Aspiration over reality

22Sep08

Most car commercials contain footage of the car driving around in nice scenery. Recently, I noticed that the scenery seems to vary based on the geographic area where you’re watching the ad. This should come as no surprise — after all, winter driving scenes don’t make much sense in Florida. But I think there’s more to it than that. Specifically, I believe that some car companies put an aspirational spin on the geography of their ads.

Here’s an example: I live in downtown Chicago, which is one of the largest central business districts in the US. However, only a small percentage of Chicago’s total population actually lives in downtown, with the rest spread out across a seemingly endless number of suburbs. Despite this fact, many of the car commercials depict scenes from downtown, without even a glance of suburban scenes.

I believe this approach reflects a focus on aspiration. Sure, people might live in the suburbs, but they associate driving past downtown landmarks with leisure or vacation time. Given the choice of cruising around downtown with their friends or being stuck on the highway in a morning commute, it’s no secret which one they’d choose.

Long story short, the commercials depict customers using the product in an ideal place and for their ideal activities, even though this may only account for 5% of how it’s really used. And by helping people picture themselves in those optimal conditions, the commercials increase the chance that people will buy. Is this deceptive? Not really. But I would probably recommend avoiding those city scenes once the viewers are more than a few hours from downtown.



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