Cars, furniture, computers, appliances like washing machines or TVs, jewelry, sports equipment, and many other items fall under the category of what economists call durable goods—things that are meant to last. It’s also fair to consider some business-to-business categories, such as construction equipment, under this rubric. What these items all have in common, from a branding perspective, is that because they represent a bigger purchase, customers tend to consider their options more deliberately, and choose more rationally than emotionally. However, that doesn’t mean the brand isn’t important. On the contrary, it is more important because more is at stake in creating the right perception of value.The branding of cars is probably more scientific than that for any other item, simply because there is so much at stake. Cars are the second most expensive thing most people buy in their lives (after their house), and car companies stand to earn (or lose) billions of dollars a year depending on the success of their brand.Clotaire Rapaille, the Swiss-American anthropologist and expert on brands, believes each culture has what he terms a “code” for the things they buy. The American code for automobiles, he says, is identity. Americans want to be known by what they drive. For them, a car is not just a useful gadget for getting from A to B; it is an expression of their selves.Rapaille’s ideas have been very influential on the design and styling of a generation of cars in North America. Why do enormous, inefficient Hummers sell so well? Americans like to feel dominant. When you drive one, you feel on top of the world.Germans, on the other hand, identify cars with engineering. They like cars that are well made, fast, safe, and long-lasting. The slogan Vorsprung durch Technik—which, loosely translated, means “progress through technology”—resonates with a European customer, but not an American one.In Rapaille’s thinking, a specific car can also have its own code. For example, in Americans’ minds, Jeep is associated with the idea of a horse. It’ll go anywhere. Rapaille recommended changing the Jeep’s headlights from square to round to reinforce this association, and American advertising successfully pushed the idea of a Jeep as a “go-anywhere” vehicle. In Europe, on the other hand, Jeeps have a close cultural association with liberation. Chrysler’s marketing of Jeeps in France and Germany played up the symbolism of freedom.Car companies seem to spend the lion’s share of their energy staying up-to-date, constantly revising styling, adding options, and tweaking performance. Nevertheless, when it comes to branding, many automakers strive for a traditional look. This can be seen in cars’ logos, some of which date back nearly a century. A surprising number of car logos incorporate some kind of heraldic symbolism.Many car manufacturers give their advertising agencies and graphic designers very precise instructions regarding how to depict their cars in ads, web pages, brochures, and PR materials. The brand image depends on the car being perceived in a certain way, so things like the angle of photography are carefully specified. This ensures that the car won’t look too long or too short, too fat or too small. Of course, most drivers want the actual experience of driving a vehicle before they buy it, but the marketing materials can get a buyer interested and put them in the desired frame of mind before they open the door and sit behind the wheel.