Now Hear This!


(By Bob McCurdy) There was an Automotive News article earlier this week titled “Marketers Call for Less Car, More Heart” that detailed how several auto manufacturers sought to appeal to consumer emotions:

“Power of Dreams” mantra, sought to inspire consumers during a star-laden Super Bowl spot this year for the CR-V which didn’t appear until the ad’s final seconds. Regarding this ad, Jeff Conrad, Senior Vice President of the automotive division for American Honda Motor Co., said, ‘It was a chance to make an emotional connection with the Honda brand.’ We didn’t want it to feel like a typical car ad.”

Dean Evans, Chief Marketing Officer for Hyundai Motor America noted that Hyundai’s ad didn’t feature a single vehicle. It was part of the brand’s mission to warm people’s hearts that began several years ago. Evans said reaching people’s hearts and brains is a potent combination in automotive marketing. He continued, “We were really good with the brain stuff: We have a very good warranty, our transaction price is just equal to the competition. We were all dialed in there, but we weren’t coming over and warming people’s hearts.”

Allyson Witherspoon, Nissan Motor Co.’s General Manager of Global Brand engagement, stated, “Brands don’t always have to focus on products.”

Interesting comments from senior auto executives focused on tier one automotive communication.

A few thoughts came to mind after reading this article:

– Was it worth $5 million (excluding production) for a commercial in the Super Bowl that didn’t show the car?

– If the car didn’t appear until the final seconds, or wasn’t even featured, was TV the ideal media choice?

– If tier one automotive ad-spend “doesn’t always have to focus on products,” exactly how important is the visual?

– If “emotion” and “warming people’s hearts,” which is a far cry from quant-based ROI, convinces someone to buy a specific nameplate, wouldn’t it also be effective in getting someone to choose one dealership over another?

– The “we didn’t want it to feel like a typical car ad” mindset is on point. So why do all tier two and tier three car commercials sound and look the same?

– If this “emotional” tactic works for tier one, which encourages a consumer to “buy a Hyundai,” wouldn’t it also work for tier two, which encourages the consumer to buy a “Hyundai now” or tier three, which encourages them to buy a “Hyundai here”?

These three auto execs understand that people buy emotionally and justify with logic, so why not utilize the most “affective” sound in the world – the human voice – more creatively to move metal?

Can a voice, minus visual, “affect”? Absolutely. The University of Wisconsin conducted a study that put children in stressful (and safe) situations and found that the sound of a mother’s voice alone was as physiologically soothing as her physical hug.

Eyes tell us facts, but what we hear tells us how we feel about those facts. Pictures communicate information but sound communicates emotion, we might see a picture of someone laughing and smile but if we hear someone laughing, we too might begin to laugh.

Several years back, media agency Mindshare, along with research company Neurensic, provided insight as to how listeners absorb radio commercial messaging using fMRI technology. The study concluded that “emotional transfer” exists between TV and radio, and that the emotional pattern that a TV commercial elicits in the consumer’s brain is reactivated upon hearing only the audio of the commercial. A sound rationale for TV and radio campaigns.

Several years prior to the Mindshare study, Gallup & Robinson measured the emotional activation utilizing Facial Electromyography (EMG) for 16 radio campaigns, concluding that, on average, radio ads have an emotional impact on consumers that is equal to that of TV.

More recently, Jacobs Techsurvey #13 nicely corroborated the emotional attachment between listeners and their favorite stations.

The tone of the human voice gives words emotional impact that no picture can ever match. If “emotion” and “warming hearts” plays a key role in choice of automobile, and if the automobile need not be present in the TV commercial, then it would seem that radio could play a larger role in all three tiers of automotive marketing.

Just saying…

Bob McCurdy is The Vice President of Sales for The Beasley Media Group and can be reached at [email protected]


  1. While all of Bob’s comments can be demonstrated – in real life – there are at least three hurdles that need to be overcome.
    1. The insistence of the local dealerships to commit to only Direct Response, Low Reach, Low Frequency campaigns ads – the yell & sell variety that claim the dealership walks on water and here’s the price, so “come on down and make your best deal”.
    2. The emotionally-based ads, while providing far greater impact, especially when applied during a reasonable reach & frequency time frame are difficult to produce.
    3. Radio’s sales and management are more than willing – they reinforce the dealership mentality. Do they really want to have the discussion? And, on the rare occasion when they do, are they prepared to deliver?


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