Apparently Jaguar committed to developing a serious electric car back in 2014, which was a brave move at that point. Obviously, this wouldn’t have happened, nor would the upcoming Audi, Porsche, and Mercedes BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles), if Tesla hadn’t proved that these things can be built and people want to buy them. Now, suppose you had the job of marketing this new thing to the world; how would you start?
Launching · The I-PACE (Reminder: Dumb name, hereinafter referred to as “the Jag”) launched in early March 2018 at the Geneva Motor Show. They set up a sort of little go-kart track in a parking lot outside the show, with cones you had to drive around, whose tips illuminated in an unpredictable pattern. Sort of a “follow the flashing lights” course. Of course, in a parking lot the car couldn’t go very fast, or very far, and eveyone only got a couple of minutes. But more or less every single journo or car geek who got that two-minute experience then went and wrote a couple of hundred words about it, and/or posted video.
As they did so, the big themes in the marketing campaign started to emerge. Put yourself, for a moment, in the position of a JLR marketing leader, planning the pitch to the world. Protip: The world’s attention span is really, really short. So every good marketeer knows that no matter how many great things there are about your product, there has to be one flagship message that grabs attention, is easy to understand, that people like, and will motivate them to sample the story you’re trying to tell.
So, if you were that JLR exec, what would your key message be? “Venerable British builder leaps into the future with high-tech product!” Not bad; Hardly anyone’s ever driven a Jaguar, but most people have the notion that it’s sort of classy. How about “Electric car that looks great and goes fast!” This has the advantage of being true, but really not newsworthy. Everyone knows someone who drives a Leaf or a Bolt, and if you’re in high tech, a Tesla.
The hook · Well, let’s skip over a bunch of other plausible concepts and zero in on where Jaguar actually went, and where it went was with only two words: “Tesla Killer”. Yes! Newsworthy, involves colorful personalities, and everyone loves to watch a fight.
Hold on, hold on! As far as I know, nobody from Jaguar has ever uttered those words. They didn’t have to, because in parallel with the Geneva Motor Show launch, they released this video: The Jag vs the X type in a drag race! Now, you might suspect that the video wasn’t totally one thousand percent fair, and you might be right; here’s a riposte video in which Tesla does better.
Boy, did it ever work. Later on in the year, when the journos got to drive the Jag at length and write about it, basically every review used the phrase “Tesla Killer”. It’s a really stupid phrase so let’s just say “T-K”.
To be clear: As almost every one of those journos concluded, the notion that the Jag is a T-K is idiotic. To start with, it doesn’t really compete directly. It’s an SUV form factor, while the S class is a saloon. It’s smaller and cheaper than the X class. The aesthetics, particularly of the interior, couldn’t possibly be more different. And most apparent, the biggest problem with high-end electric cars is making enough of them: Demand exceeds supply.
But it didn’t matter. T-K was a phrase any journalist could hang a review on, and very few were strong enough to resist the temptation, and it’s not as though that was dumb: It’s a phrase that’s going to get a lot of people to raise their eyebrows and click on that link.
Booze & Schmooze · The next phase of the marketing campaign involved a place called Faro, at the southern tip of Portugal. What Jaguar did was take a huge number of journalists and social-media hacks from around the world, twenty at a time, and fly them into Faro for two days each of schmoozing, boozing, and cruising. They got to take the cars through the narrow Portuguese country and town roads, then along the course of a running stream, then up a ridiculously steep dirt road (see, it’s a Sports Utility Vehicle, right?) (see pix above), and then a few laps of a well-regarded, technically-challenging race track.
An important subtext, which I’m pretty sure nobody from Jag ever uttered, but plenty of the scribes took up anyhow, was: “Teslas can’t do this.” Can they? I don’t know myself, but a lot of pretty seasoned auto writers were willing to say just that in their write-ups.
Amazingly, after visiting the T-K meme (usually dismissively, give ’em credit), they all enthused about JLR letting them loose to drive up mountains and down stream-beds and around a race-track. Some, but not all, of the journalists disclosed the free travel and entertainment; one explained cheerily that “It’s cheaper to ship the journalists to the cars than the cars to the journalists.”
Well yeah, but it’s not cheap. My mind boggles at the scale of the stage-managing: Keeping all those cars cleaned, charged, and ready to go at all times. Especially given that I suspect both the Faro infrastructure and the pre-production Jags were a bit sketchy. Anyhow, the deal was that all the write-ups were embargoed until June 4th. Which meant that any publication anywhere in the world that writes about cars had a Jag story in the first half of June. Did you notice the new Jag’s existence around then? Not a coincidence.
I read a lot of these stories, and pretty well discounted all of those that failed to disclose the schmoozing or to find any faults with the car. After which, I freely admit, I was impressed not only with the awesome marketing execution, but with the car.
The long haul · I suppose JLR’s marketing group isn’t exactly standing down now, but their first job is done: They got the car into the conversation. At this point it’s over to the dealer network, regular old advertising, the big serious reviews by serious auto geeks, and whether people are willing to pay serious money (but less than a Tesla) for what seems to be a pretty decent electric SUV.
A trailing note: For a while there, I was watching the conversation curl round the Net, and once the T-K meme became established, it got to a weird place: the Tesla-long vs Tesla-short battleground. Oh my goodness gracious me, is that ever some heavy trolling, both sides. Internet shitheads are everywhere.
Next · I think the nature of the Jag, its strengths and weaknesses, is pretty clear today, based on what’s been published. Clear enough that I converted my refundable deposit into the real thing and am now waiting for one. Next time, I’ll try to distill the highlights and lowlights into a few hundred words.