The estate we’re in

When choosing a car, there are lots of factors to consider, including branding. But some manufacturers are taking it too far, says Adrian Shaughnessy.

When choosing a car, there are lots of factors to consider, including branding. But some manufacturers are taking it too far, says Adrian Shaughnessy

I suppose there must have been a time in the past when driving was enjoyable, but today it is an almost unbearable chore – the aggression, the tailgating, the cutting up, the lane-hogging. And that’s just me – don’t even get me started on other drivers.

In my, admittedly, jaundiced view, driving is an activity best avoided. Not only is it damaging to the environment, hideously expensive and laced with Ballardian anxiety, but, as soon as I get behind the wheel, I turn into a different person – an unpleasant one.

I recently had to face up to my dislike of automobiles (and the person I become when I drive) when the family car needed replacing.

I began by amassing a library of ‘family’ car brochures. Despite vast photography budgets, these documents are as insipid as motorway service station coffee, and mostly indistinguishable from each other. Surely not everyone fantasises about driving at 140mph through the Atlas Mountains?

And yet, despite my ‘auto-phobia’, I have a pale, flickering interest in the design of cars. Even I can see that there are well-designed vehicles and vehicles that are just plain ugly.

As a consequence, my purchasing decision was based primarily on looks – but I also wanted a car with a low harmful-emissions count, and a high miles-per-gallon score.

After consulting the brochures, I visited three dealerships. Car showrooms share a design ethos with the reception areas of provincial motels – they are designed for the Alan Partridge set. I didn’t actually see any string-backed driving gloves for sale, but they had virtually everything else the modern petrol-head might want to buy.

Each of the three salesmen I saw seemed completely mystified when I said I was concerned about vehicle emissions. ‘Ah, so it’s a company purchase,’ they all said. Clearly, this wasn’t a question often asked by members of the public, but, rather, by the financial directors of big corporations, looking for a tax break on their car fleets.

I ended up with an Audi. My rational, responsible-citizen reason for this decision is that it boasted low harmful emissions and a good miles-per-gallon rating.

But I will also confess to a grudging admiration for Audi’s smooth Teutonic styling. If it was a typeface, it would be a warm Akzidenz-Grotesk, rather than a chilly Helvetica. And, of course, I’ve now joined the Audi brand family. I’ve been sent a copy of a glossy magazine called The Audi Magazine – a slickly-designed document that oozes brand charisma. It has Jamie Callum on the cover, and pictures of Pierce Brosnan and Jerry Hall on the inside.

Am I supposed to be gratified by my new-found proximity to these celebrities? I’m sure there are many other people who are, but, in my case, the effect of this crass brand engineering is to make me regret my choice of car.

And it’s not just a magazine that Audi is using to woo its customers with – it now has its very own TV Channel.

According to The Audi Magazine, ‘This ambitious initiative is a world first – the first manufacturer to launch its own TV channel and the first brand to go beyond advertiser-branded TV programmes.’

It may be a ‘world first’, but does the world really need TV channels run by brand owners? What next? The Mr Kipling TV Channel?

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