by Iris Winston
Walk the talk. Drive the vehicle that says who you are. Underline the point with the clothes that announce you’re a Land Rover groupie or a BMW smoothie. Take your Jeep to camp, discover just what it can do in the back country and bond with other sports utility vehicle owners.
The new trend of espousing the lifestyle along with the vehicle of your choice goes far beyond sporting ball caps, T-shirts, mugs and key rings bearing a car or dealership logo. It is in a different league from the movie image of Kenneth More and Kay Kendall dressed to kill as they climb into Genevieve for the London-to-Brighton antique car rally. It’s more along the lines of the silver Airstream trailer conventions that were particularly popular a decade or more ago. But the social marketing and brand promotion of the 90s goes further, much further.
We’re talking image immersion and wrap-around lifestyle here. For example, just leaf through Land Rover Gear’s Spring/Summer catalogue and see how easily Land Rover drivers can outfit themselves from head to toe in garments “designed to perform and endure under a variety of conditions”.
Such items as expedition or chino pants and shorts, hiking boots (excuse me, that should read “rugged adventure boots”), shirts, belts, skirts, ties, jackets, vests, overnight bags, atlases and even business card cases — all discreetly enhanced with the Land Rover Gear logo — are offered in tasteful earth tones to underline the explorer-of-rough-terrain image. (“Items are designed using muted, earthier colours such as khaki, tan and loden to reflect the natural outdoor spirit of the Land Rover tradition.”)
“Whether you are fly-fishing, camping, attending a polo match, or just relaxing — Land Rover Gear offers complete versatility for all styles of country living,” promises the catalogue. All available from your Land Rover dealer only, because “the distinct and extraordinary nature of the Land Rover Gear line of clothing and accessories requires it be displayed and sold only by your authorized Land Rover Retailer.”
“This has been an exciting yet logical extension of Land Rover’s activities,” says Managing Director of Land Rover Canada Alan Manessy. “The Gear display warms up our showrooms and the people who use this apparel have a strengthened sense of fraternity with each other and with the vehicles they own and use.”
Other companies are following a similar direction, aimed at securing greater brand loyalty to Saturn or Toyota or Porsche or BMW.
“BMW has been in the lifestyle portion (of the market) for some time,” says Richard Titcombe, Corporate Communications Manager of BMW Canada Inc. “Our objective is to give customers alternatives at the point of purchase and make shopping easier for them.”
Like Land Rover, BMW displays its “exclusive collection of fine clothing and accessories” in a glossy catalogue (BMW Lifestyle) displaying “another avenue of BMW enjoyment”.
“When people purchase a BMW, they trust the name and know that they are purchasing quality,” says Mr. Titcombe. “I think they also trust us to provide top quality accessories.”
He admits that most items are fairly pricey, but says that they are “comparable in price to similar quality without the BMW logo.”
The lifestyle line is so successful that it is now expanding into motorcycles. In fact, says Mr. Titcombe, the “fit is even stronger” for bikers than automobile purchasers.
“Riding gear and helmets are necessities with a motorcycle. They really make a statement about a person’s lifestyle,” he points out.
And that statement incidentally turns all those lifestyle, logo-wearing customers into walking advertisements for their brand of transport. The ads work on the wearers too, as they announce what they drive on their shirts, shorts and skirts.
“The purpose is to encourage loyalty,” agrees Mr. Titcombe.
“Official clothing is definitely a growing trend. It’s growing as fast as the sale of SUVs,” says Jody Ness, Manager of Public Relations for Chrysler Canada Ltd. “When you talk about brand loyalty, no group in the world is more loyal than Jeep owners. And they really want to experience what their vehicles can do.”
So they take their four-wheel drives to camp and join other Jeep enthusiasts at a Jeep Jamboree, where, promises the brochure, they’ll learn “how best to handle the trails from experts who really know how to drive them.”
“The vast majority of people who buy SUVs don’t have the chance to take them off the road,” says Ms. Ness. “With the jamborees, we’re saying ‘have we got a trail for you!'”
“Almost of equal importance are the campfires and dinners together, the softball games, or whatever goes on in the evening,” says Ron Baker, General Manager of Jeep Jamboree.
“It’s a big party, family entertainment in a fun environment for the growing family of Jeep owners,” says Ms. Ness, who adds that the jamborees also “take the tenets of treading lightly and treating the environment with respect very seriously.”
The bonding at the Jamborees — five took place in Canada this summer — and the special lines of clothing announcing membership in various auto owners’ clubs are more than a growing trend in marketing. The designer threads and camp gemeinschaft are designed to hook customers into coming back.