When Mercedes made emotional owner’s handbooks

In this week’s Autocar magazine, Chris Goodwin bemoans the fact that Daimler AG has taken the romance out of its owner’s handbooks.

He refers to the handbooks for Mercedes cars built in the 1980s, and how they congratulated the owner on their wise decision to purchase an expensive, high quality car:

1980s Mercedes handbook

1980s Mercedes Handbook

Today, the emotional element has been taken out of the Mercedes handbooks. Goodwin highlights the current SL’s owner’s manual :

2000s Mercedes Handbook

Goodwin writes:

No “thank you for spending £110,000 on the car”, no “congratulations on your excellent good taste” and no pleases.

In defence of Daimler, there are good reasons for the Publications team to make this change:

  • The contemporary handbooks do not feel like they has been translated from German into English.
  • The “minimalism” style used has made the text easier to translate into multiple languages.
  • It also uses fewer words, leading to reduced translation costs.
  • Today, you can buy more affordable Mercedes cars. The A, B and C class cars weren’t around in the 1980s, so perhaps there’s less post-sale “buyer’s remorse” to deal with.

Having said that, Colin Goodwin makes a good point. The 1980s manual takes on the role of the “nurturing parent”, and it empathises with the owner. In the pursuit of clarity and reducing translation costs, that third element of good design – the emotional element – has been lost. As we have said in previous blogs, in some situations, Technical Authors need to bring back that affective, emotional element into user documentation.

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One Comment

Larry Kunz

I think that Goodwin doth protest too much. The new manual still contains phrases like “Daimer AG wishes you safe and pleasant motoring.” I doubt you’d find that in most auto manuals. And there’s still a “please,” although now we have to wait until the 6th paragraph to get it.

That said, I do think there’s been a shift in emphasis from an earlier time when purchasing a luxury car got you membership in an exclusive club. Companies like Mercedes were selling a sense of belonging almost as much as they were selling a mode of transportation. We don’t see that so much today — in part because, as you say, the manufacturers have broadened their markets and in part because many consumers don’t want it. They’ve become less sentimental and more practical

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