RIP the car brochure

Looking for a new car recently has made me aware that more and more car manufacturers seem to be ditching the traditional concept of the car brochure. The stock reply to the question, “Have you got a brochure?” is, “We don’t do them anymore, it’s all on the website.”

You can see why. They’re complicated and expensive to produce and in a digital world, many brands are asking if their customers value paper-based information anymore.

So, what was its purpose?

The car brochure was something to take home after the test drive, to help sell the dream during the consideration stage. It provided details about things like torque for petrol heads and roof bars for families. There were lots of aspirational beauty shots taken in exotic locations with sunsets reflected in the bodywork. There was a section on paint options that contained tiny swatches of ill-matched colours with names like ‘mystic teal’. And the whole thing was all held together by a flowing narrative of emotive words and phrases such as ‘purity of purpose’. If the car cost over £20K the brochure had a spine. If it cost over £30K it was embossed. And if it cost over £40K it came in a box.

Above all, the car brochure was the symbol of buying a brand new car. It was a gloss laminated paper token of having arrived at a certain point in life. Buying a new car gave you the power to play fast and loose with teal bodywork teamed with taupe seats. You might show the brochure to your friends, either for seeking decision approval pre-purchase, or for gloating rights post-purchase.

Sadly, so as not to waste them on non-customers, a lot of brochures sat in store cupboards at the back of the dealership.

So, where are we now?

New car sales in the UK have been booming. The PCP finance revolution has liberated the bank accounts of millions. Inspired by our love of mobile phones, people don’t really buy new cars anymore – they just get them. And there’s so many places to look for information, we already know about everything that’s in the brochure that we want to know about.

So, what’s next? Do we still need a symbol of new? What about nearly new/used?

We still want to specify our new vehicle. Does an online car configurator take care of that? Perhaps, for some.

We want to be respected for our choice of brand and model. We want to buy into the brand. And we want to share the experience with our friends.

Can clever algorithms and machine learning create personalised digital brochure content for us before we even request it? Brochure bots can work out our lifestyle needs from our social history and curate the perfect content for us. Personalised, interactive video could be another answer. Virtual reality and augmented reality can create immersive experiences. But in an increasingly digital world perhaps the way to cut through is to give customers something tangible. It doesn’t have to be a 32pp gatefold. It doesn’t have to feature heated mudflaps. But it does have to feel personal.

Long live the car brochure.