Brand Insight in association withLBB's Brand Insight Features
Brand Insight: Aston Martin
London, UK
Director of Global Marketing Communications Simon Sproule on James Bond’s car of choice

Is there any car brand that screams – or rather purrs - luxury more than the Aston Martin? The British-made sports car marries craftsmanship and with technology and which other auto brand can boast an inextricable relationship with Britain’s other key export, James Bond? The iconic DB5 roared onto screen in Goldfinger in 1964 and in this year’s S.P.E.C.T.R.E., Aston Martin teamed up with the Bond production team to design a new set of wheels for the movie, the DB10. But how does a heritage and luxury brand make the most of that history while navigating the constantly evolving media landscape and the shifting demographics of the brand’s target market of high net worth individuals? LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Aston Martin’s Simon Sproule to find out…

LBB> How has the demographic of Aston Martin’s consumer base evolved over the past ten years? 

SS> Over the past 10 years it’s followed the way in which the global high net worth consumer has evolved. Looking at the evolution of global wealth, what predominantly has happened with high net worth individuals, (in any classification – generally a million dollars or more, of liquid asset to invest) – is that they’ve gone through the global financial shock into its recovery and now onto the present economic landscape. Now, there are more high network individuals than there were ten years ago. In general, wealth is shifting from North to South and West to East; essentially, wealth is getting more diverse. It’s getting younger:  40% of high net worth individuals are from Gen X or younger cohort groups.

Wealth is diversifying in terms of nationality, race, demographics or gender – across all the ways of looking at a population group. 

With our business, we consider these changes; there are new markets opening up. Particularly in Asia; we’re also seeing the emergence of Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, where high net worth individuals tend – on average – to be ten years younger than in the traditional markets.

There is still substantial growth and wealth in traditional markets.  Europe, the United States and Japan for instance, are leading global markets around the world. Essentially, our brand is following the evolutions in the broader world of luxury. 

LLB> And how have your communications and marketing evolved to reflect that?

SS> You’re trying to make a brand – from a marketing point of view - relevant to a different demographic

Whereas the traditional market (North America, Europe and Japan) grew up knowing Aston Martin, and share cultural and other reference points. 

New consumers coming in, whether from China, Indonesia or South America, have different cultural reference points and views, so we needed to ensure that we are always one step ahead. And ensuring that the brand is relevant for new customers who may be coming to our market place for the very first time is crucial. They have made a wealth transition and have moved through different brands to a point where they have become ready to buy a luxury car; they are often new to luxury brands so they will be looking to understand how those brands have relevance to them. So our communications shouldn’t assume the level of institutional knowledge about the brand which we were previously lucky enough to have – in traditional markets.

Only this year have we started selling cars in Indonesia, so we may be completely new there for many consumers. The question we then ask is how to introduce them to the brand; how do we educate them about the brand and how do we bring them into the family?

Again, it’s about knowing the different cultural reference points that we have to bear in mind. 

LBB> How important are new creative technologies and digital platforms to luxury brands like Aston Martin? Are there any platforms in particular that are interesting or exciting you right now?

SS> It’s a ticket of entry for every brand which has a presence in every channel and digital is now a major channel. So, the emphasis is less about differentiating between being digital and not being digital – it’s about storytelling! Providing great narratives is very important, and making the brand relevant for consumers that may not have grown up with Aston Martin in their vernacular. 

Our cars are very much a discretionary purchase due to their price point. It’s something that people buy as reward or as a marker post in their life, where they reach a point where they can buy an Aston Martin. Actually the more important communication channels are the more personal ones. Meeting people: consumers can come to our factory and have them come and see their car being built. Meeting the people at Aston Martin, whether at the dealers, here at the HQ. In the luxury market, what’s increasingly apparent, is that it’s not only about the object, but it’s about the relationship consumers have with the brand – how they can interact with the brand. 

We are in essence going opposite of mass market, one click buy model; we in fact want people to come and get in the cars and spend time choosing the leathers and materials and meeting the craftsmen. Ultimately, it’s about hyper-personalisation and a high level of personal contact is very important to our business. 

LBB> And I was wondering if, for heritage brands, if there were any sorts of challenges involved in being on all the social platforms that consumers expect to see and interact with the brand whilst also protecting its heritage value?

SS> We are very fortunate at Aston Martin; we have a huge fan-base. On Facebook we have over 6.5 million followers, our Instagram account seems to grow by 100,000 a month. 

Even if an Aston Martin maybe not be a potential purchase, a lot of what the company and the brand stands for is for people to be part of the story. We build beautiful, handcrafted cars, and many find joy in being a part of that story and process. For us, making ourselves accessible is an extremely important part of our brand. It’s about showing respect to all consumers and delivering quality content and giving them access to it and making them feel a part of the brand. 

Using social media platforms is an incredibly effective way of reaching that large market. Even though we are selling to the 1%, we have a super high level of respect from the mass market and the fans of our brand.  

LLB> I can’t talk Aston Martin without asking about James Bond! How valuable has that decades-long relationship been to the brand? 

SS> It’s an integral part of the fabric, culture and story of the brand. We’ve had a rich and mutually rewarding relationship over the last five decades.

The latest Bond movie is just out and the car, the DB10, was especially created for the film and plays an important role. It’s a great part of our brand, for many people that’s how they got to know Aston Martin. They grew up watching the movies and playing with toy cars and later when they got old enough to buy, that’s what may have led them to buy into the brand. 

Bond franchise has modernised and often mirrors what’s going on in society. So we need to make sure we’re communicating those evolved values to new consumers, depending on what Bond film people may be most familiar with. 

Like Bond, we are always evolving – it’s great to have worked with them on that journey.

LBB> The new DB10 was, as I understand it, developed with Spectre in mind and with some creative input from director Sam Mendes. I was wondering how the design team, the marketing team and the team from the film studio collaborated on this and what the new model says about Aston Martin in 2015?

SS> It was not created for sale, and was developed especially for the movie. It was created by Marek Reichman, our chief marketing officer, who collaborated with Sam Mendes and the producers of the movie. 

The car has a role in the script so there are features in the car which were crucial –from the start it was very much a team effort between the three, and the result shows in Spectre. 

The car is unmistakably an Aston Martin but new has a new design language. It’s a car that shows the direction, which we’ll be heading at Aston Martin, where modern fresh brand is heading

LBB> The luxury sector has been booming over the past few years, which I’m guessing is a great thing for a brand like Aston Martin, but how do you capitalise on that without losing the brand’s exclusivity?

SS> We have a manufacturing capacity limit; and we are currently in a renewal process and preparing the launches of new cars in the next five years. There is a production cap as well as a price point, which we do not go under. Through price and volume we control how many Aston Martins are in the market. 

LBB> What sort of challenges has this summer’s currency crisis in China caused for luxury brands? 

SS> Our market in China, relative to our global market, is quite small. We were relatively late in that market. So I would say it’s in its initial growth phase. In general, looking at currency crisis, or anti-corruption plans, which have hit the luxury market; these have not hit Aston Martin particularly hard.

We are essentially flat year-on-year, 2014 to 2015, in terms of sales there. We were in the process of brand building, so it’s a matter of maintaining brand awareness there. 

LBB> What’s the key to ensuring that customers and the brand are engaged in a meaningful relationship, particularly in the luxury sector?

SS> What are the ingredients? Well, quality has to be essential. At Aston Martin, it starts with a beautifully handcrafted car that exceeds expectations.  Anything below that is unacceptable. 

From there it’s the style of the relationship, even before the product is introduced to the customer. It starts with the ordering of the product, the introduction to the brand through to the purchase process. In 102 years, only 80,000 cars have been built and over 95% of these are still in existence. Our cars are cherished, the cars are kept and while they may move from one owner to another, an owner of an Aston Martin is always an owner of an Aston Martin. This relationship is very special and fundamental to the brand.

LBB> I hear personalisation is a big thing for Aston Martin as a brand – how does it apply to you?

SS> In essence it’s the reason why a lot of people buy an Aston Martin. They can have anything they want. Personalisation of colours, leathers, materials, trims of the way the car is put together. It involves a high degree of personalisation and craftsmanship and highlights the art of the possible here at Aston Martin. 

LBB> Aston Martin appointed WPP to be global marketing account this summer, which I believe is the first time you’ve had agencies on record (though you’ve worked with JWT in the past). Why was this year the right time to establish such a relationship and why were WPP the right partners?

SS> The brand is in the process of turnaround and growth with all the new products coming. The brand is growing geographically, in new markets; it is introducing new models and has appealed to new demographics and so forth. 

Firstly, we felt we needed the firepower and breadth of capabilities of a group like WPP. 

And secondly, the brand was ready to take on and work with a broader full-service agency. Though we’d worked with smaller agencies, as CMO, I felt as though the important factor was consistency of brand and having a long term partner. WPP have shown they have the breadth and capability needed at Aston Martin. We wanted an agency that’s invested and will benefit when Aston Martin benefits. It was a great fit and a natural progression. 

Simon Sproule is presenting ‘Why every brand news personalisation: lessons from a luxury car brand’ at the 2015 Centaur Festival of Marketing, 11-12 November. 

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