep sales in Australia have increased 500 percent in only four years. Remarkable.
So, while this new Cherokee didn’t last long in COTY, the advertising agency that will undoubtedly make it a success (the determinedly lower-case cummins&partners) has in the last year walked off with a number of marketing awards for selling the sizzle rather than the steak. Says it all, really.
STOP SMILING, YOU CLOWN
While our new Cherokee is smooth and comfortable, it makes hard work of almost everything it does, notably including everything electronically controlled. One of the more simple procedures you’d imagine Jeep could get right is the fuel consumption read-out. But it’s consistently optimistic, by as much as 10 percent. So the computer tries to convince you that you’re only using about 10 litres per 100km when in fact it’s closer to 11. Another victory for marketing over substance?
This article was originally published in Wheels March 2015.