NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Automakers Reroute, Aiming For Younger Drivers

As the car companies get back on their feet, they are finding it harder and harder to attract the youth market.

Twenty-somethings aren't likely to wait for the latest car magazine, and they are less likely to see the latest TV commercial. That's making it harder for carmakers to get eyeballs on their products.

In 1959, if you wanted to sell a car, you only needed a car (in this case, a Chevy Impala), a star (in this case, Dinah Shore) and a catchy tune.

Who didn't love Dinah Shore? So after seeing the ad, you'd probably head into the showroom. Once you went with Dinah and Chevy, you stuck with them. It's different these days.

"The Dinah Shore approach by itself doesn't work anymore," says John Emmert, global marketing manager for Ford.

Emmert says it's getting tough for car companies to find customers, especially young ones. They're more fickle, he says, plus "the media is getting very fragmented."

"In order to reach the people you're trying to reach, you need to have a broad approach in terms of the media you consider," he says. "And a targeted approach based on finding where these people are."

Meaning you have to hit every medium to find the customers — and you have to do it quickly.

The Ford Focus, for an example, has the same ad campaign for the whole world. Extremely short commercials, an Internet TV show, a social media campaign, a charity reality show, Facebook and more — all for one car. Emmert says targeting a specific demographic doesn't work.

"You have to appeal to a common lifestyle and value system around the world," he says.

Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of the website Edmunds.com, says the big car companies have the kind of money they haven't had in years, and they're spending a lot going after, increasingly less brand loyal, young people. But they're not always successful.

"Right now, the car companies are very focused on getting people to like their Facebook page," he says, "which, to me, is kind of irrelevant."

Anwyl says the key is to find a natural way to surprise people with a car then get them to talk about it.

"It seems pretty simple, but in the car industry we just haven't quite figured how to get to that level of some sort of surprise that triggers these conversations," he says.

Anwyl says as the car industry gets more competitive and media more fractured, it'll be harder for any car to be heard.

Plus, no one can get Dinah Shore anymore.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.