Published on: October 2, 2012by Michael Sansolo
The advertisement begins with a young man winning a new job. When his new boss says, “Welcome aboard,” and extends his hand in congratulations, the young man begins a strange routine; grasping the proffered hand, slapping it, bumping it and so on until, strangely, a car horn sounds. Hearing the sound the man stops and completes a simple handshake.
We next see the same guy as he’s about to apply too much cologne, bet far too much money at a casino and inappropriately kiss a date. Each time a car horn sounds just as he is about to do the wrong thing. Each time he stops and takes a more sensible course.
In truth, I didn’t get this ad the first time I saw it. (Kevin and I discussed it and he admitted the same. We both enjoyed the ad, but neither of us knew what it was selling.) Then on a second or third watching, it becomes clear. It’s a very clever ad for a new feature on the Nissan Altima that alerts you when you are over-inflating a tire. As the voice-over reminds you, “now you know when to stop.”
You can watch the commercial here.
A less clever, but much more direct version of the same theme has just come out from Honda through a series of ads addressing the cause of most car accident: the driver. Honda’s ads for the Accord go through the distractions that cause drivers to lose attention and show how the car helps make the driver better and safer. See it here. And Cadillac has ads touting how the XTS model’s seat shakes to warn the driver of potentially unseen problems. See it here.
Why do these ads stand out? Because in these campaigns the car companies seem to be leaping to a new plateau in customer behavior: they are dealing with the reality of who we are. No longer are they selling problems we didn’t know we had or aspirations beyond our lives. Now they are giving us what we really need. Because truth be told, most of us have no idea when to stop, whether it’s filling a tire or betting in a casino. And most (if not all) of us get a little distracted while driving and sometimes start moving into an already occupied lane or worse.
The car companies have figured out how to help save us from ourselves. It’s a lesson the supermarket industry, which obviously interacts with the shopper far more often than auto makers, needs to consider.
Let’s be real: no matter how many cooking shows they watch on television, most shoppers are less than stellar cooks. Many struggle coming up with recipes or selecting produce or meat. That’s why the industry has correctly made products easier to cook - so that dinner gets on the table with less effort than ever.
The car companies are showing that you can go further by helping save shoppers from themselves. Already there are retailers who have elements of this. There are stores where produce displays feature information explaining how to better select items, how to judge their sweetness, how to understand how they ripen and how to serve them.
But the truth is that most stores I visit aren’t doing anything like this. Even the well-intentioned efforts on nutrition information frequently leave me puzzled. Too often I see signs featuring numbers that I don’t fully understand in a type size that I’m never going to read. If my car can tell me when I’m making a mistake, why can’t a sign in the apple bin help me understand that a Cortland is better for baking while a Macoun is great for snacking?
Let's be clear. There are retailers out there that are very good at providing good information in some categories. But it is hard to find, with some exceptions, a high level of consistency throughout the industry - the kind of consistency that puts distance between the supermarket business and the companies that want and need to nibble away at its share of stomach.
Right now the opportunity is there because the need is definitely there. It takes very little help to save us from ourselves…but someone must give that help.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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