Aston Martin’s decision to offer a new mini-Aston based on Toyota’s iQ baby hatchback must be making secret agent 007, as well as M, Q, Moneypenny, and the whole gang on Her Majesty’s Secret Service hopping mad.
Long associated as the Bond car (before BMW and product placement took control of the Bond series, that is), the Aston Martin perfectly accentuated the Sean Connery coolness of the lead character. The silver sports car became synonymous with uber sophistication, along with ordering a vodka martini, shaken not stirred and introducing oneself as, ‘Bond. James Bond.’
Specially equipped with ejector seats, machine guns, smoke screen exhaust pipes and god knows what else, the Aston Martin would whisk Bond to and from assignments and enable him to barely escape a seemingly impossible tight squeeze. Now, though, the only tight squeeze will be the one caused by the new, smaller and cheaper Aston, called the Cygnet (Ugh. What a horrible name. What secret service agent worth his 9mm Glock would want to ride around in a baby swan?).
Driven by the desperation of a horrible economy, Aston is making the same branding mistake committed by General Motors and other luxury brands. They’re marginalizing their high-end brand equity in order to make a quick buck (or, Pound Sterling, in Aston’s case).
Trust me. As surely as 007 always gets the girl and vanquishes the bad guy in the end, Aston’s move will backfire. True sports car enthusiasts will abandon the brand when good times return and Aston will end up with a confused marketplace image. On the plus side, though, Aston’s demise will most assuredly put a smile on the faces of Blofeld and Odd Job.
Thanks to Carl Foster for the tip on this entry.
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I would indeed argue that the Mercedes-Benz brand has been weakened by its inferior (not more affordable, inferior) products. Pick a better example to back up your argument.
When Lexus came along, Mercedes was broadsided and their ability to charge astronomical prices hurt. So what did they do? Cut away at their quality to build to a price point. While it boosted sales, and flashy styling attracted bling-bling crowd, Mercedes left behind the core values that made the brand great — roadability, solidity and longevity.
Today Mercedes is just another luxury ride. They’re heavier than they should be, and much less reliable due to all kinds of electronics that fail. Consumer Reports will not recommend a SINGLE Mercedes model because their reliability has plummeted badly in the last 15 years.
BMW has gotten worse too, but not to the same extent.
Well, I guess it’s settled. AM and Starbucks should keep there prices and products priced high – even if it means no one is buying. Then, the two concerns won’t have to worry about what history can teach them about business, because they themselves will actually be “history.” AM believes its cheese is moving and its trying to find it.
Would either of you contend that BMW or Mercedes-Benz’s brands have weakened due to their more affordable products?
What if Le Bernardin were to offer a prixe fixe menu? (I think it might, already). I wonder if that move sullied its brand or if it put diners in the restaurant, paid the rent and put money in the pockets of the wait staff, kitchen crew, etc.?
Guys, I am all about offering the best in class service or product and being able to differentiate yours from theirs, but if the customer isn’t buying or leasing it, arguing about how to manage the brand will do no good. Simply put, “brand image” doesn’t pay the bills or employees…products that sell do.
I disagree with you as well, Lunch Boy. Branding cannot be played like a game of chicken in which everybody flinches. The real problem with business today–and I’ve seen it in my career–is that for all the talk of senior management doing “long term planning” they are all still tied to “are we going to make budget this quarter.” Branding is not a short-term deal–it’s an investment. It requires planning for the long term. If Aston Martin needs some short term sales, then it should roll out a different brand, and not sully its existing ones. History does show that those who persevere tend to come out on top, in spite of your disdain for that phrase.
Let’s get ready to rumble, Lunch, because I disagree with your disagreement. I’m all for change and, yes, we do live in unprecedented times. But, panic is not a smart solution. Never has been. Never will be. PR absolutely needs to be redefined and I’d like to think that, next to your firm, we’re doing more innovating than almost anyone. But, we’ve fought the urge to cut our hourly rates or fees and will not over-service clients because we’re afraid of losing their business to a low-cost competitor. Cheapen your brand today a la Starbucks and Aston and you’ll never attract premium clients tomorrow.
Still disagree, Rep. Starbucks is acting while it still can – it is too late for Government Motors (GM).
Also, I don’t know how much longer we can use the term “history shows us.” We’re in unprecedented times, Rep! Whether we’re talking about warfare, automobile manufacturing, the world of finance, coffee beans or even public relations, “history” should only be used to put things in perspective, not to dictate how we act or conduct business.
What Genghis Kahn taught us about warfare is no longer applicable. Ford no longer makes the Model-T. Wall Street now has to deal with transparency and (gasp!) government intervention. We’re all idiots for ever paying $3 for a Grande. And PR will have to find its footing again and recapture a seat at most boardroom tables in this cost-cutting world we live in.
No, I don’t think that clients will fork over more dollars towards campaigns that are more or less the same results (that are stellar and unmatched within the industry, BTW). But that doesn’t mean that new services can’t be added to the mix. Plus, new client retainers will be back to normal (or close to it) soon enough.
Thanks for weighing in, Lunch. GM failed because of horrific product quality and a sales-driven strategy that continued to discount car prices and offer lower-priced versions of luxury brands such as Cadillac. History shows that quality brands who erode their brand equity by going downmarket suffer the consequences. Starbucks is a great example. They’re in freefall, have abandoned their high-end strategy and are introducing all sorts of low-end gimmicks to drive sales. All they’re driving is confusion. They, and Aston Martin, should stay focused on providing the best possible service to their high-end customer base. It’s easy to cut and run by introducing low cost solutions. But, it catches up with you in the end, Lunch. Just imagine if your firm started discounting all of its service offerings. Do you think clients would ever go back to paying your original premiums when the market rebounds?
I disagree. This could go down as a smart move that will allow AM to capture portions of market segments it hasn’t tried to in the past. Perhaps a few loyal customers will be so pissed off by AM’s small loss of brand equity, but that could be made up by the sales figures the Cygnet brings. Plus, there will still be those fancy AM’s for the uber-rich. I think Mercedes-Benz is happy to have introduced the C class, don’t you? Same goes for BMW with its 3 and 1 series.
As for GM, its faults were tied to sagging brands that were creating products nobody wanted to buy (Pontiac) or weren’t right for our present economy (big gas guzzlin’ SUVs).
Are you arguing that AM should make an even more expensive car at this point in time? There are only so many Fortunes 500 CEOs, athletes and hip-hop stars, you know.
Excellent point, Art. Too few marketers do really ‘get’ the essence of the brands they represent and are all too eager to please the numbers crunchers or sales types who devise these shortsighted schemes.
Totally agree with you, Steve. I think the real lesson to be learned here is that when you are developing your brand you must consider the ramifications of maintaining that brand in tough economic times, as well as being willing to support it when times get tough. “Dumbing down” your brand just to make some short term dollars is stupid, and I think highlights the fact that there are so few people out there who really understand the value of the brands they represent.