Could Kit Harington and Tom Hiddleston be the Heralds of a New Age of Car Advertising?
The way women are treated in the car buying process is a frequent topic here at The News Wheel. While women majorly contribute to 85% of car buying decisions, most of the time we are still regarded as second-class citizens when we walk into car dealerships. Outside of the deal office, advertisements for vehicles on sale have been aimed at men, the traditional rulers of the car world. Some of the more recent commercials popping up, though, have me wondering if they are automakers’ misguided attempts at luring in female buyers, signaling a shift in car ad strategy (finally).
Since the beginning of automobile advertising, many ads have exploited the adage that sex sells, featuring beautiful women in suggestive positions, situations, or clothing to encourage male shoppers. Buy this vehicle, the ads seem to say, and you too can date beautiful women like this! Brands continue this tradition today, as seen in BMW’s latest campaign featuring model Gigi Hadid in an impossibly short red dress and tall heels climbing into the anticipated BMW M2. Hadid didn’t even get to drive the car, but instead rode shotgun as the car danced across the track.
This month, Infiniti released a new commercial for their latest Infiniti Q60 that features Game of Thrones star Kit Harington. As he drives the car through some very scenic landscapes, Harington recites the famous poem “Tyger” by William Blake. When Infiniti released the ad, they offered this quote from Harington: “What inspires me personally in my life, is a beautiful piece of writing – something which is specific, delicate and beautiful.” That’s a pretty soulful statement to accompany a car commercial. Is it possible that this ad, while featuring things that would make a man pay attention, was made for female viewers?
The argument could be made that this is mostly an automaker hoping to ride on the coattails of Game of Thrones’ popularity to higher sales, but to me they seem to indicate something bigger. Harington plays a favorite character in the fantasy series, and he has also achieved heartthrob status among female fans. His turn as the love interest in last year’s Testament of Youth, a quintessential period film, gained him even more fans who have never even considered watching him as Jon Snow. The reading of the poem could also be seen as the actor trying to connect with women viewers, since poetry, especially older verses, is considered quite romantic.
Many other major brands are making partnerships with male celebrities that women like to drool over, instead of the typical man’s man. Tom Hiddleston, one of Jaguar’s most recent commercial stars in its classy “Good to be Bad” campaign, is known for playing the role of comic book villain Loki, and he (and his misunderstood Norse god character) has a large following of fangirls. They flocked to see him as a romantic lead in the incorrectly-marketed Crimson Peak, and got together to cry on Twitter when he was “caught” on the rocks in Rhode Island making out with Taylor Swift. Fellow Jaguar spokesman Nicholas Hoult is also known for roles in male-friendly films like X-Men and Mad Max: Fury Road, but also films like Warm Bodies with a larger female fanbase.
Even unofficially, automakers seem to be reaching out to male celebrities who appeal to female audiences. Outlander star Sam Heughan was given an Audi to drive around Big Sur, and has often been spotted at Audi events, yet has not appeared in a traditional advertisement. The Scottish actor embodies the rough and tough man many male viewers might aspire to be, but the show he stars in is definitely supported by female fans.
Could all of these recent ads be a sign that the industry is finally paying attention to who chooses what cars to buy? If so, it’s a valiant attempt. They need to learn, though, that women do not think the same way as men. While we can be motivated by pretty men, we usually need some sort of emotional connection to a commercial to make it stick (think of VW’s tiny Darth Vader or Subaru’s dog bucket list). Infiniti tries with adding poetry, and Jaguar tried by having Hiddleston recite Shakespeare (which is known to make women swoon), but to paraphrase Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, poetry may be the food of a stout love, but one poor sonnet is enough to kill a vague inclination.
If a car brand is truly trying to speak to female viewers, they should consider the ad Cadillac made for the 2008 Cadillac CTS, featuring Private Practice and Grey’s Anatomy star Kate Walsh. When the actress is listing her favorite things, the ad gets a bit stereotypical when it includes dark chocolate (because women have periods and it’s clearly the only thing keeping us human) and Italian shoes (women also appreciate French shoes, duh). However, Walsh’s ad ends with her impressing the “Boys Club” with her cool car, and then leaving them in the dust when accelerating from the red light. Women would respond well to ads that show other women that they respect driving the cars they are considering buying. The Cadillac ad was not perfect, but Kate Walsh is considered a no-nonsense actress that female viewers like and can relate to, as opposed to the supermodels that make us feel bad about ourselves. While women enjoy seeing attractive men, we usually don’t ask them for opinions. We go to our girlfriends to talk the decision over instead.
Car companies and their dealerships still have a long way to go to repair the damage done between their industry and women. Many auto marketing materials are still very sexist, and we often feel taken advantage of and disrespected in dealerships, even as automotive professionals. We only ask to be acknowledged as serious customers and be treated with the same amount of dignity offered to our male counterparts. A couple of commercials and advertisements won’t be enough to make us feel comfortable in the car buying process, but they could be a crucial first step in automakers demonstrating that they care about what we want in the vehicles we drive.
- Rebecca BernardEditor
A Dayton native, Rebecca got her start blogging at the curiously named Harlac's Tongue while studying abroad in the UK. She loves tooling around town with her Ford Focus named Jerome to the song they're playing on the radio. On any given weekend, you can find her with her camera at area festivals, concerts, and car shows, shopping at flea markets, or taking an adventure on the open road. See more articles by Rebecca.