By on September 18, 2011

Once upon a time, this stuff was easy. When Jean Jennings needed a little extra pocket change all she had to do was… make an ad. Like this one, for the Silverado. Or this one, for Jeep (which I swear was still visible less than a year ago). Nowadays, however, you’ve got to be a little more careful about how you go about lending your “editorial credibility” to one of the brands you’re supposed to be covering rather than shilling for. So instead of the straight-up “Hi, I’m Jean Jennings, Editor-in-Chief of Automobile Magazine, and here’s why I love Chevy’s Silverado” pimpatorial of the past, you’ve got to layer on the irony, load up on non-car-related distractions (I’ve got it… a puppet!) and generally avoid the personal testimonial format as much as possible.

Yes, the pimpatorial game is becoming more subtle… another example: Motor Trend boss Angus Mackenzie’s Subaru-funded adventure of personal discovery that happened to be featured in both his magazine and Subaru’s Drive Magazine. But when it comes to crossing the line between editorial and advertising, isn’t more subtlety a bad thing? If the editor of a buff book is going to shill for a product or brand, wouldn’t you rather they just come out and do it so you can get on with ignoring conclusions to comparison tests like

Ford has unabashedly pandered to those of us who care about driving by designing an efficient, comfortable mainstream car that absolutely nails the finer points of steering feel, suspension tuning, and overall driver involvement. Our vote goes to the Focus.

? Ford has also “unabashedly pandered” to your E-I-C and her appreciation for fat checks… and even if your conclusions are correct, they should be ignored. I’m generally a fan of subtlety, but to paraphrase Homer Simpson, I like my beer cold, my meat red, and my sell-outs shameless.

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22 Comments on “Automobile Magazine And The New Pimpatorialism...”

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    Yup. And that’s why some of us have stopped subscribing to these rags out of principle.

    For another data point, did you catch the latest edition of Auto Extremist? Peter DeLorenzo breathlessly lauds Porsche’s controversial product-diversification campaign. Hmmm. Looks like DeLorenzo has been talking with “a small sampling of Porsche dealers around the country….” As an independent journalist? On his own dime?

    I suppose anything is possible, but Peter’s rhetoric tends to run very hot or cold depending upon whether he has “access.” Remember his old front-page banner, “Bob reads it.”

    For some reason that banner disappeared, but Peter still promises the “High-Octane Truth.” I wonder how much it costs?

    • 0 avatar

      “…breathlessly lauds Porsche’s controversial product-diversification campaign”

      No way, Doc. DeLorenzo only went so far as to say that Porsche was making a two prong approach to the market work. That is, they’re making money at selling cars some cars to poseurs and other cars to true believers.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr Lemming

        Share with us one sentence that would give heartburn to Porsche’s PR Dept.

        More to the point, what is Peter’s financial relationship with the automakers he writes about? Did Porsche/VW compensate him in any way for the research and writing of this puff piece? Has he done any consulting for them?

    • 0 avatar

      Nonsense. If you listen to DeLorenzo on Autoline he clearly is less supportive and more resigned to Porche’s success on selling none “true believer” Porche products.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d given up on DeLorenzo a while ago because of the combination of his (1) understandable focus on marketing instead of cars; (2) unremitting dewy-eyed nostalgia for the glory days of the 50s in Detroit; and (3) tendancy to bloviate against people for no particular reason. At your suggestion I went and read the Porsche piece and found he’d apparently turned to shilling as well, writing about the new 911 debut in Frankfurt — bylined “Detroit.” This week he’s raging at “espresso-swilling genius CEO” Marchione. Italians drink espresso; that doesn’t seem all that pertinent or informative.

      So, goodbye again,

    • 0 avatar

      I am guilty of still subscribing to Automobile Magazine, among other buff mags. I do enjoy reading the columnists — Kitman, Cumberford, and Dyer. But I don’t rely on these magazines to buy a car. TTAC opened my eyes to that. Instead, I use TTAC, Consumer Reports, and just got introduced to True Delta.

  • avatar

    that’s incredible

  • avatar

    The worst pimps in the auto journalist world is “Motor Week.” They are useless. I haven’t been able to watch an episode in ten years without at some point rolling my eyes at their alleged car reviews.

    • 0 avatar

      But they aren’t “journalists,” and Motor Week is not for you.

      Motor Week is just a collection of b-roll footage. Nobody watches it for unvarnished reviews.

      It’s not for enthusiasts. Its for 75 year old PBS viewers who don’t know the marketplace and like to get a brief understanding of a few cars.

      It’s just a source of pictures and whatever’s in the press release. It’s fin for what it is.

  • avatar

    A few years ago the New Yorker published a little article on Jennings, which was one of the worst pieces $%#@ I have ever read in that usually independent and critical magazine. I gathered that the whole angle of the piece (ugh) was the idea of a woman in a man’s profession: Cars! That’s supposed to be the domain of men! Wow! And she speeds and talks trash too..! What a character!

    So, rtaher than write an article about a REAL automotive journalist and someone with hero status – the late, great Paul Frere for instance – they did a lame profile of a sellout from a third-tier auto magazine.

    Anyway, as much as I appreciate the goal of these types of articles on TTAC, I’m afraid those of us that understand the insult of people like Jean Jennings are few and far between.

  • avatar

    These pimpatorials would be more effective for the mfr if the spokesperson mentioned their credentials, thus meeting the dual requirements of openness and impressing the audience.

    But if I subscribed to their work, I’d forever doubt their neutrality knowing they got paid for pimping. It’s OK for a journalist to state an opinion, as long as it’s not paid for.

  • avatar

    Credibility and authenticity are, IMHO, slowly creeping back into peoples’ vocabulary and becoming key factors in product purchase decisions. After years of BS, I think enough people have wisened up and know it when they see/smell it.

    Small anecdotal case in point: Apple has an unpublished rule for advertising that what they show in advertisements must match the experience a user can expect when they pick up the actual device. Hence why when you see iPhone ads demoing facetime video conferencing, it looks a bit muddled and a a bit choppy – as you would expect. They don’t try to tart it up for the ads to sell more phones because they know that such actions ultimately disappoint and anger consumers.

  • avatar

    Truth be told, does anybody who is actually buying a new car consult with the rags first? Every year we go to the local new auto show, hosted by motor trend, so we get a free subscription every year. The magazines make good bathroom reading material.

    But when it came to actually buy a car….. According to them I should of picked the Rav4 over my Liberty CRD, despite the fact the Toyota didn’t have a 4-low or, for that matter, couldn’t tow my camping trailer. On the other hand, I picked a new Mustang, which they did too for much of the same reasons when up against the Camaro, and Genesis.

    What kills me though is when they spoon feed endless BS about chassis tuning, steering feel, etc. I don’t think most people can physically sense out the difference on what is good and what is bad. For the most part, I like a pretty soft ride, and my 78′ Malibu is more pleasant to drive then the “tuned suspension” with advance “steering feel” of new cars they gush over in the rags.

    In the end, I know what I’m looking for, so I go out, drives the cars I want, and come to my own conclusion. Case in point, how any car rag can even remotely recommend a new VW (and Audi ever more so) is beyond me.

    • 0 avatar

      “What kills me though is when they spoon feed endless BS about chassis tuning, steering feel, etc. I don’t think most people can physically sense out the difference on what is good and what is bad. For the most part, I like a pretty soft ride, and my 78′ Malibu is more pleasant to drive then the “tuned suspension” with advance “steering feel” of new cars they gush over in the rags.”

      Great comment.

      I like BMWs. But I liked the Cadillacs and full-size GM cars of the 1980s and 1990s, too. They offered a ride that was unmatched by any German car built since the 1970s.

      But the magazines convinced us that every car had to ride like shit. They also convinced us that every family sedan had to have a 250hp V6, which is why a current Accord has fuel mileage worse than the cars sold under the same nameplate 20 years ago.

  • avatar

    My question is this: Why is anyone surprised about this? Automobile was a glorified ad rag from the beginning of its existence. And after watching Jean Jennings’ so-called “test” of the Lincoln MKS on Speed Channel against the BMW 550i, Mercedes E550, and the Maserati Quattroporte, and having the gall to declare the Lincoln the winner, I concluded that she had absolutely NO credibility as an automotive journalist.

    Anyone who would have the utter gall to declare the Lincoln – a way-overpriced Ford Taurus – as the winner of that comparison…well, I’d say that speaks for itself.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Richards

      What speaks for itself is the fact that you didn’t watch that competition very carefully. if you did, you would have known that the BMW won, with the Lincoln coming in second. You also failed to mention that a Jag was included in the contest. And both Automobile AND Motor Trend conducted the event. The results were legit. The MKS indeed bested all the others except the BMW and that was by the slimmest of margins.

      • 0 avatar

        FYI, Automobile and Motor Trend are sister publications. They have their own editorial slant and try to target a slightly different demographic, but they are published by the same company, share stuff, and aren’t really competitors.

        Car And Driver and Road & Track have a similar relationship with each other. I suppose CandD / R&T can be thought of as competitors to Automobile / MT.

        TTAC competes with all of them! And wins! :)

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    from David E Davis:
    “I dream of a FedEx flight on its way to Memphis flying over Parma where she lives and a grand piano falling out of the airplane and whistling down through the air, this enormous object, and lands on her and makes the damnedest chord anybody has ever heard; this sound of music that has never been heard by the human ear. And the next morning all they can find are some shards of wood and a grease spot and no other trace of Mrs. Jennings.”

  • avatar

    Wow ! I did not know DED jr had it in for Jean… I had not heard that.

  • avatar

    I still enjoy Automobile magazine. Although seeing this, I’m going to look at it differently The lack of separation of editorial and commerce definitely impacts the magazines credibility. Although it is yet to be seen whether it’s a positive or a negative.

    On one hand, to prevent biased coverage, editorial should be completely unbiased and removed from advertising and marketing.

    On the other hand, brands need to have good relationships with editors and other influencers. And being on the pulse of the industry can only help produce better products.

    This Ford example isn’t so bad. But I have a huge problem with the Silverado spot, which is clearly just a paid ad touting the awesomeness of “every generation” of GM truck. Please.

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