Into the Minds of Consumers: Automotive Branding

If you have been working in the automotive industry for a while, we don’t have to tell you that people buy cars for different reasons. Some are bought for safety or practicality. Others are purchased to make the buyer feel excited, powerful, and confident. But what about a car brand makes someone feel those emotions before ever setting foot in a dealership?

Take a moment to think about all of the car brands you know. What emotions draw you towards your favorite?

By understanding the branding of your dealership’s manufacturer, you can better understand why consumers are drawn to your vehicles.

Knowing what matters most to your customers is the first step in creating a marketing strategy to die for.

Colors

Have you ever wondered why you don’t see many dealerships sporting purple or orange? Whether consciously or not, consumers associate specific colors with specific emotions. Car manufacturers tend to stay within five colors:

Photos: Volkswagen, Tesla, Land Rover, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz

Blue
It’s easy to see why blue is the most common color used in branding across all industries. Blue signifies trust, reliability, strength, and security. Manufacturers like Ford, Chevrolet, Volkswagen, Mazda, Subaru, and BMW use this color to show the tried-and-true (or should we say “tried-and-blue”) nature of their company.

Red
Like a burning fire, red signifies power, energy, motivation, and movement. Brands like Toyota, Dodge, GMC, Mitsubishi, Tesla, Kia, and Fiat use red to provoke excitement and passion in consumers.

Green
Often associated with nature, money, and really cool marketing agencies (*wink), green signifies freshness, health, and growth. Though green isn't as common in automotive branding as some others, companies like Jeep and Land Rover have successfully used this color to connect their brand with the great outdoors.

Yellow
Yellow is used to show optimism, happiness, and youthfulness. It appeals to car buyers who simply want to have fun. That explains why yellow is used predominantly for luxury sports cars like Ferrari, Lotus, and Lamborghini.

Black/Silver
These colors give a sense of sophistication, authority, and balance. For brands like Mazda, Mercedes Benz, Lexus, and MINI– less is more. Their simplified color palate allows consumers to focus on other aspects of their branding.

Shapes

One of the first things we learn as children are shapes. Most learn them well before they learn how to count or read, because humans pay attention to structure.

Renault logo, Nissan logo, Mitsubishi logo, Dodge Ram logo
Photos: Renault, Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors, Ram

 

Squares
As the building blocks of shapes, squares and rectangles are seen as strong, secure, and balanced. They remind us of things that make us feel safe: home, the ground, vaults. Plain squares are often seen as old school, so they work perfectly for brands that are trying to give a classic vibe like GM and Rolls-Royce. Other brands like Renault, Honda, and Fiat opted to modify the shape by rotating the position or rounding the edges. This gives a modern flair while keeping the security only a square could give.

Circles
Circles are un-arguably the most common shape for automotive logos and emblems. Brands like Toyota, Nissan, and Volkswagen use circles in their branding to convey a positive emotional message of unity and steadiness. These brands typically have a global audience and a little something for everyone. Just take a look at Subaru, which literally translates to “Unite” in Japanese.

Triangles
Triangles are for the innovators. They create energy by pushing in one direction. They don’t give a sense of comfort and safety as other shapes might, but they do convey movement, speed, and improvement. Brands like Tesla, Mitsubishi, and Mazda use triangle-based shapes to show that they are always moving forward.  This specific shape doesn’t fit for most industries but does wonders for machine-based industries like automotive, aviation, and construction.

Organic Shapes
Naturally occurring shapes give brands a unique image that consumers find more comforting than typical geometric portrayals. Consumers also find organic shapes to be more recognizable, so long as it resonates with the brand. Some portray power through strong animals like Ram, Jaguar, or Mustang. Another example is how Bentley uses bird wings to show smoothness or how Subaru’s stars give a sense of navigation and adventure.

Typography

Everyone has at least one friend that ONLY TYPES IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Are they mad at you? Are they really excited? It's sometimes hard to tell. The point is, the way you present what you communicate matters. So the text your brand uses is entirely intentional.

MINI, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, and Ford logos

Photos: MINIMercedes-Benz, Honda, Ford

Sans Serif
These fonts are clean, modern, and honest. These brands tend to demonstrate a simple, no-B.S. attitude. They choose not to clutter their message. Especially in recent years, San Serif fonts have flooded the automotive industry and are used by brands like MINI, Toyota, Nissan, and BMW.

Serif
The most traditional font option. The small stokes on serif fonts promote a feeling of class, heritage, and establishment. These work perfectly for brands like Mercedes-Benz and Lincoln who identify with luxury and grandeur.

Slab Serif
While still technically a serif font, its objective couldn’t be more different. The thick, block-like nature of slab serif fonts create a bold attitude. Brands like Honda bleed confidence and creativity.

Script
The original style of writing, script fonts inspires strong feelings of elegance, creativity, and authenticity. Using script fonts is hard to do for newer brands since they can be difficult to read, but for established brands like Ford and Cadillac, their unique script feels personal to consumers and only make their brand more recognizable.


So what have you learned about your brand? Once you find your ideal market, you can use this information to highlight what consumers value in your messaging.