A herd of automotive journalists get led off into a dark room filled with oversized furniture and cheap snacks.
It is where the ritual slaughter of truth takes place. A screen bigger than Wilt Chamberlain’s …. flashes in front of them as discordant music pulses and the beautiful people beam out their irrational exuberance of owning the upcoming 2014 model.
The actors and actresses on the screen are all young, sexy, virile, obscenely joyful, and about as genuine as a thirty-three dollar bill. Which is A-OK for me. Because after the fifteen minutes of corporate infomercials filled with empty code words such as “Value”, “Best In Class”, and “Award Winning”, the head honcho of the press junket let’s me, and everyone else, off the hook with the biggest lie in the car business.
“We believe our core audience will be young people in their 20’s and 30’s.”
It doesn’t matter what car they are trying to jerk us off with, the words never change.
Young… 30’s…. a technology junkie…
20’s and 30’s… preferably someone who thinks that there were plenty of talented white dancers on Soul Train.
A rabid Jimmy Fallon fan… 20’s to 30’s…. who still thinks old Town Cars and floating sting rays are great ways to rebuild your brand image.
I have been through dozens of press car launches over the last two years, and every single one of them is lock, stock and loaded with a barrel full of the big lie.
“We… want… the… young. Old people? Not in our commercials! But you’re invited to visit the local dealership, and we’re hoping that the parental enablers within you will help improve our current demographics. But our NEW customers? Our army of customers for the future? Young.”
The young obviously include the young at heart, and of course, that includes all of us who have the money to blow on a new car. In otherwords, the average 60 year old.
These days the mature among us are supposed to be sold with plenty of dancing, spastic pop music, and enough good drugs to turn any rotten life into a Disney movie.
Am I being a curmudgeon? Not at all. This particular commercial struck me as one of those patronizing phony pitches that is designed for success in the boardroom. and failure in the marketplace.
The old man within the middle-aged me looked at this ad. and imagined a bunch of burnt out advertising executives trying to convey the following message.
“Our car is the cool car. Our cool is the hip car. Why? Shut up and look at the young people dancing. It’s like, all 70’s and shit.”
This is the same outstanding logic that brought us talking cartoon ducks selling Cadillacs.
Commercials featuring water, which were somehow supposed to introduce the Infiniti brand back in the day when all Datsuns were Nissans.
And the reanimated corpse that nobody knew outside our industry or cared about. Once again hocking cars… maybe…
Now if Harley Earl had ripped the flesh off that young guy’s neck. Carjacked the brand new 2003 Pontiac GTO, and hit enough curbs, pedestrians and stop signs to make the commercial resemble the game Grand Theft Auto, then it would have been something worth our attention.
Instead you’re left thinking, “What the hell was that all about? Buicks? Old guys with hats?”
This is the exact level of bewilderment that goes through my mind whenever I am reintroduced to the young buyer paradox. Young people are broke these days, for the most part. So why fucking lie?
Reality usually gets no more than a passing glance in the rear view mirror at these new model launches because doing so would require these guys to admit that that their best customer is the stupid one who buys the car at MSRP, and finances it at an 18+% interest rate,.Plus bullshit fees and GAP insurance.
While the guys pine away about their target audience. This is what I usually lead between the lines and the moving lips.
“We love all our customers Steve. Really! But we especially love the stupid ones who are bad at math.” If the guys who presented these vehicles would at least pay homage to their true prime customer, instead of creating fictional facsimiles based on modern day fashions, they would likely wind up with better marketing campaigns.
The Cadillac XTS was probably the best example of the type of marketing campaign where there is simply no audience and a complete dismissal of reality. After a few commercials featuring music and random images of the XTS, we were introduced to the then brand new CUE technology. This new system would be the killer app for getting Cadillac’s new young customers in the door.
Did the CUE technology enable hands-free communting? Was it some type of tablet, phablet, or mobile device? I came there with absolutely no idea what CUE meant.
So, I was treated to a solid two minutes of a guy using what seemed to be aikido type movements to guide all the instrumentation on the center console.
What the hell was that? Why?
Well, because in the future dictated by Cadillac, apparently knobs no longer work. This was the defining reason to buy the XTS. No knobs.
After the final video, we were given the grand announcement of who the target audience would be for the XTS.
30’s, maybe 40’s.
Someone who thought that Cadillac is a world class brand that can outperform other leading luxury brands including Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Infiniti.
You bet your ass I had questions. After a couple of minutes I was mentally crossing out the questions that I simply couldn’t ask…
“I see that CUE uses hand movements for the radio and temperature controls. What about finger gestures? If I gave CUE the finger, or the circle jerk, would it automatically scan to the nearest talk radio station?”
“In the future, are there any black people who buy your product?”
“What do you guys have against knobs? Couldn’t you have simply constructed four round knobs that don’t feel like rubber dog chew toys?”
This is the one I ended up asking…
“The Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6 and BMW 5-Series all offer multiple engine choices along with their own unique high performance models. You are offering one engine and that one is shared with the Impala and LaCrosse. How can you realistically expect to compete with the best cars in this class?”
The fellow in charge of answering the questions did a little sidestep.
And let me in on who Cadillac’s future customer would be.
The sleazy used car dealer? Pretty close.
The young Silicon Valley entrepreneur.
Now don’t get me wrong. Marketing teams in every industry want to show how their product is the best in the business. But to get people into that Promise Land when it comes to cars, you need a target that your audience can relate to.
Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who think that Cadillac is a world class brand is not a target. It’s a fictionalized slip of the tongue that let me know the XTS had no chance of making it.
“Young people” is also not a target. When it comes to cars, not even an age group (or sex) can represent a valid target. 25 to 35 can range anywhere from investment banker to jail bait.
However, the worst target is not one that is too big, too small, or even a fictional one.
The worst target in the car business is the one that aims squarely at pleasing the guys in the suits, and nearly nobody else who is outside their brainwashed world.
Self-adulation of a brand, or a model, is the surest way of making any audience cynical of your credibility and intent.
Everybody says they’re the best.
It takes more than that to get the point across. In the case of the spastic dancing Corolla commercial, they could have used a canine, a cane, and a Clapton… and maybe some cocaine from the 70’s.
That would do the trick.