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.

Going downhill
· · ·

Not a Gene­va park­ing lot. Ex­pla­na­tion be­low.

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.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Norman Walsh (Jul 07 2018, at 13:00)

I don’t own a Tesla, but I have had the chance to drive one around a bit. It bottoms out on a couple of unremarkable driveways here in Austin. I wouldn’t take it on a dirt road if I could avoid it, let alone “off-road”.


From: Grahame (Jul 07 2018, at 14:06)

If you're going to sell an SUV, it has to tow...


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July 06, 2018
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