A Teenager Takes on the Auto Show Brochure

“When salespeople cannot have a deep, business card exchanging discussion with every individual who comes by, the quality of print speaks volumes.”

These might sound like the words of a sales veteran with years of experience engaging prospects. They were actually penned by 17-year-old Ben Rutter, Print Media Center’s “teen on the street.” Ben recently made the rounds of the Portland Auto Show, and did some on-the-spot research on the correlation between print quality and brand promise.

“As always, human interaction is the first and foremost form of selling, but when the Portland Convention Center is mobbed with thousands of fervid car enthusiasts, printed brochures take prominence as the major form of salesmanship,” Rutter writes in Print Media Center.

He wanted to know:

  • How effective is print as a form of promotion for auto manufacturers?
  • Which manufacturer are the most successful with their pieces?
  • What kind of quality do they put into their printed communication?
  • And how does that relate to their quality of the car?

“For my experiment, I chose a variety of brochures and booklets, in the end filling my bag with more than 15,” Rutter continues. He took a representative piece of print from three tiers of car maker — Scion, Honda and Hyundai — analyzing the quality of each and how that impacted his impression of brand quality.

With Scion’s brochure, he found their brochure reflected the company’s market of the younger, no-frill buyer. “It is a piece of paper with car specs on it, folded four ways. Not extraordinary or expensive, but it is an unusual approach, and one that could stand out from a stack of traditional looking booklets.”

Next was Honda’s brochure, which boasted a vivid image on the cover. “When opened, however, the thin paper is 1-ply translucent, and a white line bisects the image of a Honda CR-V,” he notes. “The line does not bleed over the edge of the page. It’s not seen again in the booklet, so the reader wonders: Is it a mistake or just a poorly executed design element? Also, the thinness of the paper remains on the mind. If you are conveying a high-end solid brand with longevity and reliability, the choice of pseudo tissue paper does not suggest anything but cost-cutting.”

Finally, the Hyundai brochure: “The major factor I find immeasurably satisfying in this booklet is the thickness of the substrate,” he writes. “When you grab the piece and wave it, it makes that wak-kaow wak-kaow sound, like the noise a Pac-Man game makes. The choice of thick paper is unique among the printed pieces I chose.”

Whether intentional or not, the quality of the booklets did indeed correlate with Rutter’s existing perception of brand quality. His takeaway? First, the role of print cannot be minimized when dealing with large audiences in a setting like the auto show. And secondly, the quality of that print speaks volumes.