Car gadgets ride into new outlets

Now that MTV's 'Pimp My Ride' has made the growing interest in car customization more apparent, mainstream outlets are latching on to the story.

Now that MTV's 'Pimp My Ride' has made the growing interest in car customization more apparent, mainstream outlets are latching on to the story.

Of all the reality shows that have debuted in recent years, perhaps one of the most surprising successes is MTV's Pimp My Ride.

In each episode, one young owner of a beat-up car has his or her vehicle tricked out with the latest in high-end rims, tires, electronics, and other gear.

Not only has the show raised the profile of its host, rapper Xzibit, but it also has turned car-customization shop West Coast Customs into a household name among the 16-to-34 demographic. "We are now the most popular show at Viacom," says Mike Megdal, president of marketing and PR at West Coast Customs.

But Pimp My Ride is just one driver of the revival in the $31 billion automobile after-market industry. In fact, it is actually the culmination of a four-year surge in public and media fascination with car customization.

"The movie The Fast and the Furious was really the generator of the most recent wave of media interest," says Peter MacGillivray, VP of marketing and communications for the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA). "The release of that movie really woke up a lot of people, not only in North America, but in the world, as to the fun and excitement of personalization of automobiles."

MacGillivray estimates that there are more than 100 titles either specifically devoted to customizing cars or that include accessories in overall auto coverage. But he adds that mainstream lifestyle and business writers are behind most of the recent increase in media coverage.

"This industry of cool cars and trucks is impacting such a wide breadth of popular culture, including fashion, TV, movies and video games - and even the way people market food - that it's now a mainstream business story," he says.

Other contributors

Peter Tyson, VP of advertising, PR, and motor sports at Pirelli Tire North America, adds that the custom-car industry is also benefiting from a host of celebrity car owners eager to showcase their latest rides. "Often, for a lifestyle journalist, having that celebrity owner gives them more of a story than just writing about the vehicle itself," he says.

It's also led to the creation of a whole new magazine category, with outlets such as DUB and Rides merging sports and entertainment celebrities with the latest in car accessories. Myles Kovacs, president and cofounder of DUB, says the magazine has experienced triple-digit growth in recent years as automotive styling emerged as a sub-culture of the hip-hop lifestyle.

"As hip-hop inundates the world, rappers are marketing these cars through the lyrics and the music videos," he says. "It's predominantly a male 16-to-34 audience, but we've been spiking up in the number of female readers because many women who are fans of say, Snoop Dog, want to know what he's driving. So the celebrities attract a new audience, and we're then able to educate them about cars."

Gregory Arroyo, marketing materials manager for Clarion, which makes in-car entertainment systems, credits Pimp My Ride for reintroducing the media to mobile electronics.

But he adds that newer technologies, such as satellite radio, in-car DVDs, and navigation systems, have given companies like Clarion a fresh new story to tell.

"Getting into something like Maxim can be tough when you compete with today's portable market," he says. "But because we have a new iPod controller for our source, we're able to get into more mainstream magazines."

Expanding opportunities

MacGillivray notes that regular columns in such outlets as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal demonstrate just how broad the coverage of the auto accessories industry is.

"We can talk to a Good Housekeeping about how customizing cars is a way for parents to connect with their kids, and we can pitch Cargo on the latest car accessories that are hip," he says. "We try to make this more than a statistics story, so we work with our members to shift the conversation to specific companies and product solutions."

Kovacs, whose DUB brand is now on a die-cast car-toy line, a video game, and a national car-show tour, dismisses any notion that this is a short-term fad. "We took it over from where Lowrider left off, and it took it over from where Hot Rod left off, so the public interest has been there for a long while," he says.

Adds Tyson, "When people grow tired of modifying Hummers, they'll move on to the Range Rover Sport or the new Escalade, or maybe we'll move away from SUVs entirely to another type of car. The vehicle being modified may change, but the interest is going to be there."

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Pitching... car customization

  • Make sure you match up your product to the outlet. Not every reader will be interested in 17-inch spinning rims, but there's an auto accessory for almost every demographic

  • Cool cars are one thing, but cool cars with a celebrity driver have twice the impact. Look to align your client's products with big names, especially from sports and hip-hop

  • Most mainstream outlets don't have a full-time car accessories reporter for reviews, but they are looking for trends, so pitch your client as part of a bigger-picture story

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