Trying to please everyone – don’t bother!

Consumerism can be a right pain in the backside. I hold it directly responsible not just for making undesirable fat cats very wealthy, but also ruining just about everything.

Consider cars. Even just a few decades ago, you could identify quite a few cars just by listening to then. A Citroen 2CV sounds very different to a Ford Escort or a Renault 5. The differences were often much larger. In Eighties, you could still buy cars with rear-mounted engines (ok, mainly just Skoda) while the family saloon battle was between the blobby, rear-wheel drive Ford Sierra and the boxy, front-wheel drive Vauxhall Cavalier. Two intense rivals yet so very, very different.

Other family cars were equally different. The Datsun/Nissan Stanza would try and kill you if you made the mistake of trying to drive it quickly in the wet. Peugeot’s 405 brought style, ride and handling mixed with a delicious blend of cheap plastics inside.

Road test feature

Blimey. Information overload! Tests aren't like this anymore

Journalism was so different as well. Car adverts would contain actual information, and motoring magazines had features that were almost Encyclopedic. Here’s an example borrowed from Autocar. There’s all the information you could reasonably want, as well as (on other pages) honest appraisal by a team of testers.

When you wanted to make an informed decision about which car to buy, this information was very useful.

Yet, it turned out that you could sell more magazines if you just featured high performance cars and used words like ‘lairy’ and ‘tail-happy,’ even when describing a Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet – not exactly a sports car.

Journalism became more like a chat with your mates and less about providing useful information. The problem is you see, while us car enthusiasts and those who like to know what they buy appreciated these earlier efforts, you can sell a lot more magazines to the wider public if you cut out the techno-babble and just talk sheer emotion. Emotion is, after all, the biggest driver for most people when it comes to buying a car. They don’t care if the rear seat is cramped, or if the over-the-shoulder vision is appalling – they only care about how the car makes them feel. You could build technically the best car in the world, but even if you market it at £10,000, people won’t buy it if it gives the wrong impression, and nor will today’s magazines want to write about it unless it provides ‘lairy’ handling on a race  track.

I despair of a world where information is treated less importantly than marketing babble. As someone on the Autoshite forum said recently – if you compare the Mini against the MINI, one is a triumph of engineering while the other is a triumph of marketing. Sadly, we know which one the capitalists prefer…

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