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Opinion and Insight

Why German Car Advertising Has to Change Now

Christoph Nann, CCO at FCB Germany, believes there is opportunity in a crisis

Why German Car Advertising Has to Change Now

The German automotive industry is going through difficult times. The various diesel scandals that affected Volkswagen have also captured other major brands. From Christoph Nann’s point of view, though, the child has not long since fallen into the well. The Chief Creative Officer of FCB Germany believes that this crisis is, at the same time, a great opportunity – namely for the advertising of these vehicles. He reveals below how this should change.


Just have a look on the websites of big German car manufacturers and check their car claims. 

Here is a small selection, arbitrarily picked out of the Big Five, roughly translated:

“There is only one direction: ahead.”

“Excitingly innovative.”

“Boundless innovative.”

“Make progress.”

“As sovereign as ever.”

“Ready for a new generation.”

“Advantage, perfect in form.”

“Tradition. Future.”

“The conquest of the digital world.”

“Masterpiece of intelligence.”

“The challenge of tomorrow.”

Let’s be honest. In the age of Dieselgate, fine dust discussion, CO2 limitations, driving bans, recall campaigns and innovative new competitors like Tesla, these sentences do not read like convincing positionings – but rather like whistling in the dark. 

However, this tremendous crisis is a good time to consider a real change. 

For a long time, car advertising was the communicative benchmark in the country. Car campaigns were self-confident, casual, compelling and pioneering. And still there is fantastic work going on. But: Times have changed.


“In the past months, the reality has completely overtaken the self-confidence of the car brands.” 


Over the past few months the reality has completely overtaken the self-confidence of the car brands: over decades the new S-Class, the new Golf or the new 5 Series were, per se, relevant. Impressive new features were enough. Wordings like “innovation”, “efficiency”, or “intelligence”, would do. But there was nothing more. With “freedom”, one never meant more than the convertible ride over a serpentine road; “safety” was always only the sleeping child in the back seat; “progress” no more than the extra-efficient hybrid drive. This will not be enough in the future.

It will certainly not be easy to break out. Because the routine is great, the pressure is rising, and the speed is constantly increasing: the world has been turning faster – and the car brands are trying to catch up with launch campaign after launch campaign. And while you’re hurtling from launch campaign to launch campaign, there’s no time to ask about the relevance that goes beyond the product. That way they mostly end up again and again with the latest series with the new engine generation (“Sovereign as always. Efficient as ever” – and so on).

But one should never underestimate the ability of German automobile manufacturers to reinvent themselves. We can therefore be curious about how the crisis will have an effect on the advertising campaigns. Perhaps in the future they will be turning more and more into what we humans really care for. What’s relevant to us and society. Brands need attitude. A higher goal. An idea of a world in which we want to live. And not just of cars in which we want to sit.


Christoph Nann is CCO at FCB Germany

Category: Automotive , Cars

Genre: Strategy/Insight