Porsche's Carl Isenbeck on the personal touch and why its cars will never be fully autonomous
Porsche Asia Pacific recently launched its ‘Life Intensified’ campaign to showcase its Macan line of SUVs, making use of award-winning photographer Florian W Muller’s striking and vibrant images of the cars.
Known for their creative campaigns such as this, how does Porsche keep it fresh consistently?
Using the last campaign as an example, Carl Isenbeck, marketing director of Porsche Asia Pacific, explained to The Drum that Porsche made an effort to reach out and ‘speak’ to customers and the public by promoting the product in an Asian context. At the same time it is highlighting the unique selling points of the brand, which is to personalise and customise any car that Porsche sells.
Isenbeck added that Porsche’s marketing campaigns are generally well received because the brand is perceived to be more exclusive and has a different approach to selling its cars, as compared to its competitors.
“We sell a car first, then we build it. Our competitors build the car and they sell it,” said Isenbeck.
“When you go to the Porsche centre, you can completely individualise your car. What has resulted from building our entire business model based on that, is that people buy into the brand.
“Porsche is a very premium brand and that is the number one reason why people purchase our products. Why is that? It's because we don't push the products into people's faces too much, which is why you don't see lots of advertising on TV or on print, as we have a much smaller marketing budget and we believe in the pull effect.
“The campaigns that we do, like the last big one we did on the Panamera Courage campaign, we did not push the product at all and instead we let people speak. That is more important because it was about people who are where they are today because they showed courage.
"That is the approach; to be breaking through the clutter and to be different. We want to use the right medium, our unique selling points and our roots to be very authentic.”
Isenbeck explained that choosing the right influencer for campaigns is another important factor, which was why Porsche tapped Muller for ‘Life Intentsified’. The brand enjoyed the German photographer’s style, which suited the rebranding of the Macan.
“We picked Florian because of his photography and when we compared it to the Macan, we thought it was a pretty good match,” said Isenbeck.
Porsche also ensures that every campaign stands out from the previous and works together with its agencies to create bespoke campaigns.
“We always involve our influencers from the start. The Macan is the one of the oldest model in our range right now and it's the one that is most subject to the consumers who always want to have something new.
“We had to rejuvenate it a little bit, so what we did is we customised these four cars and introduced Florian to the cars to see his reaction, under the motto of 'Life Intensified' in the context of a very vibrant and metropolitan environment in Taipei. The pictures that you see from Florian are his interpretation of the cars.
“We try to be different for every campaign because it's not a formula, it's about the ideas and executions with the agencies that we work with. They understand the brand, so they can package the campaign.”
Isenbeck feels having tailor-made creative and innovative marketing campaigns is paramount, because it puts Porsche in good stead for future challenges in the industry.
“The car industry faces a lot of challenges in the next few years and they are threefold,” noted Isenbeck
“Firstly, we have to make sure that the car is fully connected to a device. The car is not just a mode of transport anymore, but you can use the car one day to work in it. The car becomes an electronic gadget, as opposed to a naked object of transportation.
“Secondly, its about electric vehicles. In less than two years, Porsche will have an electric car. We do not have a final name for it yet, its called Mission Future Sports Car and it is not production right now, as we are in the process of finalising the factory in Stuttgart, next to our headquarters.
“Lastly, it will be autonomous driving. The technology behind it is very complex because the computer does not react the same way as a human, so it has to be trained.
“Everything that happens in a millisecond that your eye recognises a danger, the computer doesn't know because ours is based on experience. There will be solutions to solve this in the future, but there will also be legal implications and frameworks that will be challenging.
In spite of the immense challenges of building an autonomous car, Isenbeck refuses to rule out the possibility of Porsche producing one, but insists that if and when that happens, the personal touch of driving a car will remain.
“Will Porsche be building autonomous car? Maybe, but they won't be fully autonomous. They can be autonomous for the part where you are stuck in traffic, on the way to the race track,” said Isenbeck.
“But once you are on the race track, you will still drive the car yourself. Maybe the car can then tell you what an ideal racing line is, versus an instructor. At the end of the day, a Porsche will always have the ability for the driver to drive the car.”
When asked about augmented reality and virtual reality in previous interviews, Isenbeck expressed his doubts that AR will replace the experience of buying a car in showrooms.
He affirmed that belief in this interview, but was quick to admit that AR and VR will be crucial for the brand in the future as more and more of Porsche’s competitors are embracing new technology, such as artificial intelligence.
“When I said AR will never replace the real experience, I still mean that because driving and feeling haptically a Porsche is still unique, and AR and VR are not at that level yet,” said Isenbeck.
“They might be in a few years and then I will be more than happy to change my view, but at the moment, that is still not the case.
“We are for sure looking at AR and VR, there are no other ways around it. We know it will be the technology of the future and it will revolutionise the way we interact with products.
“While they are not real, it is a good thing to have in a showroom. It is expensive to have a car standing there and it takes up space. The dealers have to buy the car first and then they still have to sell it.”
Even as the likes of Audi turn to VR to entice crowds to its showroom, Isenbeck remains unconcerned about being left behind by Porsche’s competitors, arguing that the personal touch Porsche has with its cars and customers is more important.
He points to the fact that Porsche understands that consumers are more digitally savvy in Asia than in Europe, and people have skipped the computer entirely at times to go straight to apps. This encourages the brand to be at the forefront of innovation, as well as create campaigns like ‘Life Intensified” to be more customer-oriented.
“At the moment, our cars are still the most convincing argument,” explained Isenbeck.
“A lot of other products are interchangeable, but if you ever get to sit behind the wheel of a Porsche, it is a unique experience because the car is built for the driver's maximum enjoyment, safety and excitement. Just the sound of a Porsche taking off is an experience.
“I have seen the benefits of AR and VR. Google produced something just for us a few weeks ago and it was absolutely mindblowing, but at the moment, nothing can replace the personal touch.”