Carmakers Explore Green And Glamorous Ways To Advertise Their Automobiles

Times have changed for the world’s carmakers. Renault is investing in aeronautics, while Audi promotes alpine research and water sports. For today’s auto advertisers, preaching a good cause may be every bit as important as pitching the product itself.

Using sailboats to push cars. Audi Med Cup Circuit 2008
Using sailboats to push cars. Audi Med Cup Circuit 2008
Aymeric Mantoux

At the Cannes Film Festival this year, a fleet of about 100 Renault vehicles will drive celebrities to and from the famous red carpet. Across the sea, Chrysler is the official sponsor of Hollywood's Academy Awards.

Mindful of the publicity these events can bring them, car manufacturers are keen to glean some glamour from the film industry, to sex up their sedans and SUVs in the hopes of sparking the desire of would-be consumers. Star power, however, isn't the only bright idea carmakers are employing to attract increasingly conscientious clients.

"Car spots used to be the spoiled kids of the advertising world, because of their creativity and their ability to make people dream. Today, this is far from being the case," says Eric Hélias, creative director at Young & Rubicam.

Today, automobile advertising faces increasing environmental, social and legal pressures, which explains why car manufacturers are desperately trying to find new ways of communicating with consumers. As a way to promote the product, "positive" values – family, sports, environment – have trumped the pure pleasures of driving or the thrills of motorsports. Audi, for example, has decided to invest in "clean" sports like sailing. In 2007 it established its own circuit called the Audi Med Cup. The German company is also a partner of the International Alpine Ski Federation. Renault has turned to sponsorship of British sailor Ellen MacArthur, whose image has even been used in some of the carmaker's commercials.

There may be a downside to all this "greenwashing," according to Arnaud Dupui-Castérès, chairman of Vae Solis Corporate. "The problem is that by putting so much stress on these issues," he says, "car manufacturers have in fact reinforced the idea that cars are a source of pollution." Carmakers, in other words, haven't made their products any greener. But they do seem to have raised environmental awareness.

"The car industry is under scrutiny and its values are being challenged," says Christophe Lafarge, cofounder of Agence H, a company that handles Citroën's budget. "This phenomenon is linked to the fact that car buyers are more aware today of environmental questions and of the world around them."

Social media platforms and the Internet are filled with blogs dedicated to car advertising. These Web sites often point out the inconsistencies between the carmakers' promises and reality. "Just as it used to be with the issue of automobile safety, manufacturers have no choice but to optimize their processes," says Cédric Journel, the marketing and public relations manager of Škoda (Volkswagen Group) in France.

Car manufacturers are being forced to take a second look at how and what they communicate. "This is exactly what we did for Citroën and its C4, through the creative technology concept," says Christophe Lafarge. "Our strategy has nothing to do with sociology. It is instead focused on products, hard facts and figures. Consumers are interested in car advertising only if it puts forward the industry's green innovations in a creative way."

Communication strategies are especially tricky for auto manufacturers since buyers are sensitive to both environmental and price issues. "Authorities prevent us from directly associating cars with ecology. So in order to promote our Greenline vehicles, we have chosen to make our fuel consumptions and CO2 emissions quite visible in our commercials," says Škoda's Cédric Journel.

Putting those consumption numbers in bold print is one of the few market strategies on which carmakers seem to agree. Other than that, however, it's anybody's guess how best to advertise automobiles at a time when consumers may have already had their fill of environmental commercials.

Read the original article in French.

Photo – Jose Felipe Ortega

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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