Buick Logo s How important is a badge? Let me give you two examples at each extreme of the scale. If you’re Mercedes-Benz you’d say the badge is critical, and if you’re American brand Buick you’d be trying to forget it just as quickly as possible. Mercedes-Benz makes the badge a hero item – you can’t miss it. Buick is about to drop it and is hoping no one will notice.

It’s all about perception. A Mercedes badge says ‘I have made it, I am important’. A Buick badge, according to many in the American industry, says ‘I am a car for an old man’. No one aspires to be an old man, and Buick’s problem is reminiscent of the perception problem faced by Mitsubishi Australia some years ago.

Buick has been trying to change its ‘old man’s car’ image in recent years with styling tweaks, performance tweaks and advertising tweaks but it doesn’t seem to have achieved much, so although GM will continue making Buicks the 2019 models, coming on stream in the second half of this year, will no longer carry an exterior Buick nameplate. Their only brand identification will be the Buick symbol, featuring three shields, front and rear. The badges will consist only of model nomenclature.

Buick 380 sBuick seems to be hoping that this will make their vehicles appeal to people who are not old men, meaning the discerning friends of their buyers can no longer point to a badge and say they’ve just bought an old man’s car. And pretty much everyone in car marketing will be looking at what, if anything, happens to Buick’s sales as a result.

Mitsubishi had a similar problem in Australia while it was still making its living from the locally built Magna and its replacement, the 380. Both of these were extremely good cars by the way, but they were largely perceived as ‘cardigan cars’ from the ‘cardigan car maker’. The Magna and the 380 are now gone, shaking off this veil of tears when Mitsubishi ceased local production in 2008. And so, largely, is the perception.

Buick Sigma sAs for badge changes we have seen good and bad. Mitsubishi did that very well. Back in the 1970s Mitsubishis were sold in Australia through Chrysler Australia, and Chrysler assembled the immensely successful Sigma sedan and wagon in Adelaide. But in 1980 Mitsubishi bought the operation and changed its name to Mitsubishi Australia. The name change was done over one weekend in October, and not just to car badging, but also at dealerships. It was a massive job involving a lot of outdoor signage, but there were very few glitches and Mitsubishi Australia got off to a great start.

A few years later we saw the other end of the scale when Nissan Australia decided to change the badges on all its products from Datsun, which they had been called since the first models got here in 1958, to Nissan, and took two years to do it. First it’s cars carried large Datsun badges with smaller Nissan badges below, then large Nissan badges with smaller Datsun badges below until they finally got Nissan badges alone. The change was carried out in much the same slow and steady pace at the dealerships, and all it did was confuse the people who didn’t realise that Datsun and Nissan were in fact the same entity.

The company can only look back on the glory days of the Datsun 1000, the Datsun 1600 and the Datsun 180B and weep into its beer.

Published March 2018.

 

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