Smart USA Refuels Brand

Can a campaign against overconsumption sell a car? Smart USA and its agency StrawberryFrog are betting on it with a branding initiative that playfully urges consumers to take a stand “against dumb.”

Positioning the microcar as the smart choice in a culture consumed by consumption, the campaign argues that dumb is buying things you don’t need. “Why do smart people do dumb things?” asks a female voiceover in an online video, dubbed “Manifesto,” posted on Facebook. The video is an animation of a sad, crying Earth, which talks about all the unnecessary, excessive and often ridiculous product purchases people make from airline shopping catalogs. “Lets put an end to mindless consumption. Let’s take the junk out of our collective trunk,” the voiceover concludes.

As the holiday shopping season officially begins, Smart urges consumers to make more considered purchasing decisions. “We’re not telling people don’t buy things,” said Kim McGill, vp of marketing and advertising at Smart, a division of Penske Automotive Group, headquartered in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “[We’re saying] buy things that really make you happy.”

The Smart car was first introduced in the U.S. in 2008, when fuel prices were spiking, the economy was tanking and there was a lot of discussion about being environmentally conscious. “We were the example for the way transportation needed to go and the way people should think about cars in the future,” explained McGill.

Two years later, the backlash against big cars and trucks has waned and so has interest in the microcar. Smart hopes the new effort will renew interest in the brand and stem a sales slide, said McGill. U.S. sales were down 18 percent last year, with 14,400 vehicles sold, according to Smart car manufacturer Daimler AG.

As part of the campaign, Smart will launch a “Great Dumb Trade-in” contest, asking consumers to reveal and share their dumbest purchases for a chance to win a car. “The Smart car is about living a flexible, agile life,” said StrawberryFrog founder Scott Goodson. “Less is more.”