Remember the Smart car—that quirky European two-seater created by the auto world's most improbable partners, Swatch and Daimler-Benz? If you do, you're ahead of many other Americans, half of whom said in a recent J.D. Power survey that they have no awareness of the brand.
Back in 2008, however, there was great anticipation of the car's entry into the U.S. after its successful launch 10 years earlier in nine European countries. Cheap and fuel-efficient, a little city car with a big Daimler pedigree, the vehicle sold more than 24,000 units in the U.S. in 2008 with little ad support. With the beginning of the financial meltdown, sales plummeted, and this summer Daimler took control of the car's marketing and distribution, which had been handled by Penske Automotive Group. The German automaker hired Smart's first national partners for marketing, events, and PR, and is now launching the car's initial TV advertising.
The launch spot, via Merkley + Partners and Razorfish, is a pure awareness-building effort, underscoring the micro car's unique size in a country's whose national religion has always been "bigger is better." The agency uses lemming-like imagery showing the pervasiveness of Americans' love of that notion. The commercial ends with a lone young dissenter, who looks out his office window at a Smart vehicle and whose eyes light up as he discovers "small." The commercial uses the tagline, "Unbig. Uncar," which will evolve in future incarnations to other ideas like "Uncluttered" and "Unblah."
The "un" idea is hardly new, with an advertising history that spans everything from 7-Up (the "Uncola") to Ikea ("Unboring"). It's also hard not to compare the spot's brusque, repetitive execution with the elegant simplicity of an earlier German manufacturer in introducing another compact, odd-looking car to Americans—Volkswagen's "Think small" in the 1960s. There's new competition in the micro-car category with rivals like the Fiat 500 and Scion IQ, so size alone may not be enough to win over Americans, who, by most accounts, do love their Smart cars after purchase.
Swatch is no longer involved with Smart, but maybe in future advertising efforts Daimler will mine some of the attributes that the watch company used to redefine the notion of Swiss timepieces—a scaled-down object that is highly customizable, fashionable, and affordable.
Client: Smart Car
Agency: Merkley + Partners and Razorfish
Executive Creative Director/Chairman: Andy Hirsch
Creative Director/Art Director: Sakib Afridi
Creative Director/Copywriter: Eddie Van Bloem
Executive Creative Director: Frederick Bonn
VP Strategy and Planning: Grant Owens
Director of Broadcast Production: Gary Grossman
Senior Producer: Alex Kobak
Director of Business Affairs: Pam Carden
Group Account Director: Diane Hernandez
VP Experience, User Experience: Bryan Hamilton
Production Company: Smuggler
Director: Guy Shelmerdine
Head of Production: Laura Thoel
Producer: Drew Santarsiero
Editing: Stitch Editorial
Editor: Andy McGraw
Visual Effects: The Moving Picture Company
Head of Production: Jenny Bright
Producer: Chris Harlow
VFX Supervisor: Dan Marsh
Sound Design: Sonic Union
Sound Designer: Steve Rosen