Sunday, May 6, 2018

Mazda’s Messaging for the CX-3 Makes the Target Market Pretty Clear

Mazda CX-3 subcompact crossover
Photo: Mazda media website.
Excuse me, but what exactly is the point of a “subcompact crossover?”

Surely, the very existence of an unfathomable abomination like the Nissan Juke suggests that there is a market for this class of vehicle, but why?

First, let’s take a look at what first led down this automotive rabbit trail.

Last Wednesday, Mazda issued a press release describing the 2019 Mazda CX-3 as “ideal for cityscapes.” Similarly, Fiat Chrysler is marketing an “Urbana Edition” of the Fiat 500X, a crossover version of the Fiat 500.

Urbana is Italian for urban, and Fiat Chrysler puts double emphasis on the idea that the Urbana Edition is aimed at city dwellers by positioning it as offering “a unique, urban look with Miron (Metallic Iron) black-painted exterior and interior elements with copper accents.”

In the automotive marketing world, it is obvious that, when a vehicle is pitched as appealing to “city-dwellers,” it’s a slightly coded way of saying “this car is for Millennials” without really quite coming out and saying it.

It’s no surprise that automakers would hesitate to make direct use of the word “Millennials,” given the stereotype that Millennials are resistant to in-your-face, aggressive efforts to market to them.

That’s understandable. As the demographic gold-mine group du jour, they probably have a feeling toward being marketed to in simplistic ways that’s similar to how Baby Boomers felt about being stereotyped by Mad-Men-era marketers as a generation that graduated from Levis, Woodstock and weed to Armanis, Wall Street, and Chevy Suburbans. No one enjoys being stereotyped.

So who can blame Mazda and Fiat Chrysler for wanting to try to sell Millennials on crossovers in a more discreet way?

But, again. Let’s get back to the vehicles themselves? What is the point of a subcompact crossover, for an urban millennial or anyone else?

An urban, all-wheel-drive mini-crossover of today is subject to the same chiding as were the soccer-mom SUVs that were so popular among the Baby Boomer generation. They were driving “concrete queens,” all dressed up for off-roading but with no place to go to off-road—unless the grassy knoll abutting the schoolyard soccer field qualifies as off-road.

Sure, maybe in some limited scenarios, an all-wheel drive subcompact crossover has some relevance to an urban-dwelling Millennial. For instance, if you’re an entry-level legislative tracker working in Washington D.C., or a recent liberal arts graduate working as an editorial assistant in New York City, maybe if there’s a snow storm the all-wheel drive will make it a little easier to burst your Mazda CX-3 or Fiat 500X out of the 18-inch-long on-street parking space that’s available to you.

But, beyond that, isn’t the idea of a subcompact crossover a bit of a juke—I mean, joke? How many real "SUV things" can it do? Do the mountain bikes fold small enough to fit in the hatch?

That said, here’s what I think is a great suggestion to the Mazda, Nissan, and Fiat Chrysler marketing teams to more successfully to Millennials, without offending their marketing-resistant sensibilities.

Come out with a Red-Hot Sriracha edition of the Nissan Juke, Mazda CX-3, or Fiat 500X. The package would include ultra-glossy Sriracha Red paint and a Sriracha Red interior (synthetic leather only, of course). First automaker to jump on the Millennial hot-sauce bandwagon wins.

No, really. It makes every bit as much sense for Millennials as the AMC Levi’s Gremlin edition did for Baby Boomers.

OMG. Wait. Lexus actually already did it. Two years ago. 

And guess what: it wasn’t intended as a joke.

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