Any colour, as long as it's austere

Tuesday, 18 December 2018 09:29 pm

Any colour, as long as it’s austere

 

What is a word cloud?

Word clouds are graphics that show how often individual words appear in a given piece of text. The larger the word in the graphic, the more instances of the word in the text.

 

Word cloud 1

Word cloud 1

Word cloud 2

Word cloud 2

 

Word clouds produced in www.wordle.net

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FEATURE

Any colour, as long as it's austere

As well as the obvious belt-tightening, the credit crunch has seen a shift in the lexicon of business. Joe Lang provides a linguistic analysis of two very different statements from the car manufacturing industry.

WORD CLOUD 1: A car for today

When was the defining moment? Some say it came in January, when Goldman Sachs cancelled its party at Davos, for fear of being thought swanky (as if!). Others say February, when M&S launched its 99p no-frills jam sandwich. Whichever portent you choose, there’s no avoiding the message. Austerity is the new black.

Which made March an excellent month for Ratan Tata, chairman of the eponymous Tata group, to launch his eponymous Tata Nano.

Never has a car launch in the Indian marketplace commanded such worldwide attention. But this £1,366 ‘people’s car’ is in tune with the times. Even before the first one is sold, it will have done more to burnish the Tata brand globally than all the activities of Tata Steel, Tata Motors, Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Power, Tata Chemicals, Tata Tea and Tata Communications put together.

So here is our first word cloud, emphatically announcing a car for ‘today’ (13 references). The words come from the launch speech delivered by Mr Tata himself. “There are no celebrities at this function, nor any dance routines,” he began. Because this was no ordinary car launch. Mr Tata was there to present not just a product but a strategy and a vision.

The words in this cloud aren’t the standard car-launch hype and hoopla. After ‘car’ and ‘today’, the next most-used word is ‘fact’ (7). As you’d expect with the world’s cheapest car, ‘price’ (3) and ‘affordable’ (3) also figure prominently. But even more prominent are prosaic, unsexy considerations like ‘pollution’ (4), ‘emission’ (4), ‘safety’ (5), ‘congestion’ (3) and ‘transport’ (3). Here’s a car manufacturer talking about his product in a real-life context! He even mentions bicycles twice.

The hyperbole is reserved for the strategy. We’re invited to join Tata on a ‘quest’ (4), an epic ‘journey’ (3) to conquer ‘new frontiers’. Because creating a ‘people’s car’ (3) is Mr Tata’s ‘dream’ (3). He namechecks the Wright brothers and the first men on the moon – though, oddly, not Henry Ford. The envelope is stretched, the unquestionable is questioned, and the ‘human spirit of change’ is invoked. A plan based on stripping the motor car down to its barest essentials may not be ‘evolution’ (2) as we know it – but the result has undeniably captured the world’s imagination.

Today ‘India’ (5), tomorrow the world? Tata Motors has positioned itself as the company that dared to dream an impossible dream for the teeming masses the global carmakers ignored. While the big players flounder, Tata Motors is looking (and talking) like a carmaker that’s found the passkey to the future. Its biggest strategic challenge for the next few years will be to meet demand.

WORD CLOUD 2: The way we were

Just to remind you what the auto industry sounded like before it ran out of road, here’s the news release that launched the Jaguar XF. It wasn’t much more than a year ago, but it speaks to us from a lost Golden Age.

Remember when ‘control’ (11 references) was what you bought with your money? The new Jag offered you loads of it. Packed with ‘features’ (4) and ‘technology’ (4), it gave you control over ‘performance’ (3), ‘style’ (3), ‘mood’ (2) and, implicitly, lesser mortals.

Here you’ll find all the words that Mr Tata eschews in his Nanovision. They tumble out in pre-lapsarian abundance: ‘dynamic’ (3), ‘refinement’ (3), ‘touch-screen’ (3), ‘class-leading’ (3), ‘luxurious’ (2). Doesn’t it all seem a bit rich for the blood today? Do we want to hear carmakers talking about their ‘aesthetics’ and ‘ambience’ when they’re knocking on doors in Washington and Whitehall to beg for another giant slug of taxpayer support?

The XF is a fantastic car, and it seems to be selling well. But as a strategy story for the Age of Austerity, it can’t compete with Nanovision. It didn’t stop Ford offloading the ailing Jaguar business as fast as possible. But one company did see the potential. A year ago, Ford sold Jaguar Land Rover – to Tata Motors.
Last June, Mr Tata set the XF and Nano in context in his group’s annual report. The Nano was pictured on the cover and the Nanovision was set out extensively inside. The XF got 13 words on page 16.

But there’s a bigger picture. The Nano “will dramatically change Tata Motors’ market position, reach and visibility”. Well, it’s already delivered on visibility. But as an established global brand, Jaguar will also help Tata to “take its place in the global auto industry as a credible international automobile company”. After all, isn’t that what every man buys a prestige car for: credibility?

But in the new Age of Austerity, street cred may count more than credibility. And that’s where Nanovision wins hands-down. As Volkswagen* can testify, launching a ‘people’s car’ when times are hard can be a pretty good strategy for building a global brand.

*FOOTNOTE: The original VW ‘people’s car’ pinched many design ideas from a Czech manufacturer called Tatra, which now makes trucks. In India. Funny old thing, evolution.

Joe Lang is chairman of Lang Communications. This article was first published in Communicate magazine.