Navigant Research Blog

Fisker Looking for ‘Bieber Effect’

Dave Hurst — March 29, 2012

Fisker Automotive has hit a rough patch (a rock quarry may be a better way to characterize it, actually).  The company has seen excitement about the product crumble recently thanks to the recent, incredibly public, failure of the $102,000 Fisker Karma while being prepped for testing by Consumer Reports.  This was immediately followed-up with the all-but-expected whistleblower claiming he or she knew it all along.  At the same time, many see the freeze on loans from the U.S. Department of Energy as putting the kibosh on the company, or predict that SEC investigations of original investors will scare any future funding sources, or are of the opinion that the CEO change signals trouble for the company.  Any of these developments could mean that implosion is imminent.

Despite all this, two things can sure be said for Fisker:  the company designs sexy cars, and teenagers love sexy cars.  For his 18th birthday, the heartthrob of 15 year olds everywhere, Justin Bieber, was given a Karma by his manager (no word yet if he lived close enough to the studio to make it home before the battery light came on).  Bieber joins several other celebrities with the opportunity to own this piece of vehicle history, because let’s face it, whether Fisker survives or not, the cars will likely be collectors’ items.

The strategy of putting celebrities’ sexy backsides into the seats of cars is not new.  Vehicle marketers have been using that strategy for decades (why do you think Chevy gives away a Corvette at the Superbowl?).  Fisker is wise to foster this strategy because over the years it has proven to work.  One of the most recent example comes from Cadillac’s resurgence, which many attribute to the Escalade’s appeal to hip hop stars and wannabe stars, bringing in younger buyers and growing sales to a peak in 2005 as the third largest luxury brand in the U.S. (beating Mercedes, just behind Lexus and BMW).  For a brand previously known for the Fleetwood and Seville, that was a dramatic turnaround.

Fisker faces a different situation because the brand is new.  But a “Bieber Brand Bump”, particularly among young people, is very important to help make Fisker seem less fly-by-night and make it an aspirational vehicle for youngsters.  Unfortunately, the quality issues have the potential to undermine any Bieber Bump, unless perhaps Fisker can convince Bieber to pick up a wrench and help improve the mechanics.

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