According to a recent New York Times article, 57% of the Toyota Prius buyers surveyed this spring by CNW Marketing Research of Bandon, OR indicated that they bought the car because “it makes a statement about me.” In comparison, only 36% and 25% said it was due to “higher fuel economy” and “lower emissions” respectively.
What is the message Prius owners want to make? “I care about the environment.” While the car’s primary functional benefits are better gas mileage and decreased impact on the environment, the Toyota Prius primarily delivers a self-expressive brand benefit.
The car’s distinctive styling adds to its allure. Because it was built as a hybrid from the ‘ground up,’ it is one of the few hybrids that looks like a hybrid. That’s important to people who are using the brand as a self-expression statement. Prius owners are also rewarded when strangers approach them asking questions about the car, something that occurs quite often.
I can personally confirm this as I am now driving my second Prius, a 2005 model with more than 55,000 miles.
Back when there were fewer Priuses on the road, often as they passed one another, their drivers would smile and wave knowingly at each other as if to signal that they were a part of a special club.
When driving my first Prius, I was always amused when stopped next to a Hummer at a traffic light. I would look over at the Hummer driver smugly and think ‘You gas hog, you selfish, wasteful person.’ As a marketer who understands self-expressive brands, I was simultaneously imagining that he was looking over at me thinking, ‘You enviro-wimp, I could crush your car as if it were a bug.’
Or maybe he was thinking that I was a ‘self-righteous tree-hugger’ or that I couldn’t afford a car like his. I would be surprised if he was thinking, ‘Maybe I should consider buying a Prius now that gasoline is so expensive.’ I sometimes thought about how difficult a Hummer would be to parallel park. And, if I am honest with myself, I might have occasionally mused about whether the Hummer driver had a personal insecurity for which he was trying to compensate.
Nowadays, I don’t really pay much attention to the Hummer, Prius or other car stopped next to me at a traffic light. Have I moved beyond ‘status’ to ‘self-actualization’ (on Maslow’s Hierarchy), am I too busy multi-tasking or have I just grown bored of these types of mental exercises? I don’t know.
But I do know one thing — that cars often serve as a form of self-expression. They are driven as brand badges begging to be noticed. And, the Toyota Prius is an excellent example of that.
Automobile brands are not the only brands that say something about a person. Where a person lives, where a person went to school, what a person reads, where he or she shops, what he or she eats, where the person vacations and what the person wears all say something about the person. For instance, what does each of the following brands say about a person?
• Abercrombie & Fitch
• Hampshire College
• Brigham Young University
• Salvatore Ferragamo
• Red Wing Shoes
• Kia Motors
• Lake of the Ozarks
• Smith & Wesson
• Bling H2O
• Jeff Foxworthy
• Air America
• Lubbock, TX
• Berkeley, CA
• Thomas Kinkade
• Reader’s Digest
• Conde Nast Traveler
• Wine Spectator
• U.S. News & World Report