Magazine article Marketing

Driving the Message Home

Magazine article Marketing

Driving the Message Home

Article excerpt

Driving the message home

The Malaysian Proton has bucked the trend and doubled UK sales last year. Margaret O'Brien finds Japanese technology and bold marketing at work Last year, when the overall market was declining by 13%, Proton forged ahead with a sales increase of 68%. OK, it's extra 11,500 cars on the road is chicken feed compared to giants like Ford and Vauxhall--but to buck the market trend it must be doing something right.

Marketing a "what from where" product is a daunting prospect at the best of times. Introducing Proton, the national car of Malaysia, into a saturated UK motor market 20 months ago, seemed kamikaze. So its success begs the question: how do they do it?

Peter King, managing director of Proton UK, says: "It's the straightforward pragmatic approach which has earned us our success. We're not into aesthetic advertising because you don't sell cars that way. The Proton image is secondary to getting the cars on the road, we judge the effectiveness of our campaign by the number of buyers it attracts to our showrooms."

The no-nonsense straplines, "There is no such thing as a cheap Japanese car" and "Japanese technology Malaysian style", clearly ear-mark the niche which Proton is bidding for, namely the gap left by Japanese manufacturers when they decided to move their products upmarket.

While King is reluctant to divulge Proton's adspend, he promises his dealers that Proton will spend 300 [pounds] per unit on above-the-line activity.

Proton UK's 2.5m [pounds] spend on its latest TV advertising campaign is evidence of its intent.

David Moss, managing director of Warrington-based ad agency Quadrant, which handles Proton's advertising, says "as in our press campaign, our creative strategy is hard-hitting, product led, communicating the complete Proton message".

King insists on certain messages being highlighted in Proton's ads, namely; quality, price, value for money, the special "star drive" package, Japanese technology, the network of 200 dealerships and the finance deals available.

Although the "new generation" cars featured in the TV and accompanying press campaign have many added features (King reputedly took a list of complaints to Malaysia and came back with a car more suited to the UK market) the ads don't compare the new with the old models; the improvements aren't demonstrated. "Proton buyers are, by and large, new to the brand and don't need to know what went before," says King.

Ian Robertson of the Economist Intelligence Unit lists three reasons for Proton's quick growth in market share: "The fact that they already had a dealership network in place, aggressive marketing and the ability to capitalise on its Japanese links."

Mitsubishi technology and the Lada network of dealerships seem to have created consumer acceptance of the car and the speed of its growth. Almost 90% of Proton's dealers also sell Lada. Although market research carried out in advance of the launch indicated that one out of five people interested in owning a Proton would actually refuse to enter a Lada showroom, King went ahead with the deal, appreciating the importance of having a ready-made national dealership. "Four out of five people willing to visit a Lada showroom was good enough for me. Besides, Lada dealers are used to marketing their way through adverse image problems," he explains.

Protons are very competitively priced with the bottom of the range 1. …

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