Baby, you can drive my car.
Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 1:53PM
jeanne chinard

By Jeanne Chinard

It was a 1969 Ferrari 365 GTC. I climbed in and my body was almost parallel to the road, as if I had been inserted lying down into a large leather glove - a very soft, sensual glove. Then the engine revved and it shot through the air, more like a missile than an automobile. What an amazing feeling! It was the most incredible car ride I have ever had.

So recently, while mindlessly flipping through the hundreds of HD channels on my cable system, I felt compelled to stop and watch a documentary about the Ferrari Factory on National Geographic. It followed the creation of a Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano from inception to test drive, and it was unexpectedly riveting.

The best engineers, mechanics, leather artisans, and metal workers in the world compete for a chance to work at Ferrari. Once they are chosen, they work in ecologically balanced buildings with indoor trees and the optimum temperature for both man (or woman) and car. I would imagine that they also enjoy a drool-inducing cafeteria. (It is Italy, after all.) But it was clear that more important than the perks was the opportunity to take pride in something remarkable that they had helped create. Each worker took ownership of their part, their contribution. Although robots now do some of the assembly, most of the car is still handmade. The attention to small details is unrivaled - it is manufacturing elevated to artistry.

As much as I have always appreciated my first encounter with a Ferrari, I have never understood how any one could pay so much for a car – any car, no matter how special it was. But now I do. Simply put, this documentary did what no amount of car advertising has done before; it made me want to buy a Ferrari. And I am a woman. And I am sure that I am not alone.

So why then, do car companies and their marketers choose to overlook women in this country who have large bank accounts and who would be excited about the idea of buying and driving a car like a Ferrari? Why is the affluent American woman always portrayed as the passenger and never the driver in commercials for top of the line luxury sedans and performance sport cars? Do they still believe that boys play with cars, and girls get driven in them? Have they never heard of Liz Halliday or Milka Duno? (And why are the men so much older than the women in these commercials? I don’t want to broach this subject here -this phenomenon deserves an entire column.)

According to Zach Bowman at Autoblog, last year in China, “20% of the Ferraris sold were bought by women – which is four times the rate of Western women.” Apparently, Chinese businesswomen who are self-made millionaires see nothing strange in buying both a red- carpet gown and a comparably priced red-hot Ferrari.

In this country, automakers know that women influence almost 80% of car purchases. In fact, they make an intense effort to woo a certain type of woman: the 4x4-woman or the minivan- woman or the post-college-student woman. But many of these marketing efforts are condescending and sexist.

I‘ve concluded that when it comes to marketing cars to women, the auto industry is still living in the 1950’s. It is common knowledge that auto dealers in particular have always been notoriously insulting to women car buyers. It has gotten a little better in the last decade, yet recent studies show that 74% of women still say they feel misunderstood by automotive marketers.

Some automakers have put more women in top management positions, but if you take a look at the GM website you will see that most of their top managers are still male. (Not too different from the days I worked on the GM account and had to leave the top management floor to find a ladies room.) Men making decisions about what women think and want. How novel.

The affluent, GenmodernTM woman (whose children are now grown) spends billions on clothes, beauty, and travel a year, and she is very influenced by design, craftsmanship, and pedigree. A custom Hermès crocodile Birkin bag can cost $120,000. A few pairs of Christian Louboutin heels, a few Armani Privé suits, and a Christian Dior Haute Couture gown can add up to well over $100,000. It is estimated that in the next ten years, older women will control almost two-thirds of the nation’s wealth. With the right approach, these savvy women are ideal prospects for cars like the new Mercedes SLK55 AMG or 2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid. But alas, the latest voiceover for Mercedes is that of Dan Draper, the womanizing chauvinist character Madmen! How appealing!

When I started my career in advertising, no one used women voiceovers, even for products that were only bought by women! I will never forget the client (male) who told me in a very condescending tone “You can’t use a female voice over - women only listen to men.” I suppressed a scream and lobbied behind the scenes for a female voice over. It was an absurd fight, but a small victory for me and (I hope) for women – and we ended up using a woman. The product sold very well. Time and results have proven me right; even most GPS devices use a woman’s voice.

Maybe some men can’t handle the idea of so many independent and well-heeled boomer women behind the wheel of an Audi R8 coupe or a BMW Z4 or a Porche 911. Then these men shouldn’t be in the business of selling cars to women.

Car marketers keep touting research that says that women only want safe, mid-range cars. Maybe that’s because car companies have never tried to sell us anything else. We don’t all have to buy Ferraris, but we might be lured by one of the sportier, high-end luxury cars, if someone would only bother to address us directly.

So maybe, these guys need to put the mid-priced cars in the garage for a while, and then let a woman take them for a spin in a Ferrari 599.

Any volunteers?

P.S. Although it takes up to three months to build just one 599 and the waiting list is two years long, at least you get to pick your own custom color. Personally, I can’t imagine owning a Ferrari that wasn’t red. Of course, it would have to be the right red. To match my Chanel lipstick. Rouge Allure in “Excessive,” n’est-ce pas? It will go so well with my hand-beaded red carpet gown.

P.P.S. omg. I just saw the new 2011 Tesla Roadster. It’s not only sexy- it’s electric. And it’s electric.

Article originally appeared on connecting, marketing, championing boomer women (
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