The Truth About Cars » Marketing http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 30 Apr 2015 18:00:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Marketing http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com March Madness, Bad Car Ads And Grown Men Crying Over Games http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/march-madness-bad-car-ads-grown-men-crying-games/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/march-madness-bad-car-ads-grown-men-crying-games/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 22:50:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1025553 I have a hard time being invested in televised sports. I could put it in my own words, but the best explanation comes from this essay, which likened it to being in an abusive relationship. Imagine a girl. Very pretty, a joy to be around, and a nice person that is kind to animals and people alike. […]

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I have a hard time being invested in televised sports. I could put it in my own words, but the best explanation comes from this essay, which likened it to being in an abusive relationship.

Imagine a girl. Very pretty, a joy to be around, and a nice person that is kind to animals and people alike. She’s a good person, and deserves a good boyfriend, someone who is nice and kind to her.

She has a boyfriend. But he sucks. He makes her pay for everything. When they do something, he tells her what they’re going to do, never asks what she want to do, and never makes any accommodations to her wishes. He only pays attention to her when he wants something out of her, but when she needs something, he is totally unresponsive. He relentlessly lies to her, and is transparently dismissive of their relationship and her as a person. He makes important decisions that impact her without asking her, or consulting her or even considering what she wants. He takes her completely for granted, and almost seems like he holds her in contempt. In essence, he treats her like garbage. Yet, she worships him and supports him no matter what.

What would you tell her? You’d say what any reasonable person would say: What the hell is wrong with you? Why are accepting this? You can do better. He’s not worth it, there are so many other great guys out there who won’t treat you so badly, stop putting up with this.

Now, think about this: If you are a devoted fan of a pro sports team, you have the exact same relationship…with that team.

You are the girlfriend, the team is the boyfriend, and they don’t give a shit about you, and you love them anyway.

Now, with college sports, I get that there’s a connection to a school based on geography, or alumni status or something else. But it’s still an entity that does not give a damn about you, and you are staking your happiness on the performance of people who are, in many cases, not old enough to legally crack a bottle of celebratory champagne. And if you didn’t go to that school? Well, Bark M has words for you.

But what’s worse than all of that is Acura’s campaign to create “memeness” for March Madness. I can’t remember I’ve seen anything so nakedly attempting to be hip or pandering to the “digital native”. It is undignified for any brand, especially for one like Acura that is trying to be taken seriously in the premium space (as the digital marketers would probably call it).

The most recent ad, with a strings version of The Pixies “Where Is My Mind” was pretty great. This campaign sucks. Like everything else Acura has done since they switched to alphanumeric names, it’s two steps forward, one step back.

H/T Damon Lavrinc

 

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Trend Setters and Trackday Drivers, How Cadillac Tries to Appeal to Diverse Customers, An Interview With Cadillac’s Marketing Chief http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/trend-setters-trackday-drivers-cadillac-tries-appeal-diverse-customers-interview-cadillacs-marketing-chief/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/trend-setters-trackday-drivers-cadillac-tries-appeal-diverse-customers-interview-cadillacs-marketing-chief/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 20:23:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=996810 I don’t know if it will help them sell cars are not, but Cadillac’s decision to move it’s business headquarters to the trendy Soho district of New York City has certainly gotten some attention as have Cadillac marketing maven Melody Lee’s comments related to the move and the potential customers they hope to reach by […]

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2016 Cadillac CTS-V. Full gallery here

I don’t know if it will help them sell cars are not, but Cadillac’s decision to move it’s business headquarters to the trendy Soho district of New York City has certainly gotten some attention as have Cadillac marketing maven Melody Lee’s comments related to the move and the potential customers they hope to reach by making Cadillac into a more general luxury brand, not just a car company. When I saw that Lee’s boss, Jim Vurpillat, Global Marketing Director for Cadillac was going to be participating in a press event for the 2015 Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, because Cadillac has factory based teams running racing versions of the ATS in the Pirelli World Challenge, it seemed like a good opportunity to ask him how racing and the high performance V cars in Cadillac’s portfolio fit in with appealing to New York’s trendy set, a group not known for their love or horsepower or what they see as environmentally questionable motorsports.

Q. Where do motorsports and performance fit into Cadillac marketing? The people to whom you’re appealing by moving Cadillac HQ to Soho in NYC are not the same people who are drawn to high performance V cars and Motorsports.

A. The move realy isn’t about that. How we look at performance is that racing proves the performance credentials of the V series and the V series provides performance credentials to the overall Cadillac brand. So they’re intrinsically linked together.

Q. So you don’t see a conflict between that and making Cadillac into a fashionable luxury brand?

A. No because luxury by it’s definition is pretty broad. When you look at the luxury landscape you’ve got performance series like [BMW’s] M, [Mercedes-Benz’s] AMG, [Cadillac’s] and V series and you have a group of audience for that. You have things like alternative propulsion, electrification, so there are things like our ELR, [BMW’s] i cars, hybrids. You have to be very diverse and your portfolio has to be diverse.

The key though is that when you do a car, that it has to have really a sense of no compromise. So, with our V cars, especially the new ones that we’re releasing, they’re a great daily driver as a luxury car but then they’re certainly a track capable machine.

What we’ve seen since we’ve gotten back into racing in the last four years is that we’ve grown the enthusiasm for the V brand, not just among our owners, and dealers but there’s more and more people…

Q. Back in the early 1950s after Cadillac introduced the first modern OHV V8, Cadillac was all about performance and competed in the Panamerica races in Mexico.

A. That’s still the case today.

Q. Getting back to the New York move, don’t you think that motorsports and performance might turn off the crowd that’s attracted to the plug in hybrid ELR? Enthusiasts have the impression that New York is not a car friendly city.

A. No, I don’t think so. New York is the single largest market for luxury cars in the United States, it’s also the largest performance market. You have to remember that the greater metropolitan area includes Connecticut, Westchester County, northern New Jersey, down into mid Jersey and Pennsylvania, Long Island, so it’s huge. When you’re there and you drive around you see luxury cars everywhere, so I don’t think there’s a risk at all. With luxury buyers, one of the pillars of building a strong luxury brand is a strong performance element and it’s been an element that we’ve been lacking a little bit, trailing BMW and Mercedes and Audi.

So racing supports that, we’ve seen that enthusiasm. We like to use the V cars… When we did the first generation, when we did the first CTS-V, it shocked people. Then when we did the next generation CTS, people asked, “are you going to do a V?” Now, with the third generation CTS and the ATS, people are like, “Where are the Vs?” We said they’re going to come and now they’re here.

We’ve seen that progression of V and I think directly, racing, especially this last four years with the Pirelli World Challenge, we’ve seen that interest.

Q. What’s the return on investment? Does Cadillac track sales results from motorsports?

A. We measure all of our events so when we’re at a track, and we activate, like at the Detroit Grand Prix, and we ask for people’s names and information, we track who signs up at the booth and then we measure that in sales. I can tell you that it has a huge ROI. Racing is very strong. We oversell Vs as a percentage to racing fans but the number one vehicle that we sell to people who come to a racetrack is the SRX [crossover], which is our number one selling car in general.

Q. Crossovers are one area where Cadillac’s portfolio is weak.

A. We’re going to see an expansion of that. At the end of the day we see what racing is doing is showcasing to people Cadillac and Cadillac performance and then they’re going into a showroom and picking a Cadillac. And they walk away with something like an SRX or ATS, which is exactly what we want.

Q. Is there going to be a V version of the upcoming CT-6?

A. We’re discussing that. It won’t be a V series. We’re still building a brand, we think that at the core we have to be very tight with what what gets badged a V series. Some of our competitors are far more.. they’re expanding their AMG offerings at Benz. We think that as we build the brand we have to be very focused on what a V is. If the car or the vehicle can’t deliver that.. we get asked all the time “Why can’t we have a V series Escalade?”

Q. Cadillac has had some concept car hits with the Ciel and Elmiraj, and a brand can’t really be considered a luxury marque if it doesn’t compete with the big boys, the S-Class and 7 Series cars. If Cadillac really wanted to assert itself in the luxury field, why not build them? What could they cost, $125,000?

A. As you build a portfolio, you have to have a long term vision and you can’t stretch too far. You can always use this example: When we did the first generation CTS, everyone was like, oh my, a small, little Cadillac. Then five years later, when we introduced the next CTS we got, “When are you going to do a car smaller than the CTS?” and we brought out the ATS. If we had first come out with a car the size of the ATS it would have been too far.

You have to build out from the middle, then to [consider to] do a vehicle like the Elmiraj, to do a vehicle the four door [convertible] Ciel, but is it too far up here? Fill in your main segments first.

It’s no joke, between now and 2020, we’re spending $12 billion on Cadillac, our portfolio will be extremely added to in that time.

Q. You said we will not see an Escalade V, but there are credibly performing luxury SUVs and crossovers like the SRT Grand Cherokee, Audi AQ5, as well as the Porsche Cayenne and Macan. There’s clearly a market subsegment there. Since a lot of the growth in crossover sales are the result of the changing attitudes of female consumers who drive (no pun intended) about 80% of consumer purchases in general, is offering a performance crossover one way of appealing to men.

A. Performance cars are decidedly, when we look at Ms and Vs and AMGs you know it’s 90% male. When we get into the higher performance cars, like the M5, it’s about 98%. Women like the performance when they have it, it’s just different where they put the emphasis.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Piston Slap: Sponsor My Ride? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/piston-slap-sponsor-ride/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/piston-slap-sponsor-ride/#comments Mon, 09 Feb 2015 13:46:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=994786   TTAC Commentator John R writes: Hey Sajeev, Hope this finds you well. I wanted to get your opinion on car sponsorships…if they still exist. I see a bunch of websites all over claiming to get a person’s car repaired or modded up on someone else’s dime. I look at these sites and they scream […]

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Charge me…pull my finger? (photo courtesy: OP)

TTAC Commentator John R writes:

Hey Sajeev,

Hope this finds you well. I wanted to get your opinion on car sponsorships…if they still exist. I see a bunch of websites all over claiming to get a person’s car repaired or modded up on someone else’s dime. I look at these sites and they scream SCAM to me.

Maybe it’s because they look like throw backs to GeoCities…

Anyway, if guys are still able to do this, how?

If I can get ol’ Wolverine here kitted the way I want it with little or no cost…

John R
Somewhere in Hellaware

Sajeev answers:

Do these sponsorship websites have MIDI music, too?  That’s when I know there’s a quality company ready to sponsor my ride!

The old adage about free lunches is true: legit sponsorship requires mad Public Relations skillz, and a good idea behind it.  Like the initiatives behind Wounded Warrior’s High Five Project and their wrapped Ford products. Your opinions about W.W. as an organization aside, their raison d’être certainly makes a convincing sponsorship statement.

So what the heck is your raison d’être? And can you make a convincing sponsorship proposition with it and Wolverine? Time to study up, time to craft a business plan and one amazing elevator pitch.

Good luck with that!

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Super Bowl Auto Maker Ads – Not Quite As Bad As Pass Play on 2 and Goal on the 1, but Close http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/super-bowl-auto-maker-ads-not-quite-bad-pass-play-2-goal-1-close/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/super-bowl-auto-maker-ads-not-quite-bad-pass-play-2-goal-1-close/#comments Wed, 04 Feb 2015 15:18:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=993810 TTAC reader David Obelcz is back with his rundown of the latest crop of Super Bowl ads. For some watchers of the Super Bowl the game being played is meaningless. For them the sport is not on the field and the debate is not that the Patriots are one of the most dominate teams in […]

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TTAC reader David Obelcz is back with his rundown of the latest crop of Super Bowl ads.

For some watchers of the Super Bowl the game being played is meaningless. For them the sport is not on the field and the debate is not that the Patriots are one of the most dominate teams in football history and Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback to play the game why Pete Carroll didn’t give the ball to Marshawn Lynch in a 2 and goal on the 1 yard line. It isn’t meaningless to them because their team didn’t make the big game either. For some, the Super Bowl is all about the advertisements that run.

For the 2015 Super Bowl there were fewer car advertisements than previous years and from a marketing stand point, mostly duds. Thirty-eight national ad campaigns debuted that were required to turn 60 minutes of sport into four hours of television, 7 from auto makers. In addition, General Motors, Ford and Mini showed previously released advertisement in the 30 minutes prior to kickoff.

Some of the Best and Brightest of this hallowed site have suggested that Detroit sells on emotion, and emotion doesn’t sell product. If that’s true than a lot of ad agencies got it wrong this year because not just auto makers, but most advertisers played on emotion. For some including Nissan, Nationwide, and Dove, there was more emotion than the look on Richard Sherman’s face when Malcom Butler picked off Russell Wilson.

On to the ads.

The Fiat Blue Pill – Fiat 500X Crossover

Click here to view the embedded video.

Sex sells so they say. Of course when the sex is between a married couple pushing 60, well, maybe not so much. The premise is that the little blue pill, required for, “amore,” falls into the gas tank of a Fiat 500, and makes it, “bigger, more powerful, and ready for action.”

In advertising 101 they teach you there are sexual subliminal, and sexual blatant ads – any questions on what type this one is? Who is our target demographic? Well look at our 500X Crossover owner in the advertisement. He is young, handsome, single, and a Millennial. Buy a Fiat 500X Crossover and you’re going to get more action than our esteemed former EIC on a week-long guitar and vodka trip you could ever want. Of course I don’t know if the average millennial wants attention from 50 year old women sweeping the streets with a broom.

Fiat does get some things right. The camera angles they use put the Fiat 500X in a favorable light. When the crossover is first introduced the camera is low, and the lighting creates an illusion of ruggedness and SUV grade ground clearance.

GRADE: C-

Mercedes-Benz Fable – The Tortoise and the Hare

Click here to view the embedded video.

Ahh the story of the tortoise and the hare. Our hare in this blended animation spectacle has Richard Sherman flashing two-four over-confidence while our tortoise decides that some performance enhancement via four liters of hand built biturbo V8 engine is the way to go. The Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S, because if you can drop 10 large times 4 for your family to see the Super Bowl in Arizona, you got the cheddar to put this in your garage.

This is an aspiration piece, because the average American with the average income is never going to be able to buy a Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S. But Mercedes is hoping that they can draw buyers into their showroom to drool over on the AMG GT S in the showroom, and drive out in a $369 lease deal in a new GLA. However, this is where the ad falls flat. Animated forest critters that are Disneyesque in nature aren’t going to appeal to the AMG GT S buyer because there is nowhere to put the rug rats, and the average owner isn’t going to let the kids inside so they can spill their non-GMO, sugar and gluten free, organic, Concord grape juice in that special interior. This car is a weekend toy and future garage queen. There is nothing wrong with that, but woodland critters are not the best option for an aspiration piece on a luxury coupe with a hand built engine and racing heritage.

This ad comes across not really connecting with its target market at any level. It also has bad timing in its theme, telling how slow and steady does not wins the race, but deflating footballs cheating does.

GRADE: D

Toyota Camry – My Bold Dad

Click here to view the embedded video.

If emotion isn’t the path to selling vehicles, Toyota sure didn’t get that memo. “Being a dad is more than being a father. It’s a choice to get hurt rather than to hurt.”

That’s heavy, and the one thing this ad doesn’t do is say much about the Toyota Camry. On the other hand most Americans know what a Toyota Camry is, a reasonable, boring in non SE trim, appliance on wheels that will go 250K miles and seat five. The other thing that is shocking in this ad is our target demographic. Our dad in this ad is gray, with a lined face, a receding hairline, and when we get to the climax of the ad, an empty nest. So is Toyota really saying that the Camry demographic is over 50, has an empty nest, and is pining for their kids? Yikes!

This is really more a brand building ad. A piece to tug at the buying demographic heartstrings. In that respect it’s effective, but not the winner in the emotional arms race Madison Avenue ran this year. Additionally, whenever I see an advertisement that doesn’t touch on a single feature or benefit of the product, it screams to me, “we got nothing!”

GRADE: C-

Jeep Renegade – Beautiful Lands

Click here to view the embedded video.

FCA has been running epic, emotional advertisements in the Super Bowl since 2011 when Eminem declared Chrysler was back and imported from Detroit means something. In 2012 Clint Eastwood told us we were in half-time, but it was OK, because Detroit knows what it means to be coming out of hard times. In 2013 God Made a Farmer, guts, glory, Ram, for the farmer inside of you. 2014 had Bob Dylan asking us if there was anything more American than America. Never mind that the Autobahn was built before the Eisenhower Highway System. FCA continues this tradition for the fifth year with Beautiful Lands.

Woodie Guthrie is probably spinning in his grave over his iconic This Land Is Your Land being used in an auto advertisement for a Jeep built in Italy and Brazil. Middle America is definitely spinning that the American open space anthem was globalized. The backlash on Twitter was swift and FCA should have foreseen the coming ire. Last year’s America the Beautiful ad from Coca-Cola took a pounding for its multi-cultural positioning around an American anthem.

There is something almost depressing in the artist’s rendition of the song, and the visuals focus more on, well, being eye candy than on actual product. So the world is a gift America, play responsibly! Although beautiful imagery, I don’t feel the message and the music is going to compel people to buy a Jeep and tear up the forest.

I think I need to go buy a Nissan Leaf.

GRADE: D+

Kia Sorrento – The Perfect Getaway

Click here to view the embedded video.

The changed perception of Hyundai and Kia in just a decade has been remarkable. The 2012 Kia Optima Super Bowl ad was declared strange at best, Brett Michael, race tracks, hot women, speed, and – well – a Kia Optima.

Kia uses comedy and aspiration to sell you the Sorrento. Hey, we have Pierce Brosnan, James Bond himself! Oh, and here is our friend the sexual subliminal, because there is going to be fireworks! Are you noticing a theme developing in these ads? Once again, we have an older male, one that many would aspire to be. So why go after this demographic? Because this demographic is buying new cars (as has been debated to death)

Kia shows more product, including their chunky logo, and implies strongly in the ad that the new 2016 Sorrento is luxurious. The elements of telling the story connect back to the product (where the Fiat 500X ad focuses a lot more on the story). We’re also told through the story that the Sorrento is safe, rugged, and powerful. Oh, and if you buy a 2016 Kia Sorrento, you’re going to have more sex than Jack – fine – it probably wasn’t that funny the first time.

GRADE: B-

Nissan Maxima – With Dad

Click here to view the embedded video.

This ad was already highlighted on TTAC almost immediately after the Super Bowl. Where FCA dropped the ball on the emotional epic ad, Nissan spikes this on in the end zone harder than Gronkowski. If Nissan waited for more than two decades to return to the Super Bowl ad game with this, it was worth the wait.

This advertisement only shows two seconds of the new Nissan Maxima. But where our other emotional ads don’t quite catch the viewer’s heart, this one nails it like a Tom Brady bullet to the numbers. If you didn’t have a tear in your eye at the end of this ad you’re not human, or you have serious daddy issues. Nissan wanted you to share that tear in your eye, with a clever connection to social media and the #withdad hashtag. When you compare the emotional dad theme between Toyota and Nissan, these ads aren’t even close. They attempt the exact same thing, but the end result is Toyota is Andrew Luck and Nissan is Tom Brady.

The story arc shows us the racing heritage of Nissan, and conveys in a way that most American parents can understand, the sacrifices made when raising children. Once again our buyer demographic in the ad is pushing 50. Dads in America are apparently older, in great shape, with graying hair and blue eyes. Ah America! The added element of tinnitus during the racing accident and imagery leaves you in doubt on whether this ad is going to go to a dark place – it pulls you in during the story telling connecting both the child and the parents to the viewer. What we get in the end is redemption and understanding from a maturing son, and a peek at the new Nissan Maxima. Oh, and if you watch the ad, Panther platform cameos!

GRADE: A+

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Editorial: Who Needs Quality? Or, the Myth of Brand Loyalty http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/editorial-needs-quality-myth-brand-loyalty/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/editorial-needs-quality-myth-brand-loyalty/#comments Wed, 04 Feb 2015 00:24:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=989858    Quick question: what was the number one factor in your most recent new vehicle purchase? Was it styling? Performance? Features? Financing? Price? Comfort? Practicality? Or that old stalwart, quality? If you answered in the affirmative to that last suggestion, you’re part of a shrinking bloc. There were a lot of winners in the 2014 […]

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Quick question: what was the number one factor in your most recent new vehicle purchase? Was it styling? Performance? Features? Financing? Price? Comfort? Practicality? Or that old stalwart, quality? If you answered in the affirmative to that last suggestion, you’re part of a shrinking bloc. There were a lot of winners in the 2014 auto sales race, but quality wasn’t one of them.

Consider the top 5 market share-gaining brands in the 2014 calendar year. They were Maserati (up 171%), Jeep (up 41.2%), Ram (up 27.5%), Mitsubishi (up 24.8%), and Subaru (up 21.0%). If we leave out the ultra-luxe niche brands and those purchased exclusively by the brain-eating undead, we have Jeep, Ram, Subaru, Lincoln (up 15.6%), and Audi (up 15.2%). If we re-organize once more and focus on groups with a wide variety of offerings, it’s Subaru at the head of the line, followed by Fiat-Chrysler (up 16.1%), Nissan Motor Group (up 11.1%), Kia (up 8.4%) and Mazda (up 7.7%).  Now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at the results of J.D. Power’s 2014 Initial Quality Study.

jdp-iqs-survey-1

                Hmm, that’s interesting. Of the non-luxury brands that gained the most market share, only Kia beat the industry average for defects per 100 vehicles. Ram tied the average, Nissan slipped below it, and Subaru, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Jeep are all slumming it near the bottom. How about J.D. Power’s 2014 Vehicle Dependability Study, which looks at the number of problems experienced by owners of 3 year old vehicles in the previous 12 months?

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                Things are looking a little better for Subaru and Mazda now, who both beat the industry average by a statistically meaningless margin. Nissan and Kia slipped below it, and Ram, Mitsubishi and Jeep are again in the basement. So there you have it: 2014’s biggest market share gainers were solidly mediocre to poor in J.D. Power’s quality studies. Of course, there is bound to be an outcry here that J.D. Power can’t possibly represent everyone’s lived experience, and that’s fair. But perusing the likes of TrueDelta and Consumer Reports won’t poke any big holes in J.D. Power’s reports; they’re all more or less the same, with a few minor variances. More importantly, perennial quality mavens Honda and Toyota posted year-over-year sales gains of 1.0% and 5.8%, respectively. For Toyota, it was a solid if uninspiring year buoyed by strong performance at Lexus. For Honda, it was the kind of year that makes upper management start to look around for parachutes. What gives?

In the press release for the Initial Quality Study, there’s this interesting nugget about how vehicle defects impact brand loyalty:

Combined data from previous years’ IQS results and the Power Information Network® (PIN) from J.D. Power show that 57 percent of owners who reported no problems stayed with the same brand when they purchased their next new vehicle. Brand loyalty slips to 53 percent among owners who reported just a single problem and to only 48 percent among owners who reported two or more problems.

So according to J.D. Power, there’s only a 57% chance that owning a car with zero defects will lead to trading in your vehicle for the same make the next time around. If you have two or more problems with it (and keep in mind, we’re not talking about weighting these stats to reflect severity in any way), it slips to 48%. Those two numbers both have something in common: they’re F grades. The popular meme says that those who own ultra-reliable cars will return to dealerships like migrating geese, but the data says otherwise. Billions and billions of dollars spent on quality control, and the customer loyalty reward is little better than a coin flip. The Power data is the most compelling evidence yet that the “there are no bad cars anymore” chestnut has really penetrated the mainstream. If even the owners of the best-made cars are largely up for grabs, then what does that say about the conventional wisdom that quality conquers all?

Even if you don’t believe it, assume for the sake of argument that it’s true that it’s not that difficult to build a reliable car anymore. Even the most problem-plagued models are likely to have faults more of the annoying variety, with serious mechanical failures few and far between. Most consumers will have their expectations of reliability met, unless they get a statistically rare lemon. If’s that’s the case, then how long can quality endure as a selling point? This is analogous to the problem Volvo is facing right now in regards to safety. Safety has been a key selling point for Volvo for decades. But who makes unsafe cars anymore? Safety standards are stringent, and even cheap cars have an increasing number of whiz-bang safety technologies. Take away safety, and suddenly Volvo loses what little distinctiveness it had left. Volvo’s only hope now is to become the Chinese answer to Audi in the United States. Good luck with that.

There is at least one man in the auto industry who firmly understands that quality isn’t the make-or-break proposition it once was: Carlos Ghosn. As the other manufacturers choked on their passenger cars in 2014, Nissan grew sedan sales 15%. Of full-line brands including trucks, only FCA had a better year. All of this came on the back of a brand which, quite frankly, has shrugged its shoulders at quality for most of the last decade and a half. Nissan’s quality record in the United States is mixed, but looking back through the last couple of years of J.D. Power studies tends to support the conclusion that the company has been solidly below average since around the turn of the millennium. Clearly, there is something besides quality that is pulling people into Nissan dealers. Maybe it’s styling. Maybe it’s value for the money. Maybe it’s performance, or fuel efficiency. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter; all that it demonstrates is that it’s possible to build sales success on the back of supposedly subpar quality. FCA’s sales data says much the same thing. Inversely, the recent success of the brands with iffy quality means that Volkswagen’s sales disaster can’t be traced to reliability woes alone. Weak or missing product, poor marketing, and an infamous dealership experience are all more salient factors. Perhaps it’s time to question the value of endlessly harping on quality as the sole determinant of success. Or at least, devise better statistical tools to understand reliability. That last point is especially important, given how automobile technology has changed so much since the introduction of these surveys.

Like safety, quality is rapidly disappearing as an independently marketable category. The days where squishy, bland cars could be counted on to generate sales by virtue of quality alone are numbered. Toyota has certainly realized this, which explains the direction of much of their new product. The racy new Camry and the pseudo-premium flavor the Corolla both speak to a changed mentality. The FR-S is an attempt to bring some pizzazz back to showrooms, and even the “We ain’t got no room for boring” Highlander commercials are an attempt to push back against the brand’s staid image. Then there’s the un-blanding of Lexus, as that brand heads in a more Germanic direction. At Toyota, quality is still a priority, but in the marketing department it’s already taken a back seat to other virtues. And if Toyota won’t rest on quality alone to sell its vehicles, then who will?

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Cadillac Exec: “No Petrolheads Need Apply” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/cadillac-exec-petrolheads-need-apply/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/cadillac-exec-petrolheads-need-apply/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 13:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=954809 It is not our intention to pile on poor Cadillac after our recent discussion, but comments made last week by the automaker’s marketing manager Ewe Ellinghaus must be noted. Speaking to Advertising Age, he repeated the new company mantra about the carmaker becoming a “the first luxury brand that happens to make cars,” and then added: “When I recruit new people, I don’t […]

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Casa-de-Cadillac-_Christmas-1955 Courtesy curbsideclassic.com

It is not our intention to pile on poor Cadillac after our recent discussion, but comments made last week by the automaker’s marketing manager Ewe Ellinghaus must be noted. Speaking to Advertising Age, he repeated the new company mantra about the carmaker becoming a “the first luxury brand that happens to make cars,” and then added:

“When I recruit new people, I don’t need petrolheads. We have more than enough petrolheads and we will still. I need people with experiences in other industries, but with luxury brands.”

We must assume that Ellinghaus, most recently with Montblanc pens and formerly with BMW, was using the European term equivalent to what we call a “car guy” or “car gal.” If so, Cadillac’s future is as bleak as the B&B thinks it is, and not just because of products.Ellinghaus and new Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen are assembling a team of perfectly-diverse and social-media savvy managers from non-automotive luxury companies who probably know all the right restaurants in their new home in New York City. That is fine but choosing not to hire proven car industry folks is just plain dumb. A car guy or gal is someone who has succeeded because they understand that sales only comes from great cars, great marketing and great dealers.  Bob Lutz is a car guy. Soichiro Honda was a car guy. Lee Iaccoca was a car guy. Ellinghaus says Cadillac has cars guys on staff but we can’t think of any; either way he insulted them all by saying, “we have more than enough petrolheads.”

Ford Motor Company has a true car guy on the rise by the name of Henry Ford III. The great-great grandson of the company’s founder actually spent a summer at Galpin Ford in Los Angeles selling cars to better understand the retail side of the business. We doubt you will ever see de Nysschen or Melody Lee, their “Director of Brand and Reputation Strategy” talking to Cadillac shoppers on a showroom floor, let alone ever setting foot in one of their retailers. Speaking of dealers, Cadillac needs a major overhaul of their dealer body, one that is lagging behind other luxury brands in customer handling. Whoever will be in charge of dealer relations needs to be a major car person, not Amber from Tiffany’s.

One issue not discussed by our commentariat in our last Caddy story was the impending move of their sales and marketing team from Detroit to Manhattan. One good thing about being in New York is the chance to hire managers away from the US headquarters of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Subaru in northern New Jersey. (Oh, wait, they are not hiring petrolheads.) Separating themselves geographically from the rest of GM might be a good idea, but they went the wrong direction: they should have gone west to car-crazy Los Angeles. Lee recently said that people in New York City are a “little bit ahead of everyone else,” another insult to GM’s Michigan workforce. That may be, but people in Los Angeles are ten steps ahead when it comes to knowing great cars.

At least Ford was visionary enough to open an Orange County, CA office in 1999 as headquarters for its former “Premier Auto Group” brands, Range Rover, Volvo, Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Lincoln. Cadillac should have done the same. Ford was thus smack in the middle of the market where import luxury brands sell upwards of 20% of their cars and where Mercedes-Benz sells 50% of its AMG hot rods. Automotive trends start in Los Angeles, not New York.

Ford's old SOCAL luxury brand building; Caddy should have done the same

Ford’s former LA luxury brand building; Cadillac should have moved to SoCal rather than SoHo

Ford execs could walk downstairs on a Saturday morning and meet hundreds of knowledgeable car folks at the premiere “Cars and Coffee” gathering in the country. When the Caddy crew walks out of their Soho high-rise, what car folks will they be able to meet and greet other than limo and taxi drivers?

Cadillac has massive product issues and their sales are tanking this year. Industry insiders wonder how long de Nysschen and his crew will last at Caddy. We think his next move should be to Acura so he can say he worked for the trifecta of Muddled Brand Image, Nutty Nomenclature Automakers: Infiniti, Cadillac and Acura. At least he will be in Southern California, surrounded by petrolheads.

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Cadillac’s Director of Brand & Reputation Strategy: “We Don’t Want To Be An Automotive Brand” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/cadillacs-director-brand-reputation-strategy-dont-want-automotive-brand/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/cadillacs-director-brand-reputation-strategy-dont-want-automotive-brand/#comments Sun, 30 Nov 2014 17:41:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=953897   In an interview held at Cadillac’s new business headquarters in New York City’s trendy SoHo district with Fortune, Melody Lee, ‘director of brand and reputation strategy’ for General Motors’ luxury brand, had some interesting things to say about the move to NYC, about the brand, and about herself. Other than to say that it’s […]

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Photo courtesy of General Motors

Photo courtesy of General Motors

In an interview held at Cadillac’s new business headquarters in New York City’s trendy SoHo district with Fortune, Melody Lee, ‘director of brand and reputation strategy’ for General Motors’ luxury brand, had some interesting things to say about the move to NYC, about the brand, and about herself. Other than to say that it’s just quite possible that outstanding product is a little bit more important to a company’s success than Ms. Lee seems to think, I’m not going to comment on her remarks because I think they speak for themselves and, frankly, I think they don’t bode well for the brand. You can read them and offer your own commentary after the jump. The engineers and designers at GM have given Cadillac the best products that it has had in decades, but automotive history has many examples of fine vehicles that were crippled in the marketplace by the very people trying to market them.

Thus spake Melody Lee:

“I’ll often say, ‘Well, do you want a millennial’s perspective?’ You have one right here.”

“Everyone in New York is always just a little bit ahead of everyone else and we need to be the brand that stands for that.”

“I don’t buy products, I buy brands. I don’t use Apple computers because they are the best computers, I use them because Apple is cool. We need to show drivers what the Cadillac lifestyle is all about.”

“We want to be a global luxury brand that happens to sell cars. We don’t want to be an automotive brand.”

Hat tip to Pete DeLorenzo for spotting the interview with Lee.

The floor is open for your discussion now.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

 

 

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Farley, Odell Exchange Roles In Ford Exec Shuffle http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/farley-odell-exchange-roles-ford-exec-shuffle/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/farley-odell-exchange-roles-ford-exec-shuffle/#comments Mon, 10 Nov 2014 11:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=943409 Two Ford execs are about to have their passports stamped, as marketing chief Jim Farley and Ford of Europe general Stephen Odell are switching roles and addresses, effective on New Year’s Day 2015. Both execs will continue to report to Ford CEO Mark Fields, who had this to say on this exchanging of executives: We […]

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Jim Farley, Ford Executive Vice President of Global Marketing, Sa

Two Ford execs are about to have their passports stamped, as marketing chief Jim Farley and Ford of Europe general Stephen Odell are switching roles and addresses, effective on New Year’s Day 2015.

Both execs will continue to report to Ford CEO Mark Fields, who had this to say on this exchanging of executives:

We are excited to see Jim and Stephen take on these new roles as they bring unique skills, experience and fresh perspectives to these critical positions. These moves also underscore our commitment to develop our senior leaders through deep experience within both our business units and our global skill teams.

Farley has been in his current role since 2007, having come over to the Blue Oval after a decade of leading Toyota’s marketing efforts. Come January, he’ll be tasked with executing the One Ford plan in Europe “to achieve profitable growth through an unprecedented focus on new products, a strong brand and increased cost efficiency.”

Odell held down the fort since 2010, and was Volvo’s CEO and president from 2008 to 2010. He’s also been with the company for 34 years, and will work on building Ford’s and Lincoln’s global presence “through innovative new digital communications and transforming the retail experience for customers.”

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Volvo Will Only Appear At Three Major Auto Shows http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/volvo-will-appear-three-major-auto-shows/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/volvo-will-appear-three-major-auto-shows/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 19:30:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=914746 A report in Canada’s The Globe and Mail claims that Volvo is withdrawing from all but three major world auto shows – Detroit, Paris and one unnamed auto show in Asia – as part of a new marketing strategy. According to a Volvo spokesperson, the new display format, which will debut at Paris, will be “unlike what […]

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10616565_820829897950483_243305277_n

A report in Canada’s The Globe and Mail claims that Volvo is withdrawing from all but three major world auto shows – Detroit, Paris and one unnamed auto show in Asia – as part of a new marketing strategy.

According to a Volvo spokesperson, the new display format, which will debut at Paris, will be “unlike what anybody has seen before.” Volvo recently sold a run of 1,927 2016 XC90 SUVs in an online pre-sale campaign, with the entire allocation being sold off in less than two days, and may be feeling a bit optimistic about doing things differently. But not all of their dealers are thrilled. Toronto-area dealers have banded together to stake out a spot at the Toronto Auto Show, and although Volvo Canada has endorsed the initiative, the display will be funded entirely by the dealer body.

 

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Editorial: Tesla is What Scion Should Have Been http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/editorial-tesla-is-what-scion-should-have-been/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/editorial-tesla-is-what-scion-should-have-been/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 14:52:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=860249   It’s not an exceptionally large showroom, but the façade is enormous. The Tesla retail store in Columbus, Ohio wraps around an entire corner of the Easton Town Center, that city’s premier upscale shopping venue. My trip to the store, the first time I’d ever set foot in a Tesla retail location, was an eye […]

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photo_tenant_tesla

 

It’s not an exceptionally large showroom, but the façade is enormous. The Tesla retail store in Columbus, Ohio wraps around an entire corner of the Easton Town Center, that city’s premier upscale shopping venue. My trip to the store, the first time I’d ever set foot in a Tesla retail location, was an eye opener. Tesla’s retail model is an example of what Scion could have (and should have) been.

Tesla’s presence at Easton is inextricably interwoven with the history of American retailing. Easton is the brainchild of L Brands founder and CEO Les Wexner, who has overseen the growth of some of the country’s biggest names in retail: Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie and Fitch, Bath and Body Works, Lane Bryant, and many others. Easton opened for business in 1999, as part of the new wave of American retail venues that appeared in the late 90s and early 00s. These were indoor-outdoor hybrids, replete with restaurants, entertainment venues, and other “lifestyle” amenities. Consumer response to these new options was strong, and today Easton is still one of the state’s most successful retail development projects.

Easton’s rise was directly linked to the decline of traditional malls. Northland, Eastland, and Westland were opened in the 60s to serve customers in and around the Columbus metro area. Of the three, only Eastland is still in operation, and it’s currently for sale. De-urbanization and the general decline of Columbus’ old neighborhoods near the city’s core hurt these malls, but they were also undermined by changing customer expectations. When Easton opened (as well as the copycat Polaris Fashion Place developed by the rival Glimcher development group), it suddenly made the indoor malls seem like relics of a bygone era. Easton had anchor department stores like Macy’s, a movie theater, some indoor small shops, and other features that traditional mall customers expected. But it also had bars, quality restaurants, a children’s park, and even a luxury grocery store. It also had a myriad number of high-end standalone retailers that were previously only to be found in exclusive locations in big cities: Lacoste, Tiffany’s, Louis Vuitton, Coach, and many others.

Eastland and the other traditional malls didn’t need these kinds of retailers to satisfy the basic demands of their traditional customers. But what the luxury brands did was give Easton a halo of respectability and posh refinement that itself was an object of consumer desire. Although there are plenty of rich people who shop at Easton, a $2500 handbag is well out of reach for most people who go to the mall. What Easton does is give the plebs the chance to rub shoulders with the moneyed set before sneaking into Macy’s to buy a $40 dress. Wexner’s decision to arrange most of the high-end stores along a single boulevard lined with metered parking was a stroke of genius. Every day the main thoroughfare is flanked by an ever-changing lineup of Benzes, BMWs, Porsches, and exotics. The other malls withered, and then crumbled. Northland Mall, just a few miles up the road, was torn down in 2004.

Now, Easton has a store that sells electric cars. It would be tempting to say that this store is unlike any that have come before it, but that isn’t really true. There’s a Model S in the middle, of course, as well as bodiless chassis buck. Otherwise, the Tesla location looks a lot like the other high-end retailers ringing Easton’s perimeter. Soothing but distinctly modern Muzak plays through the ceiling, and everything is brilliantly lit and tastefully furnished. There are a variety of slick technical displays explaining various features of the car, as well as options.

Most importantly, the walls are covered with logo merchandise of every type, shape, and description: t-shirts, coffee mugs, tin lunchboxes, baby onesies. All of this is overseen by Tesla personnel, in this case two young men. They were as fastidiously dressed and groomed as any Brooks Brothers employee, and had the manners of a really good sommelier at a high end restaurant: polite, unquestionably confident, and just easygoing enough to talk you into making a really expensive decision. Or, if you want to buy a $25 shirt, they’d be more than happy to help you with that too. What the Tesla location resembles is not so much a car dealership as the Puma store it replaced: a variety of premium branded goods, sold by handsome young people in a clean and upbeat atmosphere.

Contrast that with my last visit to a Scion daler, which was pretty representative of all the Scion dealers I’ve ever set foot in. The Scion display was in the corner of a much larger Toyota showroom, which was itself part of a large dealer group. It was constructed in the manner of virtually all large car dealers: a bunch of lots and showrooms in their own area, distinct from other retail outlets. The Scion display consisted of a single panel, which was filled with informational pamphlets. Half of these were for products that either no longer exist or are in some kind of planning limbo.

The other half were for the kind of cashback deals and financial incentives that can be found in any dealership anywhere. The only Scion in the showroom was an automatic xD, which was dusty and fingermarked. I fooled around with it for a good twenty minutes without anyone bothering me. I had a salesman on hand about thirty seconds after I started examining the new Corolla. There was some Scion logo merchandise, but it was in the parts department alongside all the overpriced windshield wiper blades and camo pattern trailer hitch covers. There was nothing that jumped out as edgy, different, or alternative. Certainly, there was nothing to make you think you were anywhere but a car dealer.

It was pretty clear that nobody much cared about the Scion side of the dealership, and why should they? People don’t come to Toyota dealers looking for Scions, they come looking for Toyotas. Scion will never be much more than a distraction for the salespeople, who are much more invested in selling Camrys, Corollas, Rav-4s and Tundras. At this point, most Scion sales are either to the limited number of enthusiasts buying FR-S’s, or people who were disappointed to find out that the Corolla doesn’t come in hatchback form anymore and decided to settle for something else instead. Scion urgently needs new product, but it also needs a complete overhaul of the buying experience. The traditional dealership format is completely inimical to accomplishing the stated goals of the Scion brand: attracting a younger clientele to Toyota products, while modifying the traditional dealer experience.

The history of retail is a stream of constant reinvention. Every generation has contributed some important innovation to the backbone of the consumer economy. Online shopping is perhaps the most relevant current example of this trend, but brick-and-mortar stores have been reinventing themselves too. Walmart wiped out many smaller grocery chains, as well as traditional department stores. But it failed to steamroller the entire grocery market because it became synonymous with lower-end retail. Publix, Target, Kroger, and other chains have hung on by offering a more pleasant shopping experience and a better selection of higher-end goods.

Similarly, Easton represents a way of reinventing retail to better serve the needs of a modern, affluent clientele. Tesla, with its direct sales model and glimmer of luxury branding, represents a perfect fit for Easton’s retail model. It’s a brick-and-mortar store, but one with a distinctly modern feel. And although its main product is out of reach for the majority of Easton’s customer base, it still offers other ways to capture some of that Tesla magic. The Tesla showroom is a constant parade of gawkers, most of whom come away distinctly impressed by what they’ve seen. This is ground zero for building a brand, and Tesla is hitting it out of the ballpark. Why can’t Toyota emulate this model for Scion?

The answer, of course, is that Toyota isn’t in any position to disrupt the market in such a way. They are firmly a part of the American automotive Establishment, just as much as any of the Big Three. Their franchise dealers are their lifeblood, and are responsible for much of their American success. Setting Scion up as a direct sales operation would have required throwing these dealers under the bus, as well as a massive legal campaign with no guarantee of success. In short, it would be an incredibly foolhardy move, and it’s no surprise that Toyota eschewed it in favor of following the established model. This meant, though, that Toyota missed the opportunity to do something really revolutionary with the brand, or at least make it seem revolutionary.

When GM launched Saturn, there was nothing on paper that made the dealership model seem any different from previous ventures. However, the focus on customer service and satisfaction was such a revelation that even import brands were caught off guard. Toyota didn’t try to shake up the dealer experience with Scion, besides some milquetoast moves towards customization and fixed pricing. Instead, Scion was just another car brand from the get-go. The unapologetic functionality of the first generation xB, and the promise of an Eclipse with Toyota reliability undergirding the tC, were enough to pull in a decent number of early adopters. After that, the brand languished. Scion didn’t damage Toyota’s fortunes, because the product wasn’t shoddy or defective (for the most part). The brand underperformed, however, because it did not deviate from the norm of American auto sales in any meaningful way. For a brand supposed to be based on youthful rebellion and nonconformity, that was the kiss of death.

It may be too late now to salvage the Scion brand. And if Toyota decides to pull the plug on the FR-S at the end of this generation, it may be that the company won’t keep Scion around anyway. Even so, I believe I have a workable proposal for reversing Scion’s fortunes, at least on the marketing front. Take some of the money that’s being wasted on FR-S TV commercials and use it to open some storefront locations in prime shopping areas.

Let these be places where potential customers can get a feel for the product in a non-traditional setting. Put two or three cars in the showroom, and let a few employees explain their features and options. Give customers the opportunity for a test drive, if that’s workable in a given location. When somebody wants to buy, use the power of that newfangled Internet thing to match customers up with locally available inventory. In short, keep Scion customers out of the arms of dealers until the last possible moment. Use the stores as merchandising fronts for the Scion AV music venture. Be like Tesla, and offer copious merchandising opportunities all along the way. If you’re serious about turning Scion into a “movement,” then provide the means for that to happen. Dealers and a few sponsored events aren’t going to do it for you. Keep the franchisees around for their service and sales infrastructure, but don’t rely on them to market Scion for you. You don’t need to sell six-figure electric cars to create buzz. You just need some good product, presented in a relevant and novel fashion. That alone will buy you a lot of credit with the disaffected youth of today’s marketplace.

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Adventures in Downmarketing: Mercedes-Benz Goes Nintendo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/adventures-in-downmarketing-mercedes-benz-goes-nintendo/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/adventures-in-downmarketing-mercedes-benz-goes-nintendo/#comments Sat, 21 Jun 2014 16:00:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=848762 From the department of brand-killing marketing ideas comes Mercedes-Benz’s latest venture: in-game product placement for popular Nintendo game Mario Kart. Why? Because Millennials, that’s why! For those who are unfamiliar with the series, Mario Kart is one of the most successful video game franchises of all time. There’s been at least one game on every […]

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GLAkart

From the department of brand-killing marketing ideas comes Mercedes-Benz’s latest venture: in-game product placement for popular Nintendo game Mario Kart. Why? Because Millennials, that’s why!

For those who are unfamiliar with the series, Mario Kart is one of the most successful video game franchises of all time. There’s been at least one game on every Nintendo system since the days of the square-controller Super Nintendo. It’s easily one of the company’s most valuable franchises, right up there alongside perennial moneymakers like the Zelda and Super Mario Brothers series.

Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U, Nintendo’s current-generation home console, sold over a million copies in four days after its late May release. True to the Mario Kart tradition, MK8 is a zany, fast-paced arcade style racing game with broad appeal. Unlike Forza, Gran Turismo, or other serious simulator-type racing games, MK8 is all about casual play online and amongst friends. Comic explosions and crazy items abound, including banana peels, turtle shells, mushrooms that make you go faster, and squids that cover the screen in digital ink. Into this atmosphere steps Mercedes, which in partnership with Nintendo has announced it will sponsor a “GLA-class” kart as a piece of downloadable content (DLC) for the game sometime later this summer. That means it will most likely be a free, voluntary addition to the game, but the announcement already has many Mario Kart players steamed.

The GLA, and its CLA sedan cousin, are aimed squarely at the entry-level buyer demographic that luxury brands are currently chasing with wild abandon. Mercedes, Audi, BMW, and other luxury brands all want younger blood in their dealerships, as they try to set up a new class of lifelong repeat customers. Millennials make up a huge chunk of the player demographic for the Mario Kart series, so from a pure exposure standpoint the Mercedes sponsorship seems to make sense. Even so, the context of the game wildly clashes with Mercedes’ brand image in North America. That’s partly because this particular venture is something of a digital leftover.

It’s important to note that the GLA kart wasn’t originally intended for the North American market. Instead, it’s the fruit of a Mercedes tie-in with Nintendo in Japan. That includes a classically bizarre Japanese TV commercial (viewable in the link), where a chiseled Mario steps out of a GLA in front of a windswept castle before accidentally stepping on a Goomba. For the Japanese market, though, this is positively vanilla. Freaky ads for luxury goods and virtually everything else are pretty much the norm in the Land of the Rising Sun (if you don’t believe me, waste an afternoon on this Youtube channel). So are tie-ins between seemingly unrelated categories of products, like a German luxury automaker and a homegrown electronic entertainment conglomerate. For the American market, though, this JDM import seriously risks getting lost in translation.

At the heart of the problem is Mario Kart’s overall aesthetic. As explained earlier, it’s the kind of game where crazy power-ups coexist alongside cartoon animals and giant flowers used as parachutes. There’s absolutely nothing realistic about it, and none of the karts resemble actual vehicles in the slightest. It’s a game that exists entirely inside the made-up Nintendo universe; that’s part and parcel of the appeal. Where does a chunky, semi-realistic rendering of a Mercedes-Benz trucklet fit into this?

The short answer is that it doesn’t. Gamers are already complaining that in-game product placement of this type is completely out of line with the spirit of the series. Pessimists will counter that many of these complainers are likely to be twelve-year-olds and basement dwellers whose opinions don’t matter, and they might be right. But this product tie-in encapsulates everything that Millennials hate about marketing targeted at them: a heavy-handed attempt to make something look “cool” and “hip” by sticking it where it doesn’t belong. To those potential customers, Mercedes will now be known as the company that ruined Mario Kart by sticking a fugly CUV inside of it. For everyone else, they’ll just be a laughingstock.

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Minivans Making A Comeback, Minus The Name http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/minivans-making-a-comeback-minus-the-name/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/minivans-making-a-comeback-minus-the-name/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 13:00:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=833506 Once the bane of soccer moms everywhere, the minivan segment is on the rebound in sales. However, the remaining stigma surrounding the name has some marketing reps doing their best to make sure “minivan” is verbotten down on Flower Shop Lane. The Detroit News reports the marketers are throwing around alternatives — such as “people […]

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Ford Transit Connect Wagon: The Unminivan

Once the bane of soccer moms everywhere, the minivan segment is on the rebound in sales. However, the remaining stigma surrounding the name has some marketing reps doing their best to make sure “minivan” is verbotten down on Flower Shop Lane.

The Detroit News reports the marketers are throwing around alternatives — such as “people mover,” “MPV” and “family truckster” — in an effort to make the segment cool for all. Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell, however, has reservations on such re-labeling:

Nobody wants to be categorized as a minivan, but at the same time, they have to let people know about how they can utilize these vehicles. The harder you try to convince people it’s not a minivan, the more they are going to think it’s a minivan. Just call a spade a spade.

While the marketers are trying too hard to “#unminivan” the segment, minivan sales climbed to over half a million in 2013 after a nadir of 434,000 in 2009 during the global economic superstorm’s early phase; sales peaked in 2000 at 1.3 million. Current offerings from the Minivan Three of Toyota, Honda and Chrysler dominate the market, though newer minivans such as Ford’s Transit Connect Wagon and Kia Sedona will add more choices in the coming years.

Though the segment had a homogeneous appearance for the past few decades, modern offerings seek to grab an ounce of individuality as far as what each minivan has to offer to families and young people. In particular, smaller minivans could bring new customers to a brand, leading to further sales down the road as situations change among those who enter the showroom for a “people carrier” over a hatchback.

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QOTD: Nassim Taleb Sums Up The Problem With Our Favorite Car Makers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/qotd-nassim-taleb-sums-up-the-problem-with-our-favorite-car-makers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/qotd-nassim-taleb-sums-up-the-problem-with-our-favorite-car-makers/#comments Fri, 23 May 2014 11:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=829009 In roughly 50 words, author Nassim Taleb neatly summarizes the answer to every essay ever penned about how “Car Company X Has Lost Its Way”. Speaking about our higher education system and its flaws, Taleb writes “This is the natural evolution of every enterprise under the curse of success: from making a good into selling […]

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In roughly 50 words, author Nassim Taleb neatly summarizes the answer to every essay ever penned about how “Car Company X Has Lost Its Way”.

Speaking about our higher education system and its flaws, Taleb writes

“This is the natural evolution of every enterprise under the curse of success: from making a good into selling the good, into progressively selling what looks like the good, then going bust after they run out of suckers and the story repeats itself …”

From Honda to BMW to Lamborghini, it’s difficult to look around and not see examples of this phenomenon at work. On the other hand, there is Lotus, a company that has arguably avoided this trap, while also avoiding any semblance of profitability. But I don’t have the benefit of context and life experience compared to many of the B&B.

Personally, I think that the vehicle above is most symbolic of what Taleb is describing: a front-drive BMW minivan wearing an “M Sport” appearance package. Is there anything further from the platonic ideal of “The Ultimate Driving Machine”?

But I also want your opinion. I want to hear who has fallen into this trap, who had avoided it, who is most in danger and why this is complete and utter BS. Post your reply in the comments.

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Tesla Hires Renault-Nissan Communications Director http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/tesla-hires-renault-nissan-communications-director/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/tesla-hires-renault-nissan-communications-director/#comments Thu, 13 Mar 2014 12:35:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=770985 In preparation to enter the Chinese market while battling state governments of direct sales, Tesla has hired Renault-Nissan communications director Simon Sproule to the role of vice president of communications and marketing for the EV automaker. Bloomberg reports Sproule’s experience gained from stints with Microsoft, Jaguar, Ford and Renault-Nissan may be of benefit to Tesla, […]

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In preparation to enter the Chinese market while battling state governments of direct sales, Tesla has hired Renault-Nissan communications director Simon Sproule to the role of vice president of communications and marketing for the EV automaker.

Bloomberg reports Sproule’s experience gained from stints with Microsoft, Jaguar, Ford and Renault-Nissan may be of benefit to Tesla, according to AutoTrends Inc. principal Joe Phillippi:

In many respects he’s got the perfect background. He’s been on the tech side, he’s been on the international auto side and he works for a CEO with peripatetic qualities who runs more than one company.

Sproule will be responsible for marketing Tesla to Europe and China — who aim to increase sales of its Model S 55 percent through exports to the two markets this year — while aiding in the fight with various state regulators over direct sales to customers, including this week’s blow-up between the automaker and New Jersey.

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German Olympian Compares Team’s Bobsled to Trabant As BMW Spends $24 Million Building Americans’ Successful Sleds http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/german-olympian-compares-teams-bobsled-to-trabant-as-bmw-spends-24-million-building-americans-successful-sleds/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/german-olympian-compares-teams-bobsled-to-trabant-as-bmw-spends-24-million-building-americans-successful-sleds/#comments Sat, 22 Feb 2014 14:00:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=749129 Unhappy with his team’s performance this year in general and at the 2014 winter Olympics in particular, a German bobsledder compared the team’s slow sleds to the Trabant, the primitive 2-stroke powered cars sold in the former East Germany. ABC News quoted bobsled pusher Kevin Kuske, who has won four gold medals at previous Olympics, […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

Unhappy with his team’s performance this year in general and at the 2014 winter Olympics in particular, a German bobsledder compared the team’s slow sleds to the Trabant, the primitive 2-stroke powered cars sold in the former East Germany. ABC News quoted bobsled pusher Kevin Kuske, who has won four gold medals at previous Olympics, as saying, “If in 2010 we were sitting in a Formula One car, then this time we were sitting in a Trabby.” At the same time, German bobsled enthusiasts are a bit unhappy with BMW because the German car company helped make the sleds for the America bobsledders, who so far have done well in Sochi.

Germany has traditionally been a power in the sliding sports but the national team is having a bad year. The Olympics have started poorly for German bobsledders, with their two-man teams missing a medal for only the second time since 1964. It wasn’t just that they were off the podium. The best German finish was eighth, a very poor showing for a team used to medaling. Some German bobsled enthusiasts are questioning the German bobsled federation’s ties to the Institut für Forschung und Entwicklung von Sportgeräten (Institute for Research and Development of Sport Equipment), FES, which built the bobsleds the German team uses. FES was established in the early 1960s by the East German government and according to Reuters the institute receives 90% of its funding from the German government. After reunification, the West German government and sports federations absorbed many elements of what had been East Germany’s extensive sports training apparatus focused on Olympic success.

It’s not clear if Kuske’s comment were a reference to the East German origins of FES or simply a joke comparing the slow sleds to a perennial “worst cars of all times” contender.

While the German team is unhappy, the American team is celebrating, having taken bronze in the men’s two-man bobsled event and silver and bronze in the women’s two-place competition. Making the Germans even more unhappy is the fact that a German company, BMW, had a major role in the American bobsledders’ success. BMW/Designworks USA, the automaker’s California design studio, designed and built the American team’s new sled and the company spent a reported $24 million on the project. BMW North America has a sponsorship deal with the U.S. Olympic team that runs through 2016 and the Olympics are an important part of their marketing effort. BMW North America also sponsors the Canadian Olympic team.

The American team’s previous sled had been built by NASCAR’s Bodine Racing, and a number of high performance automotive companies have contributed to the sport, with Ferrari helping the Italian team and McLaren the British team. The Designworks team came up with a bobsled that, to use Mr. Kuske’s metaphor, comes closer to a F1 car than to a Sprint Cup racer. It’s made of carbon fiber, which saved 15 lbs, and since bobsledding rules mandate a fixed weight for the sleds, the reduced weight of the basic sled allowed the BMW Designworks engineers to have some flexibility with weight distribution, lowering the center of gravity and yielding a better handling sled. Preliminary designs were tested with fluid dynamics in the digital domain, while full size models were fine tuned in a wind tunnel.

As mentioned, BMW’s sponsorship of the American and Canadian Olympic teams is an important part of their overall marketing effort in North America.  Commercials for the i3 and i8 EVs were debuted during the opening ceremonies on NBC and cars on BMW’s stand at the Chicago Auto Show had license plates decorated with the Olympic rings, an American flag and the slogan “Proud Partner”. A series of commercials, short films and advertisements, like the video at the top of this post, tying BMW to the American and Canadian Olympic teams has been produced.

Around the world, local subsidiaries of foreign owned automakers use sports, including sponsorships of Olympic teams, as part of their marketing efforts trying to portray them as community members and good corporate citizens. It’s of a part with publicity about how many Americans, or Australians, or Austrians for the matter are employed locally by those companies, or how much local content Camry’s built in Kentucky have. Doing that, though, has been a delicate dance when “Japanese quality” or “German engineering”, the engineering, manufacturing and design cultures of companies’ native countries, have been part of the marketing mix. The Olympics, with their heavy dose of nationalism, provide an opportunity for automakers’ foreign operations to show that they are part of their adopted countries’ local communities, but as BMW is finding out, it’s also an opportunity to offend the folks back home if one of their adopted countries’ athletes outperform those of their native land.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Farley: Ford’s Global Growth Driven By Crossovers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/farley-fords-global-growth-driven-by-crossovers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/farley-fords-global-growth-driven-by-crossovers/#comments Fri, 14 Feb 2014 12:00:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=741409 Though the F-150 rules over Truck Mountain and North America with an aluminium fist, Ford marketing boss Jim Farley told reporters in a meeting that crossovers are driving his employer’s sales growth all over the globe. Automotive News reports Ford’s shifting focus to crossovers is thanks in part to the popularity among the automaker’s global […]

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Though the F-150 rules over Truck Mountain and North America with an aluminium fist, Ford marketing boss Jim Farley told reporters in a meeting that crossovers are driving his employer’s sales growth all over the globe.

Automotive News reports Ford’s shifting focus to crossovers is thanks in part to the popularity among the automaker’s global audience for the particular body style, as Farley notes:

“Most people think the F series drove our top line unit growth. The No. 1 vehicle was the Escape/Kuga. No. 2 was EcoSport. Together they had about half-million-unit growth for us. The F series was a distant third.”

Farley expects global crossover sales to reach 20 million units by 2018, with 90 percent of the sales — led by the massive hit EcoSport — to be gained outside of the North American market. The aforementioned EcoSport was developed for Brazil, only to see sales jump 220 percent in 2013 upon launch in Europe, India and China.

Speaking of China, the nation is the biggest driver of the global growth now being experienced by Ford, where not only are subcompact crossovers are doing well as are exported North American mainstays Edge and Explorer. The Blue Oval aims to continue the trend when Lincoln’s MKC luxury compact crossover takes the global stage in June against the likes of the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Land Rover Evoque.

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$600 Million Manchester United, Chevrolet Deal Going From Bad To Worse http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/600-million-manchester-united-chevrolet-deal-going-from-bad-to-worse/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/600-million-manchester-united-chevrolet-deal-going-from-bad-to-worse/#comments Wed, 12 Feb 2014 16:30:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=740065 Chevrolet’s $600 million sponsorship deal with major football club Manchester United may have been a match made in heaven, but with Man U’s performance on the pitch as of late, the deal is now on the highway to hell according to Automotive News. The deal, written up by then-head of General Motors marketing Joel Ewanick […]

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Manchester United Squad Attend Chevrolet Event

Chevrolet’s $600 million sponsorship deal with major football club Manchester United may have been a match made in heaven, but with Man U’s performance on the pitch as of late, the deal is now on the highway to hell according to Automotive News.

The deal, written up by then-head of General Motors marketing Joel Ewanick to connect the two brands at the end of the 2012 season, was done due to Man U’s cachet with not only the English Premier League’s viewership — 643 million households in 212 countries — but also with the European Champions League tournament’s 360 million households. Though the Bow Tie has little presence in Europe beyond the Corvette — and would have trampled upon Opel/Vauxhall’s turf — the club’s fans in the Asia-Pacific market was prime for the taking in Ewanick’s mind.

Reality for the deal, however, hasn’t panned out as well as first hoped. The sin of omission committed by Ewanick regarding the sponsorship led to his sacking just as Man U’s long-serving coach Sir Alex Ferguson passed the torch to former Everton FC leader/miracle worker David Moyes.  As AN’s Mark Rechtin notes, things have not been the same since Fergusons departure. The club suffered from internal conflict in the locker room, second-guessing from the English sporting media, indecision on starting lineups, and losses to other clubs they would normally dominate if not outright destroy.

Furthermore, the club is currently seventh place in the overall EPL standings with no signs of improving to pass Everton, Tottenham and Liverpool to reach fourth and gain a qualifying position in the Champions League. Without that golden ticket, Man U will land in the oft-ignored Europa League, a marketing dead zone for any brand, let alone Chevrolet.

Finally, Man U may need to sell their star-studded lineup to make payroll, stripping away the cachet that had attracted Ewanick to pen the sponsorship deal in the first place. Not that it matters much if fans weren’t buying what Chevrolet was selling in the first place.

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Dealers Uneasy About Turnover At GM’s Sales & Marketing Team http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/dealers-uneasy-about-turnover-at-gms-sales-marketing-team/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/dealers-uneasy-about-turnover-at-gms-sales-marketing-team/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 11:30:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=739065 As inventories of unsold cars surge past 100 days’ supply, GM has shuffled its sales and marketing organizations in an attempt to move some of that bloated inventory. Last week, GM moved Buick-GMC sales chief Brian Sweeney, 46, to the top sales post at Chevrolet, taking over for the retiring Don Johnson. Sweeney’s replacement will be […]

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Duncan Aldred, Brian Sweeney and Don Johnson.

As inventories of unsold cars surge past 100 days’ supply, GM has shuffled its sales and marketing organizations in an attempt to move some of that bloated inventory. Last week, GM moved Buick-GMC sales chief Brian Sweeney, 46, to the top sales post at Chevrolet, taking over for the retiring Don Johnson. Sweeney’s replacement will be Duncan Aldred, 43, who most recently has been running GM’s British brand, Vauxhall. Both executives will will report to new U.S. sales chief Steve Hill, 53.

Automotive News is reporting that the continued changes in personnel at GM’s sales and marketing divisions has been a source of frustration for dealers and ad agency executives in recent years. Some dealers feel that what they see as GM’s strongest product lineup in generations is being compromised by chaos in the marketing team responsible for promoting those new products.

“The changes can be a distraction. It makes it hard for dealers to buy into the go-to-market strategy,” said the unidentified owner of a Chevrolet dealership and a Buick-GMC store out West who spoke to Automotive News.

When he takes the job, Sweeney will be Chevy’s fifth U.S. sales chief in less than five years. Cadillac has had four sales chiefs during that period.

Paul Edwards took over U.S. marketing for Chevy only last month, appointed by the brand’s global marketing chief, Tim Mahoney, who himself has been on the job for just 10 months. Cadillac’s global marketing boss, Uwe Ellinghaus, 44, started in that position last month.

 

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Domestic Automakers’ Inventories Soar Past 100 Days’ Supply http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/domestic-automakers-inventories-soar-past-100-days-supply/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/domestic-automakers-inventories-soar-past-100-days-supply/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 11:00:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=738929 Inventories of unsold cars and light trucks have swollen to their highest levels since the recession while sales growth in the U.S. market has slowed significantly in the past five months. That combination could mean larger discounts and incentives and lower profit margins in 2014. According to Automotive News, all three domestic automakers started February with […]

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Inventories of unsold cars and light trucks have swollen to their highest levels since the recession while sales growth in the U.S. market has slowed significantly in the past five months. That combination could mean larger discounts and incentives and lower profit margins in 2014. According to Automotive News, all three domestic automakers started February with more than a 100-day supply of unsold vehicles. Industry-wide automakers had 88 days’ worth of vehicles at the start of February, the highest February inventories have been since 2009, when the industry was at its nadir.

As a portent of things to come, on Friday GM began a nearly month long Presidents Day promotion on Chevrolet, Buick and GMC vehicles, with some of GM’s biggest incentive offers in months.

In January, sales declined 3 percent and the seasonally adjusted annualized selling rate fell to 15.2 million, the lowest since April. Much of that decline was attributed by automakers to the severe winter weather that blanketed much of the country. Analyst, though, say that there are other factors besides the weather.

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said that after four years of growth, the sales pace “appears to have stalled.”

“The industry stands at a crossroads,” Jonas told AN. “We really think the best of the U.S. auto replacement cycle is over. The incremental buyer is moving from someone who needs to replace their car to one who just wants to, making financial willingness to lend and credit availability more important than ever.”

Car companies are minimizing the impact of rising inventories and so far most are not giving in to increasing incentives.

GM’s inventory grew by about 32,000 units in January in a month that saw sales fall 12% from the previous year. That resulted in a 114-day supply of vehicles as of Feb. 1, the highest among major automakers, up significantly from 81 days a month earlier.

Ford Motor’s Feb. 1 supply was up to 107 days, after starting the year at 73 days, and Chrysler Group had a 105-day supply, up from 79 days. Chrysler’s inventory situation was helped by strong sales of the new Jeep Cherokee.

 

 

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Commercial Break: The Elusive Female Truck Buyer http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/commercial-break-the-elusive-female-truck-buyer/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/commercial-break-the-elusive-female-truck-buyer/#comments Mon, 06 Jan 2014 12:00:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=692849 A woman and her horse: the pairing that GM hopes will persuade female consumers to consider the Chevrolet line of trucks. At a time when truck ads are pushing masculinity to absurd heights, it’s a bold move. Even so, it’s a fundamentally conservative approach to a difficult marketing problem. How do you sell pickup trucks […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

A woman and her horse: the pairing that GM hopes will persuade female consumers to consider the Chevrolet line of trucks. At a time when truck ads are pushing masculinity to absurd heights, it’s a bold move. Even so, it’s a fundamentally conservative approach to a difficult marketing problem.

How do you sell pickup trucks to women? For a long time, the answer has been that you don’t. Close to 90% of pickup buyers are male, a ratio which hasn’t changed much in decades. Making the business case for attracting more women to the pickup market isn’t hard. Full-size trucks have been the prime moneymakers for Detroit for years, a market that the Japanese would like a bigger piece of as well. A skewed sex ratio means that valuable female consumer dollars are gravitating towards other, less profitable segments. In GM’s case, CUVs like the Equinox, Terrain, and Enclave have proved popular with female buyers. But pushing those consumers towards the loaded pickups on the other side of the showroom is even better news for the bottom line. Brand strategists have realized that the full-size truck is now the de facto top of the model hierarchy, at least for the Detroit 3. Upselling women into pickups and SUVs is a natural evolution of an age-old marketing scheme: turn in your smaller vehicle for a bigger, more luxurious one.

If only it were that easy. The thorny dilemma that immediately rears its head is how to market trucks to women without compromising their masculine image in the eyes of male consumers. As long as strong, rugged maleness remains the accepted paradigm for truck ads, the hands of agencies and marketing departments are tied. For the dominant manufacturers in the truck game, there’s no need to shake up the status quo on a product that already sells in droves. The companies with a smaller slice of the pie seem content to ape the strategy of the more successful brands in the hopes of gradually elevating sales. The result is an echo chamber of advertising which intentionally minimizes the role of women or excludes them entirely.

However, there are three factors which might motivate companies to pursue female truck buyers more aggressively. The first is the already-discussed temptation to upsell and broaden the pickup market generally. The second is that for a major product with such lucrative margins, the 10-15% of women who already buy new trucks is “not an insignificant number,” as Chevrolet truck marketing director Maria Rohrer explained to Business Insider back in July. Thirdly, advertising campaigns that incorporate women or themes relevant to women may influence purchasing decisions regardless of who signs on the dotted line. Although women are the direct buyers in a relatively small portion of truck sales, they influence countless more as the wives, daughters, business partners and girlfriends of male truck purchasers. Chevrolet’s “Strong” music video seems to take this influence into account. Although there’s a single female driver at around the 2:46 mark, there are many other women interspersed throughout the ad. The lyrics to the song are a paean to the sturdy blue-collar man who puts work and family above all else, a move away from the kind of brashness that characterizes Ford’s current ad series for the F-series. It’s one thing to give women a nod by putting them in the background, but how do you sell to them directly?

Chevrolet’s solution is an ad featuring a woman that explicitly eschews traditionally feminine themes. There are no kids being buckled into car seats, no painted fingernails tapping touchscreens, no group of women disembarking from a quad cab at the beach or the mall. It’s the opposite of the (in)famous Porsche “school bus” commercial, which dropped Porsche vehicles into a variety of mundane scenarios. Instead, we get a tough, independent woman hurling hay bales into the back of her new Silverado. She’s thin, youngish, and attractive, but not “pretty” or delicate: her hair is loose and wild, she has a tattoo on her wrist, and she looks at home in her cowboy boots, flannel, and sunglasses. She’s the only woman in the entire ad, outside of a quick crowd shot at the rodeo. She handles her horse and her truck entirely by herself; independence is the clear message. At the end of the day, she wins “a ribbon that goes on her wall, not in her hair.” As the author of the Business Insider piece astutely observed, and ad chief Rohrer confirmed, the narrative is designed to be “something that everyone could relate to.” And therein lies the fundamental conservatism of this approach: it seeks to attract female consumers within the existing, male-centric paradigm. There’s no serious risk of the masculinity of Chevy trucks being watered down from this ad, even though the main character is a woman. It engages women within the context of an open but overwhelmingly male-dominated activity. This is the safe approach, but is it the right one?

                The issue with this spot is that the direct appeal is ultimately very narrow. Even among the women who already buy pickups, the number of rodeo-competing horse enthusiasts is tiny. And it is very remote from the lives of the small business owners, industrial professionals, and affluent suburbanites who might form the core of a new female class of truck buyers. In other words, the appeal of the ad is deep within its narrow target, but not broad. Were I asked to design my own ad campaign for pickup trucks that targeted women, I would try to choose a widely relevant situation. A woman loading up home improvement supplies would be an example. So would a female contractor visiting a job site, or a business owner making a delivery. It might be worthwhile to toss a few kids into the ad as well, but not as the main focus. A woman and her horse is a step in the right direction, but it’s not likely to get many more women to consider a truck than those that already do. That’s probably what Chevrolet was going for, but expanding the market should be a long-term strategic goal.

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Porsche Dealer Turbocharges Local Marketing by Hosting 14 PSI 25 Bar Mitzvah Parties & Other Catered Events http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/porsche-dealer-turbocharges-local-marketing-by-hosting-14-psi-25-bar-mitzvah-parties-other-catered-events/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/porsche-dealer-turbocharges-local-marketing-by-hosting-14-psi-25-bar-mitzvah-parties-other-catered-events/#comments Fri, 03 Jan 2014 12:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=687434 Porsche of Beachwood, a Penske Automotive Group store outside of Cleveland, has come up with a new way of marketing the dealership and brand. The dealer makes its facilities available for free to groups and families putting on catered events. So far they have hosted about 25 affairs: bar mitzvah parties, runway fashion shows, fundraisers, dinners […]

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Porsche of Beachwood's service department set up to host a Bar Mitzvah party

Porsche of Beachwood’s service department set up to host a Bar Mitzvah party

Porsche of Beachwood, a Penske Automotive Group store outside of Cleveland, has come up with a new way of marketing the dealership and brand. The dealer makes its facilities available for free to groups and families putting on catered events. So far they have hosted about 25 affairs: bar mitzvah parties, runway fashion shows, fundraisers, dinners and after-parties. “We have not done a wedding reception yet, but I imagine it’s just a matter of time,” says Jason Grimm, the dealership’s general manager. 

Beachwood is an affluent suburb and Grimm wanted the dealership to stand out in a place where expensive cars are not unusual. About two years ago he invested about $8,000 to $10,000 on 100 chairs, 25 tables, linens and 400 to 500 wine glasses and started spreading the word that Porsche of Beachwood was available, for free, as a venue for events. So far they have hosted events as intimate as a 50 person dinner and as large as 450 people attending a bar mitzvah party. I’m sure that Adolf Rosenberger, a successful racer and businessman who, with Ferdinand Porsche and Dr. Anton Piëch, founded Porsche GmbH in 1931, would approve.

“We’ll be hosting a school fundraiser for a local high school” soon, with an estimated 500 people attending, Grimm said. The ongoing cost is minimal, paying a couple of the dealers’ porters to set up and knock down the dining facilities.

Grimm says the return on the investment in terms of good will and potential future customers is priceless, though they have sold some cars directly due to the program. “We have sold a handful of cars, probably three or four, directly from events,” Grimm says. “Now, how many more do you sell from people who say, ‘Hey, I was at this event one time’ or ‘I heard of an event my friend held there?’ Showroom drivers are what we’re looking for” he says. “What better way to do that than create a communal buzz on how beautiful the store is and how welcoming the staff was.”

Grimm got the idea at the Porsche dealership’s grand opening, then it germinated and sort of took off on its own. The grand opening was a spectacle with more than 650 people attending. They had professional lighting and catering and it generated a lot of buzz in local social media. Grimm realized “this place could really be a cool venue.”

He started by making the facility available to a regional Porsche club for their meetings. Within weeks he got an inquiry from a financial planning firm looking for a venue for a client appreciation event. “I think they would have paid if we’d asked, but we said, ‘Why pay?'” Grimm says. “I work from ‘yes’ anyway, so far be it from me to say ‘no’ to someone who wants to use our state-of-the-art facility to promote themselves personally or professionally. I checked the date and said, ‘Let’s do it.'” Word of mouth then spread the news of a cool new place to hold events in Beachwood.

So far there have been no problems and no damage to any of the pricey Porsches on the showroom floor and in the repair bays. “I have attended a lot of the events here and people tend to stay away from the expensive stuff,” Grimm says. The six cars that are usually on the showroom floor are worth about $800,000 total. They’re locked, as are all the offices, but other than that, guests have the run of the place.

“We have a general understanding with the person sponsoring the event that if there is a major cleanup, they do it,” Grimm says. “We have a cleaning company that comes anyhow so that is no extra cost.”

Events are usually after normal business hours but they have hosted events in the service department when it has been closed while the showroom continued to operate.

The porters who help set up also keep an eye on things during the events. They are “the eyes and ears” of the dealership, show event operators how to use the lights and the sound system, “keep an eye on everything,” and then lock up afterwards.

Grimm does screen the groups and the type of event before giving approval. No liquor or catering licenses are needed because the dealer itself sells no food or alcohol. The groups holding the events assume liability for any damage or theft. The groups are told that “it is in their best interest and recommended that they get proper insurance coverage for their liability because at the end of the day it doesn’t really come back on us,” Grimm says.

If demand for the venue increases, Grimm says that he’ll buy more tables and chairs and possibly assign a store employee to coordinate and manage the events as well as promotion of the venue.

“For this to work, you’ve got to believe it’s going to work long term,” Grimm says. “If you’re looking for a hard seven-month return on investment to it, you probably shouldn’t do it.”

This is a great marketing idea. Grimm has latched onto something here and I can see other car dealers selling high priced cars duplicating the program, though to be honest, I’m skeptical that any Ferrari dealer is ever going to give away any kind of service for free.

Though it’s an unusual thing for a car dealer to host catered events, it’s not at all unusual for a car museum. The GM Heritage Center outside of Detroit can be rented for some corporate events and while Porsche of Beachwood hasn’t yet hosted a wedding, the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana is available for weddings and other events for as little as $300.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Automotive Wayback Machine: Trail of the Rocket – Lucille and Johnny Tour an Oldsmobile Plant circa 1951 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/automotive-wayback-machine-trail-of-the-rocket-lucille-and-johnny-tour-an-oldsmobile-plant-circa-1951/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/automotive-wayback-machine-trail-of-the-rocket-lucille-and-johnny-tour-an-oldsmobile-plant-circa-1951/#comments Sun, 22 Dec 2013 13:00:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=685354 Last week we ran a post of mine about the Jam Handy Organization, a motion picture studio located in the Detroit area that created many of General Motors’ promotional films for decades. A couple of the readers liked my idea of posting some more of those vintage films as a recurring feature here on TTAC. Jam […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

Last week we ran a post of mine about the Jam Handy Organization, a motion picture studio located in the Detroit area that created many of General Motors’ promotional films for decades. A couple of the readers liked my idea of posting some more of those vintage films as a recurring feature here on TTAC. Jam Handy, though, wasn’t the only person who recognized the potential of using motion pictures to promote the sale of automobiles.

 

Ford had its own Ford Motion Picture Laboratories, but there was another “indie” in Detroit, so to speak, besides the Handy company and that was Wilding Picture Productions. Based in Chicago, Wilding operated a Detroit office, from where they produced films like Trail of the Rocket. It features Lucille and Johnny, a couple of singers whose television show is sponsored by Oldsmobile, who offers them a V.I.P. tour of Oldsmobile factory in Lansing. Like many of the Handy produced films, this was intended for theatrical release, so it had to be entertaining, hence a rather lame science fiction subplot involving a possible Martian spy at loose in the factory (though the little bit of social commentary on how Earthling behavior would negatively influence Martian society starting at ~6:00 is pretty humorous, comic books, be-bop music and television commercials!).

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Chevrolet U.S. Marketing Chief Chris Perry Resigns http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/chevrolet-u-s-marketing-chief-chris-perry-resigns/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/chevrolet-u-s-marketing-chief-chris-perry-resigns/#comments Fri, 20 Dec 2013 04:22:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=684242 Following on the heels of General Motors CEO Dan Akerson’s recent resignation, Chevrolet’s chief marketing officer for the United States Chris Perry has called it a day effective immediately. Perry came aboard from Hyundai in 2010 through former GM chief marketing officer Joel Ewanick, going through numerous title shifts until the automaker hired former Volkswagen […]

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General Motors Vice President Global Marketing Chris Perry

Following on the heels of General Motors CEO Dan Akerson’s recent resignation, Chevrolet’s chief marketing officer for the United States Chris Perry has called it a day effective immediately.

Perry came aboard from Hyundai in 2010 through former GM chief marketing officer Joel Ewanick, going through numerous title shifts until the automaker hired former Volkswagen of America executive Tim Mahoney as the Bow Tie’s global chief marketing officer last spring.

Prior to his hiring, Perry was Hyundai’s top U.S. marketing executive after Ewanick left for GM. The duo were responsible for the Korean automaker’s Hyundai Assurance program, allowing customers who financed or leased out a new Hyundai to return the model within a year should the customer lose their income.

Regarding Chevrolet, Perry spearheaded both the Tim Allen-voiced “Chevy Runs Deep” ad campaign — since replaced by the “Find New Roads” theme after customers didn’t take a shine to the depths of the golden bow tie — and the ongoing “Under the Blue Arch” retail campaign, where fictional characters promote Chevrolet’s lineup.

GM has yet to announce a successor.

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Editorial: It’s Time to Rethink Truck Advertising http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/editorial-its-time-to-rethink-truck-advertising/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/editorial-its-time-to-rethink-truck-advertising/#comments Thu, 19 Dec 2013 13:00:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=683346 An imposing, expensive log home dominates a clearing, reclaimed from the rugged pine-infested wilderness that surrounds it. Smoke rises from the chimney, overlaying the picturesque mountain peak in the background. In front of the home, a man leans over the open engine bay of his obviously new truck. The chrome gleams, despite the trail mud […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

An imposing, expensive log home dominates a clearing, reclaimed from the rugged pine-infested wilderness that surrounds it. Smoke rises from the chimney, overlaying the picturesque mountain peak in the background. In front of the home, a man leans over the open engine bay of his obviously new truck. The chrome gleams, despite the trail mud artistically bespattered on the sides. As the camera zooms in, he looks up from the engine bay and smiles. His tousled hair, unshaven stubble, and harmonious blend of over-25-under-40 facial features comport well alongside his worn cowboy boots, perfectly soiled jeans and carefully rumpled flannel shirt. He wipes his hands with a rag, looks back at the house for just a moment, and then turns to the camera.

“Built it myself,” he says with a polished gruffness. “But I couldn’t have done it without the right tools for the job. Saws, hammers, nails, and varnish. And a truck I can depend on.” He reaches over and closes the hood with a “thunk” that took the sound editing guy three weeks to get right. “Brand X is as reliable as the day is long. But what I like the most is that I can do all the regular maintenance myself. Oil changes, fluid flushes, and anything else she needs. It’s easy. Everything comes in a handy guide. No experience necessary. Brand X builds a truck for you, not for mechanics.”

At that moment, the screen door on the porch swings open. A well-groomed Labrador Retriever rushes out with a happy bark, his collar jingling. As he runs towards his master, an achingly beautiful brunette steps out onto the porch. Her hair falls down over her slightly unbuttoned blouse as she smiles at the man in the courtyard. He turns to face her and gives a casual wave, just as the dog reaches his feet. She returns the wave, as he pets the dog with his free hand. She leans against a porch column as he turns back to the camera, the dog now sitting alongside him. Now he wears a knowing smirk on his face. “Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.” The challenge made, he turns back and heads towards the front door. The camera zooms out, and cuts away to the mountains as he reaches the porch and embraces the girl. The logo for Brand X looms onto the screen. An announcer calls out the tagline. “Brand X. Independence is everything.”

“Don’t provoke your customers.” The maxim seems simple enough. So is the script above a form of marketing suicide? Not necessarily. Megadoses of brash masculinity in contemporary truck ads are a given. Especially with the collapse of the small and mid-size truck markets, portraying the heavy-duty macho pedigree of pick-ups is essential. Nobody wants to build the next Brat. Instead, deep-voiced announcers harangue viewers with statistics and brawny narratives. The question becomes one of oversaturation. How many images of trucks towing impressive-looking gooseneck setups/ginormous almost-yachts/inferior trucks, trucks getting huge loads of bricks/rocks/other bulky substances dumped in the bed from ridiculous heights, and trucks pulling overloaded trailers up a Mad Max-ish winding tower of death surrounded by OMG FLAMES SO HARDCORE can the average guy absorb before the effect starts to wear thin?

Perhaps we already have the answer: pulling a freaking space shuttle into a hangar in a supposedly “real world” challenge without the slightest hint of irony or self-effacement (“It’s really heavy, and it’s also quite big.” Bob the Builder would be proud.) Or maybe it peaked even earlier: parking a perfectly good pickup between two bulldozers and bending the hell out of it just to prove that yes, it is hard to crush something made of metal that weighs the better part of three tons. (It’s worth noting that Ford pulled that ad after negative consumer reaction.) Every manufacturer is guilty of this to some degree; the struggle for breathless superlatives and ludicrous stunts is an arms race that not even Kissinger could de-escalate. What’s more of an insult to a customer: the insinuation that these shenanigans somehow represent real-world product value, or that maybe, just maybe, taking responsibility for your own vehicle maintenance is sexy?

The cartoonish over sincerity of truck advertising is ripe to be skewered. At least one ad exec working for GM has realized this. A memorable 2012 Super Bowl ad for Chevy trucks riffed cheekily on the Mayan Apocalypse as well as manly vigor in the face of chaos. The ad works because it gets the message across (GM builds the most reliable pickups) without resorting to overwrought machismo or torrents of forgettable facts and figures. Recently, brands in other product categories have gotten far by giving masculinity the ironic, playful treatment.

The line of Axe grooming products comes most readily to mind, as do the over-the-top ads for Dr. Pepper 10. Going farther back in automotive history, there are numerous examples where manufacturers achieved enormous success by attacking the marketing tropes of the day. The most iconic of these was the Doyle Dane Bernbach series of Volkswagen ads that appeared in 1959. “Think Small” exploded decades of conventional wisdom about what Americans expected from an automotive ad campaign. The enormous success of VW in swimming upstream changed not only that company’s fortunes, but arguably the entire character of the US car market.

The DIY aesthetic has long been a favorite background for truck ads. Since at least the 1980s, though, manufacturers have been hesitant to apply it to the trucks themselves. Perhaps this is due to the need to maintain good relations with dealers, who rely on service for a steady income stream. More likely, it rests on the presumption that modern drivers want nothing to do with the mechanical upkeep of their vehicles of they can help it. It wasn’t always this way; ads from the 1970s and before are replete with references to the ease of do-it-yourself maintenance for both cars and trucks alike. Resurrecting self-maintenance would be a quick and easy way for a manufacturer to stake out a unique niche in the marketing game.

Because many truck buyers are commercial customers who are already more likely to self-maintain, the strategy carries less risk than if it were applied to passenger cars. It could help a marginal player like Nissan establish a reputation as a “man’s truck,” owned by the confident and technically savvy. This is the most crucial part of the game: the creation of an image that customers will want to buy into, not necessarily one they live themselves. Very few smokers of Marlboro Reds are lasso-wielding cowboys. But the image offered by that campaign proved to be an immensely powerful draw. It isn’t necessary to throw out all conventional wisdom at once, like DDB did for VW. However, the existing stale and hyper-masculine paradigm of truck ads is ripe to be shaken up, one way or another.

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Jalopnik Declares War On Embargoes — And It’s A War They Will Win http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/jalopnik-declares-war-on-embargoes-and-its-a-war-they-will-win/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/jalopnik-declares-war-on-embargoes-and-its-a-war-they-will-win/#comments Wed, 04 Dec 2013 21:17:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=671330 In a rather terse and self-consciously matter-of-fact column released earlier today, Jalopnik’s Matt Hardigree drew a line in the sand: the website will not honor any product embargoes not related to new-car drive events and opportunities. He’s careful to point out that it’s business advantages, not ethical considerations, underlying the change in policy. To the […]

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embargo

In a rather terse and self-consciously matter-of-fact column released earlier today, Jalopnik’s Matt Hardigree drew a line in the sand: the website will not honor any product embargoes not related to new-car drive events and opportunities. He’s careful to point out that it’s business advantages, not ethical considerations, underlying the change in policy.

To the PR people in their metaphorical ivory towers who consider Jalopnik to be nothing but a heavily-JavaScripted sewer for mouth-breathing teenagers, bronys, unemployed Millennials living at home with their parents, and euphoric-fedora-wearing forever-alone virgins who were perma-banned from “9GAG” for failing to meet that site’s minimum IQ requirements, Mr. Hardigree’s decision probably appears to warrant no action other than taking all Gawker-domain email addresses off pre-packaged product communication. The serenity with which they will do so probably closely approximates what the last Brachiosaurus felt as he calmly chewed the first of the day’s ten thousand leaves while watching a bright flash streak across the morning sky, and for about the same reason: their ability to see the future stops at the hindbrain. In the long run, however, everybody will suffer — or almost everybody, including you.


Let’s start by considering the idea of the “embargo”. On the face of it, an auto-journalism embargo is straight-up ridiculous. A car manufacturer decides that they are going to pick a date to release new information about a car. After the date is set, the manufacturer contacts the media and provides them information in a staggered fashion so that everybody has a chance to put said information in front of their customer at about the same time.

It’s at times like these that auto-journalism’s origins — infomercial broadsheets published by manufacturers themselves — are most plainly apparent. In the case of the Mustang, Ford decided that AutoWeek would be “first” and that other sources would follow. This amounts to a direct financial subsidy to AutoWeek, who would theoretically see a substantial rise in circulation with an exclusive new Mustang on the cover. Think about that for a moment. Ford has some power here that can be measured in dollars. If Ford would agree to give exclusive Mustang photos to my personal website, I could look forward to a million-plus hits on that website — and even at ten bucks per thousand hits on the advertising, that would be enough to buy myself something nice.

The new-Mustang pie is big enough to cut into a few different pieces, so other news sources, such as TIME, were invited to participate as well. Had everybody played nice, come New Mustang Day you would have been surrounded by images of the car. It would amount to near-total saturation, reaching nearly everybody who is even dimly interested in automobiles. And if everything had gone properly, the rising tide would have lifted all boats according to Ford’s desires. Insofar as most people can think in a six-month or one-year timeframe, even people who write about cars for a living, it’s safe to assume that a desire to get a starring role in the Mustang review has been on the minds of many people in the business for a while now. Note, for example, that TTAC didn’t receive any embargoed Mustang information ahead of time. We’ll be attending tomorrow’s global reveal meeting in Dearborn, however.

All of this worked perfectly well for decades, until — you guessed it, the World Wide Web. We now live in an era where photos taken at auto shows can be instantly uploaded to websites within minutes, or even seconds with the new Wi-Fi SD cards. (Ironically, the first time I met Mr. Hardigree he was running Compact Flash cards between some rather nonplussed freelance photographers and Ray Wert’s press-room staff at the Detroit Auto Show. He’s always been ahead of the curve, I suppose.) It’s now common for an embargo to be broken on the Web, followed by a flood of reposts and links and whatnot as everybody works at top speed to maximize the clicks before they dry up.

As Mr. Hardigree rather astutely notes in his article, the mechanism of the embargo means that Jalopnik and TTAC are free to publish images of the AutoWeek front cover, even as AutoWeek themselves are unable to do so because they have a signed agreement with Ford explicitly disallowing that behavior. The big bucks that AW was supposed to have made off the embargo will be made elsewhere.

Meanwhile, TIME appears to have completely disregarded the embargo. Presumably, they are unfamiliar with the idea of holding “news” until the subject feels they are ready to have the news printed. Not that TIME is above all sorts of idiocy peculiar to their own brand of “journalism”, but I digress. The bottom line is that the people who played by the rules in the embargo will not benefit.

Which, in the long run, removes any reason to participate in embargoes. As much as AutoWeek doesn’t want to get their news from Matt Hardigree, they like watching him run photos of their own magazine that they, in turn, are unable to publish even less. Better to have a situation where everybody grabs the news at the same time and publishes it as quickly as they can.

And that’s where Mr. Hardigree and Jalopnik come in. Nobody does immediate news like Gawker does. They’re as ruthlessly optimized for that particularly reductionist purpose as a Great White shark. When everybody is free to publish immediately, then the organization that operates with the lowest drag wins. The end of the embargo era will be the Last Trump that signifies the complete ascendancy of the Web over the print rag in the automotive-enthusiast world.

From an ethical perspective, this is brilliant. It will mean the end of the cozy relationships, although Mr. Hardigree’s note that he will respect new-car drive embargoes shows that he won’t go any further in pursuit of transparency than the end of a road paved with buttered bread. It will level the playing field between the Big Guys and the Little Guys, which is a good thing. It will remove the manufacturers’ ability to dangle something ahead of the magazines that looks less like a carrot and more like an actual pinata full of cash. Let’s welcome our new insect overlords, shall we?

Yet you, the reader, will find the era of fast-news only slightly more satisfying than a shopping-mall food court. It means that from now until the end of time you’ll get your information about cars filtered through some intern who has limited education, limited talent, limited resources, and a twenty-minute time limit to get it done — with fifteen minutes being nice if you can do it, Jeremy, you know we value the fastest, most hyperbolic writers here at BigBlogCorp. Ironically, the opening sentence of the Jalopnik article bears the unmissable signs of first-draft writing. Get it done, get it out, get it over with.

Faced with the end of their ability to be anything but last to the party, I’m hoping that the magazines will choose being best as an alternative. That they (hey! we! have I mentioned that I write occasionally for the most awesome magazine this side of Black Tail?) will elevate the craftsmanship, the beauty, the truth of what is presented to you on the printed page. That we will all look forward to each issue of our chosen airline companion with the proverbial bated breath, knowing that what we’re about to read will be more carefully composed and thoroughly researched than anything we ever read on the front page of any blog, including this one.

It’s a tough mission, and not everybody will come back from it — but to be shot down in the pursuit of excellence is worthy of admiration itself, and surely the view from one’s parachute, of the filthy masses screaming and Spiderman-picture-posting and “shitposting” all over each other, will have a grisly beauty all its own.

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