Why UltraTune’s advertising campaign has hit the skids

Attractive women clad in latex, posing seductively with automotive tools while a smooth, deep male voices coos “We’re into rubber…” could be one of Australia’s longest running crises for automotive service provider UltraTune.

If you’re thinking “haven’t we seen this before?” you’re right: we have.

In 2014 UltraTune was investigated by the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau after complaints from the public; but they ruled “the Board considered that the depiction of the two women strutting into the workshop portrays the women as powerful and confident and their depiction wearing rubber suits is relevant to the new range of ‘rubber’ tyres in store and does not amount to a depiction that is exploitative and degrading to women.”

In 2015 one of the models featured in the series – who now goes by the moniker ‘Rubber Girl’ said “I’m empowering women” in defence of the public backlash against the ads. It’s a mantra she’s repeated in the past 24 hours.

With a tiring format, continual public backlash and a campaign that according to Visibrain’s twitter analysis has failed to garner any scale of significant support on the platform with under 1000 tweets on the topic in 5 days (including @UltraTuneAust’s own tweets) – why are UltraTune burning rubber on campaigns that create and prolong crises, alienate customers and take us back to the Mad Men era of advertising?

Framed for Clickbait or Sales?

For a services business whose success depends on their ability to keep their customers safe on the road, UltraTune’s advertising strategy is certainly taking that message to the limit.

Sex appeal aside for a moment; what exactly are they selling by having latex clad women gesture suggestively with workshop tools or pose in a ridiculous way that is apparently meant to get you hot and bothered enough to rush out to get your car air conditioning serviced –  but is actually more reminiscent of a Kath and Kim promo.

I don’t know about you, but my mechanic has never shimmied his way around the workshop in latex (at least in front of his customers ) and he sure hasn’t posed with the noisy whats-it seductively while telling me I need a new gizmo for my spark plugs. Which leads me to think that unless UltraTune are planning a bizarre shift into the adult entertainment business, I’m left wondering where the ROI conversions are for ads so clearly made by and framed for the entertainment of men. Clearly you’re unlikely to meet a ‘Rubber Girl’ on your next visit to a suburban UltraTune so why the grid girl focused campaigns?

It’s 2016 and we still have ad agencies selling women to me

Society drives people crazy with lust and calls it advertising ~ John Lahr

One surefire way to get your brand into a crisis is to tick off the people who buy your product or service the most. In UltraTune’s case – that’d be women.

Take these 2012 statistics from the United States:

  • Women buy more than half of the new cards in the US, and influence up to 80% of all car purchases.
  • Women request 65% of all the service work done at dealerships.
  • Women spend over $200 billion on new cars and mechanical servicing of vehicles each year

Given we know that 77% of women use social media and most spend at least 10 minutes a day surfing the socials on their mobile devices – and UltraTune have posts across Twitter, YouTube and Facebook – that’s a lot of female eyeballs being rolled in disgust. Worse still, as automotive industry marketing expert Myles Harris – founder of Petrol Digital says:

UltraTune’s ads hurt the entire industry. So much has been achieved over the past decade in creating equality in both the workshop and showroom that UltraTune’s ads run counter to that message with content that reinforces old, inappropriate stereotypes.

Using sex to sell … well pretty much about anything isn’t new. In fact, the psychology behind the practice is well researched and the results aren’t as red hot as you might think. Fortune ran an article in 2015 summing up the American Psychological Association’s research on using sex and violence in advertising and no surprises:

“It is true that sexual and violent programs pull larger audiences than neutral ones, but a larger reach does not necessarily translate into more sales for advertisers…. There was no significant effect on memory for advertisements that contained sexual or violent content, but they did find that memory decreased as the sexual content intensified… Overall, this study discovered that sex and violence either have a negative impact on advertisements or no impact at all.”

So if sex appeal isn’t driving advertising traffic into stores, only brand awareness remains – which is steeped in crisis. If this is UltraTune’s strategy (create controversy for media attention) it’s effect is not conducive to influencing those with purchasing power into their franchises. In fact, the data Visibrain shared with me shows the only real people engaged with UltraTune’s online content were pro-feminist influencers outraged by their ad’s:

Rubber won’t bounce you out of a crisis

I’ve written about deliberately courting controversy for publicity before and my views haven’t changed: it doesn’t work.

That spike in engagement you get as people comment on, share and retweet your content won’t lead to sales but will send your SEO into the gutter as all those #PRFail stories rank higher than your good news. Lots of ‘engagement’ doesn’t equate to ‘any PR is good PR’- in a crisis they’re talking at or about you in a negative way. Take a look at your sentiment analysis, it will be redlining and your community manager will be about to blow a gasket.

Here are 5 more things about the UltraTune campaign that only makes their crisis worse:

  1. It’s boring. We’ve seen those legs and spanners before. We were over it the first time you rolled the campaign out and we told you so: but you still aren’t listening.
  2. It insults our intelligence. Supercheap Auto have a proven advertising formula telling clever stories that relate to their entire audience. If they were to open a chain of service centres using the same methodology, my money is on UltraTune’s days being numbered.
  3. It’s sexist. And no ‘Rubber Girl’ proclaiming it’s not in a  behind the scenes video grab  will convince anyone otherwise. Addressing criticism with the source of the criticism (particularly when they are paid to say and wear what ever you direct them to) is counter-productive if you have the intent to mean what you say.
  4. Road safety isn’t a joke. Two ‘Rubber Girls’ getting stuck on a train crossing in their convertible as a train approaches and then hits their car is not funny or educational. The Victorian Government is removing level crossing throughout the state for good reason: people have died. 
  5.  You don’t listen with any intent to sincerely address outrage. The fact that you don’t take complaints about your content seriously gives us a window into your corporate culture. When women speak up, you don’t listen.

How would your brand handle content inspired outrage? Are you cruising toward a crisis?

Thank you to Visibrain for being kind enough to share some # data analysis with me for this blog.