Who's Zoomin' Who? (Whom?)

Joe Chiaramonte
by Joe Chiaramonte
who s zoomin who whom

I'm fresh back from a Mazda marketing boondoggle called “Zoom-Zoom Live." Ford's Japanese brand conducted these ride 'n drives in major markets across the US: DC, Boston, New York, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago. I attended the San Francisco event [actually on a decommissioned Naval air base in Alameda, but the SF skyline was visible]. These kind of "bring the consumers to the product and let 'em loose" deals are supposedly the wave of the future, "high-touch" marketingspeakwise. Unfortunately, car companies seem to have a very strange idea of what "let 'em loose" actually means.

Upon arrival, we were parked in designated areas – Mazda owners and performance cars over here, please – then herded into the Registration tent. Organizers quickly made with the paperwork: a form releasing Mazda from any responsibility for anything, ever. Just in case that didn't cow us into submission, a smiling Mazda rep read us the riot act and pinned us with some stinking badges– which had to be worn at all times. A (static) Mazdaspeed 6 and a CX-7 whetted our automotive appetites while we waited for the mandatory advance penance video. This paean to pistonhead performance tried to convince us that Mazda is the only brand producing passion on planet earth, narrated by a man wearing a polo shirt without a Mazda logo.

Finally, we were cut loose. Gimme a steering wheel! Well, wait just a minute there buddy-san. Or 120. When signing up online, we were invited to select a starting time. It quickly became obvious that temporal measurement was provided by Albert Einstein; the process was nothing more than a relatively feeble attempt to create an even flow of mass over the event’s two day time – space continuum. Meanwhile, we perused tents displaying all of Mazda's fine products. Except the Mazdaspeed 3 (MS3). And the Tribute. And the MPV. And the B-Series truck (which was probably just as well, since the event was about driving, not plodding about with mulch). Other tents sheltered Mazda engines, the new MX-5 Retractable Hardtop and, oddly, a neglected slot car track. A roach coach served up greasy grub for g-force nausea induction.

We had four different coned tracks from which to pick, The "Mazdaspeed Challenge" was a half-mile hike away, where the lines were deeply reminiscent of a certain mouse-themed amusement park (30-minute wait, 25-second ride). In fact, the the hang time for a MazdaSpeed6 (MS6) stretched over two hours. The "Sports Course" was another Rip Van Winkle deal, [eventually] ending with some seat time in an MX-5 or RX-8. The "Matched Time Gymkhana" was a shorter wait, as was the "CX-7 Target Hunt." This something-less-than-PC event gave attendees the chance to shoot rolling cardboard cutouts of the Ford Edge and Buick Enclave with a large caliber paintball gun.

Not really. Pilots drove Mazda's new CUV down a closed course, aiming towards (but not directly at) a set of yellow cones. Our aim: run the CX-7’s nose sensor so that the outside edge of your left front wheel steers between 6 and 18 inches from each of these yellow cones, and complete the course within a specified time frame. I did neither very well, proving what? The CX-7’s sight lines and maneuverability are just as crummy as any numb and inept SUV. Most excellent marketing Ted!

The Gymkhana was a bit more fun, but many of us forgot that the point was to match a time, not to go as fast as humanly possible. This is not advisable in a “Multi Activity Vehicle,” as evidenced by the number of drivers who negotiated curves in the Mazda 5 on three wheels– only to be shown the exit gate by some sour-faced Mazkateers. The outside rear left tread on one of the 5’s was completely worn. All of the vehicles presented for our dining and dancing pleasure had autoboxes or, at best, manumatics. This was probably a good thing.

On the Sports Course, four MX-5's were evenly equipped with manuals and automatics, the latter quite rightly shunned by unqualified drivers in search of public humiliation. Waiting in line, we were entertained by "contestants" who stalled and shuddered their way to the starting line, accompanied by a chorus of most unsportsmanlike hoots and hollers. The event organizers needed a wiffle bat to pound these drivers about the head into the slushbox cars. Those of us who are three pedals proficient waited impatiently, inhaling the acrid smell of burning clutches in the morning. I asked for a list of VINs at exit, so I wouldn't meet any of these vehicles on the used market. Very funny sir. Request denied.

At the end of this [non-Tapscott] carnival of cars, we were awarded “points” in the great Whose Line Is It Anyway? tradition. We were then handed an exit questionnaire and a hat. I’m sure we’ll see an emailed post-briefing, just in case we want to see how badly the data capture fiends had mispelled our names.

From a TTAC industry observer's POV, the most interesting part of the program was the demographics of those inattentive– I mean, in attendance. Fully 90% of the participants were 20-somethings. So where was the MS3? If you're trying to build street cred with a touchy-feely demo, why keep your star player in the locker room? Sure the great unwashed (though not fully indebted) might have broken it, but c'mon. Who's zooming who?

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  • Speed42 Speed42 on Oct 26, 2006

    We attended the Atlanta event as well, Bimmer, under similar circumstances. We drove over from Birmingham, got their late and suffered limited seat time. But, we seemed to have more fun than most of the other posters here. Sure, the lines were long and the courses weren't up to AutoCross competiveness, but hey, where else are you gonna be able to thrash about someone else's car with no threat of legal penalties at no cost? We've gone over for Chrysler (free handrolled cigars and wine tasting, and my wife won an LCD TV) and Mercedes (nice hats) events as well. But the most fun was the BMW event where we not only got seat time in Z4s, but were also given a (very) entry level driving class. I encourage anyone here to try these type events. Sure they're pretty limited, but they're free and sometimes educational and fun.

  • ZoomZoom ZoomZoom on Oct 27, 2006

    Good article! I generally despise rigid events such as these, but I will occasionally attend them. I can see everything I need to see in one single Saturday and get it over with. And to tell the truth, I guess I do have (some) fun at them.

  • Dusterdude @El scotto , I'm aware of the history, I have been in the "working world" for close to 40 years with many of them being in automotive. We have to look at situation in the "big picture". Did UAW make concessions in past ? - yes. Do they deserve an increase now ? -yes . Is their pay increase reasonable given their current compensation package ? Not at all ! By the way - are the automotive CEO's overpaid - definitely! (That is the case in many industries, and a separate topic). As the auto industry slowly but surely moves to EV's , the "big 3" will need to be producing top quality competitive vehicles or they will not survive.
  • Art_Vandelay “We skipped it because we didn’t think anyone would want to steal these things”-Hyundai
  • El scotto Huge lumbering SUV? Check. Unknown name soon to be made popular by Tiktok ilk? Check. Scads of these showing up in school drop-off lines? Check. The only real over/under is if these will have as much cachet as Land Rovers themselves? A bespoken item had to be new at one time. Bonus "accepted by the right kind of people" points if EBFlex or Tassos disapproves.
  • El scotto No, "brothers and sisters" are the core strength of the union. So you'll take less money and less benefits because "my company really needs helped out"? The UAW already did that with two-tier employees and concessions on their last contract.The Big 3 have never, ever locked out the UAW. The Big 3 have agreed to every collective bargaining agreement since WWII. Neither side will change.
  • El scotto Never mind that that F-1 is a bigger circus than EBFlex and Tassos shopping together for their new BDSM outfits and personal lubricants. Also, the F1 rumor mill churns more than EBFlex's mind choosing a new Sharpie to make his next "Free Candy" sign for his white Ram work van. GM will spend a year or two learning how things work in F1. By the third or fourth year GM will have a competitive "F-1 LS" engine. After they win a race or two Ferrari will protest to highest F-1 authorities. Something not mentioned: Will GM get tens of millions of dollars from F-1? Ferrari gets 30 million a year as a participation trophy.