The Swiss Army Knife and the Apple – the Challenge of Selling Some of the Lowest Priced Cars on the Globe

By Andy Bannister


Advertising is a phenomenon which has been around since the very earliest days of the motor car, with a successful campaign often making the difference between best-seller and also-ran in today’s cut-throat market.
For some makers in relatively closed markets, however, publicity of this kind has been a distinctly low priority. Zastava of Serbia, for example, are only now embracing modern principles and grappling with how to sell a value-for-money but essentially dated range to consumers with more choice than before

Zastava, to remind you, is the maker of the much-derided Yugo, sold in the US in the late 1980s, and still in production at the Serbian factory in largely unchanged form, as the Koral.

The company has somehow survived the disintegration of Yugoslavia and years of economic sanctions, and is still going strong, although the future lies in all probability in foreign ownership. VW and Fiat have both been cited as future partners in recent weeks.

Zastava has put quite a lot of thought into how to sell itself in 2008, and has come up with three slogans pitched at selling the attributes of its three long-serving models, none of which are exactly at the cutting-edge of technology.

A major advertising campaign is a remarkable undertaking in the Serbian home market, where Zastava has until recently had a virtual monopoly.

Understandably, the company is a little unsure how to pitch its products against new and more modern low-priced competition from east European rivals like Skoda and Dacia.

After some thought the company has summarised its three longest-serving models into three words in Serbian, and is currently seeking feedback before unleashing its campaign on the car-buying public.

Functionality (“funkcionalnost”) sums up he Skala 55, a five-door hatchback derived from the 1969 Fiat 128 and in continuous production since 1971, making it easily one of Europe’s longest-serving models.

Simplicity (“jednostavnost”) is the word to describe the Koral (Yugo), one of the world’s smallest three-door city cars.

Finally, the more upscale five-door Florida, Zastava’s newest model apart from the Fiat Punto-clone Zastava 10, is characterised by Spaciousness (“prostranost”).

Key to the advertising campaign is reinforcing the perception that Zastava is a well-known and trusted brand with attributes still relevant to local consumers who may otherwise be swayed by the lure of more expensive, exotic products from overseas.

The company’s redoubtable press office takes up the story at this stage: “Any advertising campaign must reinforce positive perceptions of Zastava, without overtly threatening negative perceptions. Advertising, by nature, has low credibility.

“What these advertisements hope to do is to present well-known products in a new, interesting light, thus establishing a baseline for the brand – an anchor of sorts, which future campaigns can use as a base.

“An x-percent-off deal might seem attractive, for a moment, but the low-price advantage is fleeting. What are we being enticed to buy? The implication here is that the only talking point a Zastava has is its price. This, however inadvertently, plays into the hands of the perception gap that exists vis à vis Zastava’s cars.

“Zastava Automobili builds some of the most affordable cars in the world, but a car – any car – represents a major investment. Once we have taken advantage of the sale, what have we bought? Did we want a Zastava in the first place? A few percent off on a major investment – one which a buyer will live with for several years – is not enticing enough.”

In other words, Zastava cars are frequently seen as some throw-back to the days when all eastern Europe had to offer was inferior quality, antiquated designs.

Whilst there may be more than a grain of truth in this, it is hard not to admire Zastava’s drive to succeed agaisnst the odds. The company claims the second, fourth, eighth, and fifteenth most affordable automobiles in the world and has access to modern Peugeot-Citroën engines and some sophisticated technology including independent suspensions, key to a car’s long life on poorly-surfaced Balkan roads. The task advertising needs to do is to reinforce positive associations potential buyers have with Zastava, ie low price, low running costs and simplicity, whilst making the cars seem as desirable as possible in today’s world.

Traditional Zastava attributes like a flat loading space and unburstable mechanicals are positioned in adverts with objects intended to show the same functionality as they did when they first saw the light of day.

In the Skala ads this means a light switch, a Swiss Army knife, a hammer, a pair of scissors and a cue ball. The implication here is that the cue ball is the sole surviving ball on the pool table, once the more decorative balls have outlived their usefulness.

Similarly, the Koral adverts show shots of the car alongside the most basic objects of everyday life; fruit = apple; storage = box. Car = Yugo. “More abstractly – a ball is simple and indivisible, while the Ferris wheel is the most perfect, most simple design for its function,” according to the press office.

Shots of the Florida are intended to evoke seemingly infinite space: winding stairs; a single tree against a faraway background.

Among ads for all three models, the new feature for 2008 – described as “an electroluminescent instrument cluster” hints to Serbian consumers of the advancing pace of technology.

It’s easy to make fun of some of these cars but the truth behind the advertising is that a simple product at the right price still deserves to be taken seriously.

COPYRIGHT – All Rights Reserved

Author: Andy Bannister

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  1. Price seems to be the trigger here, with not much else to recommend the cars. Is there an overiding reason to buy one of these over a good used car?

  2. because all of the used cars are just these cars, only used?

  3. What? The only used cars in Europe are Zastavas? I’m pretty certain blogmatic meant used cars in the sense of used Toyotas or used Volkswagagens, not used Zastavas.

  4. The article was talking mainly about Serbia. If Zastava historically controlled most of the car market in Serbia and a significant presence from the big global brands is a new thing, the lions share of the used cars available will probably be Zastavas – perhaps even more of them now, since people are trading in their trusty old Fiat clones on shiny new Fiats.

    didn’t mean to flummox anyone…

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