The new Jaguar XE has to be a big hit. Can marketing help it hit harder?

The new Jaguar XE

The newly launched Jaguar XE needs to prove a big hit if it is to wipe away memories of the underwhelming X-Type sedan of the early 2000s. Alastair Duncan, strategy director at The Auto Network, takes a look under the bonnet of the British car brand’s newest launch, asking whether marketing can help it hit harder in a sector dominated by the Germans.

Jaguar. The swinging 60s. E-Type. Le Mans. Politely sublime advertising summed up in the famous line ‘Grace, Pace and Space’. As the brand launches its latest model into a sector dominated by German manufacturers, how big a role will marketing play in its success?

As Simon McBride, editor of car review site Motortorque, points out, the XE is “possibly the most important car the maker has ever built”.

“Up against the BMW 3 Series, the Mercedes C Class and the Audi A4, the XE is right in the heart of company car territory,” he writes. And Jaguar has been down that rocky road before.

The X-Type, launched at the turn of the century ‘for a new generation’, only proved popular with the previous one. Little effort went in to acquiring new customers, and no amount of marketing fluff hides poor product for long. When the car market crashed in 2008, Jaguar fell the furthest.

It’s different today. Owned by Tata, the Indian conglomerate brings apparently limitless investment and a care for great British brands. New product, helped by £1.5bn of new engineering, competes where Ford’s previous Mondeo ‘parts bin’ approach struggled. Smart German management, schooled by BMW and Porsche, is in charge.

“The XE is unbelievably important,” Jaguar Land Rover’s CEO Dr Ralf Speth told reporters at the XE launch at Earls Court in London. “We’ll have an opportunity to bring younger customers, to bring female customers into the range of Jaguar.”

It’s a big task. Research firm IHS Automotive indicates Jaguar could triple sales to 230,000 units by 2018. Jaguar really wants a chunk of BMW’s two million annual sales lunch.

Simon Binns, managing director of Jaguar’s agency Spark44, agrees. “The XE is for the 35-50 professional market and has to bring new customers into the brand, most of whom will never have driven a Jaguar before.”

Many of these will be company car drivers, looking through a lens of tight pricing and tax brackets where Jaguar claims it will compete. But people still need to want to drive one, which is where marketing comes in.

Jaguar is certainly more visible. The latest TV execution features slick British film baddies with an edge. There’s an Invictus Games Instagram feed. Kaiser Chiefs (named after a South African football team, in case you were wondering about more German metaphors) played at Earls Court to 3,000 VIPs. Stella McCartney does a makeover. Plenty of strong messages going on, but it all feels like it needs a sequel to explain more, and a global brand needs a global story.

According to Binns, there is good news. “We are building curiosity around the new model and there is a lot more to come to support the brand.”

It’ll have to. BMW, Audi and Mercedes outspend Jaguar at every turn with consistent stories and executional excellence. Major shifts in strategy are handled carefully.

BMW took several years to change its brand direction. Previously its advertising never featured people as its perfect machines were, well, perfect. As consumer tastes shifted and the range expanded, it needed to build up the idea of the brand as a joyful experience beyond the quality object embodied in the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ line. This meant showing people. Today BMW even has videos of people on its website test-driving electric cars. But the underlying message is the same.

If Jaguar wants to attract customers who haven’t considered the brand before, it’ll also have to become sophisticated in promoting trial at retail, where every test driver is a potential advocate. All car dealers ever want for Christmas is a steady flow of leads. BMW, for example, does this extremely well, appreciating people visit its website in droves for pictures, and a myriad of other sources to see what cars cost. CapGemini reports 43 per cent of car buyers use third party sites for prices, often bypassing the official web sites.

Finally, great product stories should drive the PR machine. Last year, the long awaited F-Type won over enthusiasts. Even Germany’s leading car magazine Auto Bild voted it the equivalent of Car of the Year. This is tanks on lawn stuff, given the utter dominance of German premium car marques in their home market.

As Simon McBride says, “Globally the answer is yes. Jaguar has played it safe with design and in this sector that is a win-win scenario. With a fuel efficient engine range and emissions making certain versions tax free, already, the figures make for good reading.”

Jaguar is alive and kicking.

Alastair Duncan is strategy director at automotive lead generation business The Auto Network. Previous to this he helped set up the BBC’s first interactive TV network, founded Zentropy Partners, built MRM into a £20m business for Interpublic and established Jaguar Land Rover‘s brand agency Spark44.

This feature was first published in the 15 October issue of The Drum. You can purchase a copy via the The Drum Store here.

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