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Branding: Porsche’s ridiculous attempt to sell you a $100,000 grocery-getter

July 8, 2011

The basic design for Porsche's 911 has endured for half a century, supported by a highly-focused position as the sports car for purists.

So, I’ve been a fan of the 911 model Porsche (left) for as long as I can remember. Introduced nearly 50 years ago it is one of the most enduring product designs ever — car or otherwise.

Now and then Porsche fans have a laugh when they see this brand deviate from its core value of performance and market SUVs, and more recently the large, 4-door Panamera sedan. Okay, so they need to offer more than the impractical little sports car, expand their customer base, grow with their maturing core buyer. I get it. But the 911 has been successfully positioned around one attribute — performance above all — for five decades, and has achieved incredible success because of it. Yes, maybe in recessions sales flag as they did last year, but over the long term this has become an incredibly successful product. Five decades! This is why it’s mind blowing to see Porsche doing a wholesome features-benefits pitch, yet that’s just what you get at porscheeveryday.com.

Guy picking up fertilizer in his Porsche.Now, the site itself looks pretty cool and is very trendy in its use of consumer-driven content, but this post is about brand positioning, so let me start by asking, “Porsche. Every day.”? This sounds like an angle for pitching pro-biotic yogurt. And for some reason it also reminds me of an empowering “Hanes Her Way” type of branding. Yes, be empowered by Porsche’s spaciousness (they audaciously claim spaciousness!) to go pick up bags of fertilizer at the hardware store. I’m not joking, the website actually shows a guy picking up bags of fertilizer in his $100,000, 2-seat sports car — oh, and a tree. You have to wonder, who approved such an awesomely ridiculous image?

So just how diluting is this type of message for this brand? It’s like Harley-Davidson selling its bikes as green transportation because they get better MPG than a car. Or Dom Perignon asking you to shell out $150 bucks for their bubbly because it makes a great mimosa. But here we have Porsche selling itself on the merits of “usability.” What’s usability? It’s integrated child seats, up to 29 mpg and good cup holder placement. Sexy. This campaign isn’t just daft, it feels desperate: the implicit message is that the 911 is at risk of being dropped from the Porsche line, so please find a reason — any reason — to buy one.

The bigger, more enduring picture the Porsche people have missed is that, because it is so unapologetically about performance and shouts “fuck you” to being anything else, the 911 brand is strong enough to impart lots of desirability and value onto the other models. Without this halo effect, who would pay a premium to buy a Porsche SUV or sedan? Fewer, far fewer. Maybe the real problem here is that Porsche and its planners at their agency are viewing the 911 not as the company’s source of brand energy, but simply as a car. A useable, versatile, comfortable, safe, efficient car.

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