Why I’ll Probably Never Drive a BMW

When I was a teenager, we usually used to spend a lot of time on Saturday nights at the Doll’s House roadhouse. It was a good place to hang out, with plenty of pretty girls, loud music from the car speakers, a nice vibe, and fun all round.

But in my corner there was always a group of people that we really couldn’t stand: the rich spoilt brats whose parents had paid for new, shiny, red Alfa Romeos. They were always the best dressed, had extra money to throw around, had sound systems that we all envied, and got the best-looking plastic girlfriends. But in our jealousy what really got to us was their arrogance. They walked around with an opinionated conceited attitude of superiority. They appeared to think the world was created for their own benefit, and flaunted their opulence.

My mates and I, in our 12 year-old VW Beetles and “borrowed-from-my-Mom” cars, used to make up offensive jokes about them, (What’s the difference between an Alfa driver and a cactus? In a cactus the pricks are all on the outside,) and look for opportunities to insult them up whenever we could.

What happened to these big-headed, over-confident brats when they grew up? I’m not sure what they did for a living, but I do know that their cars were upgraded to… BMWs.

Why is it that I have such a hang-up about this well-engineered high performance car? After all, it’s a beautifully designed vehicle that is a reliable, safe, precisely made machine that is a pleasure to drive, and I have heard that most customers feel good about the service they receive. One cannot and should not fault BMW on these.

My problem is not the cars, but the drivers, that get to me. Why is it always a BMW driver that takes the emergency lane in the traffic, while the rest of us patiently wait their turn? Why is it that when parking is tight in a shopping centre, it’s a BMW that has taken up two spaces? Or the BMW driver that weaves in and out of the traffic without indicating? Or jumps a red traffic light to turn right before it goes green? Or revs the engine to its loudest to whiz up the short driveway to his friend? And why is it inevitably a BMW driver that pulls me a rude sign on the road? (I also know that this is a big generalisation, and there are some really nice people who drive BMW’s.)

Now I am willing to bet that when vain BMW drivers get together their perceptions of people like me are probably a source of great mirth. I know that some BMW drivers reading this think that people that don’t drive BMWs are pathetic morons who don’t have a life.

Maybe, but this article is not about vain BMW drivers. It’s all about irrational and emotional perceptions of customers, and the trivial way in which we make important decisions – like which car we are going to buy.

BMW’s are great cars, and the marque is certainly a premium brand. But there are thousands of other brilliant products out there in the marketplace that suffer from similar problems: they are great products and services, but the customers and users are different from the rest of us. Some examples include Plettenberg Bay in December, Virgin Atlantic Airlines that we choose above all others, designer-lable clothes and other items, Sandton City shopping mall and the stores inside, cool restaurants and pubs, some sports like golf and show-jumping, Investec Bank, even the suburbs or cities where we choose to live. Capetonians look down their noses in disgust when they see people from Johannesburg, while Joburgers think the people of Cape Town are pretentious.

So what is a company like BMW to do? Conventional marketing wisdom says that a company must make some choices, including the kinds of customers that it wants to go after. (“Segment, target, and position your brand.”) I’m not sure if I always buy this argument. I don’t know what the marketing people who work at BMW discuss in their meetings, since I have no contact with them, but I’m willing to bet that they don’t sit around a table and say: “Let’s see how many really rude and inconsiderate customers we can get to buy our cars so that we really develop a bad name in the market.”

How many companies can actually exclude such a large number of customers for what seem like frivolous, emotional and irrational reasons? What happens when your products and services are labelled as being “Too white/Too black/Too gay/Too feminine/Too macho/Too green/ Too conservative/Too liberal/Too arrogant/Too Johannesburg/Too whatever? (Fill in your favourite.)

In today’s competitive business world, large companies cannot afford to sit back and allow perceptions like this to influence success. Your communication with customers, the things that you associate your business with, the links and associations that you have, need to emphasise that the image you want to project is inclusive rather than exclusive. (If Apple is only for geeky people, how come their phones and iPads are used by so many different kinds of people?) It needs to change people’s minds about the negative perceptions that exist, (like SA Breweries’ advertisements showing a whole bunch of different people having fun at parties.) And it needs to give customers something that they can aspire towards, or fantasise about, (like all Ego/Axe deodorant advertisements.)

I’m not suggesting that BMW should change their marketing strategy to include people like me, but what I am saying is that I don’t see much resemblance between me and my perception of what BMW drivers represent in my completely irrational, illogical and emotional mind.

If that changes, who knows, maybe one day you may even see me driving a BMW!


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