Good Thinking: Porsche Pulls Out of the Detroit Auto Show
One day, an admirer asked Herr Doktor Sigmund Freud if his favorite tobacco product was a phallic symbol. “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” Freud reportedly replied. By the same token, when Porsche North America announced that they’d turned their back on the Detroit auto show because it’s a waste of money, the German automaker turned their back on the Detroit auto show because it’s a waste of money.
The obviousness– and obvious importance– of Porsche’s withdrawal from the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) was lost on America’s mainstream automotive press. Detroit’s journalistic Janus (the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News) concentrated on the effect of Porsche’s pull-out on their home town show vis-à-vis the competition: LA, New York, Chicago, Tokyo, etc.
“Detroit auto show digs in to defend its perch” the Detroit News headline announced. Quoting an unnamed New York Times blogger, the article was quick to put the diss in disinformation: "So Porsche is, in effect, telling the Detroit show: Despite your name, we don't consider you 'America's auto show.' To us, you're local — with only local appeal.”
Needless to say, this loosely attributed analysis became the official media line, complete with sales figures revealing Detroit's paucity of Porsches. The reporting left readers with the impression that Germany’s sports car maker was discounting the importance of the spiritual home of American automaking ‘cause the locals weren’t buying enough Porkers. Schwein!
Yes, well, in the press release announcing their Motown-missing maneuver, Porsche’s marketing Veep went out of his way to
kiss Detroit’s ass mollify Renaissance City supporters (motto: “Speramus Meliora" or "We hope for better things”). David Pryor also spelled out the company’s exact reasoning.
“As a media showcase for new products, the Detroit Auto Show is clearly the premier international auto show in North America," Pryor proclaimed. “Still, as Porsche strives to seek new, more personal ways to directly reach out and communicate to its potential customer base, we need to look beyond the traditional consumer auto show — even ones that are highly renowned in the industry."
In other words, Porsche isn’t dumping Detroit. It’s retrenching on auto shows in general. And why wouldn’t they? There’s simply no getting around the fact that if you calculate the direct return on investment– the marketing bang-for-the-buck– auto shows are a hideous waste of time, effort and money.
Porsche ain’t saying, but their NAIAS no-show will probably save the company over a million dollars. And that’s without calculating the costs of interrupting Porsche’s ongoing projects to sequester their A-team in Cobo’s dark labyrinth. Or the psychological toll exacted on the execs by the epic glad-handing.
But the real story is, again, exactly what David Pryor said it was: the world’s most profitable automaker (on a per unit basis) has recognized that there are better ways to “communicate” with the only really important element of the entire marketing equation: the people who help Porsche pay the bills.
That said, our friends at the sharp end tell us they’ve haven't heard word of any “new” or “more personal” marketing programs. As far as they know, other than a significant increase in Porsche’s print ads (promoting Cayman and Cayenne lease deals), the company isn’t using the auto show budget to launch a radical marketing campaign. Ah, but will they?
Even in the absence of any specific initiative, one can speculate that Porsche has realized that automotive marketing has undergone a paradigm shift; that “high touch” and highly-targeted electronic contact are the way forward. There's certainly evidence of an evolution.
For example, the next fourteen classes at the Porsche Driving Experience at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama are sold out. Porsche’s added new “Women’s-only” instruction and corporate classes that can accommodate up to 100 fast-moving movers and shakers. At the same time, the Porsche Travel Club is offering a new “Camp4 Colorado” package in Vail, where owners and potential customers
hoon in the snow hone their winter driving skills in 911 C4 and Cayenne variants.
As for the electronic side, well, here’s hoping. In truth, no automaker has fully grasped the cyber-nettle. As a Porsche Boxster S owner, I’ve been contacted about my car, potential upgrades, lifestyle items, car club membership, the aforementioned courses and my friends’ driving habits exactly, oh, never. Before purchasing the vehicle, I engaged in precisely no “personal" communications with the company.
Surely, THIS is where all those auto show billions SHOULD be going: using the Internet to establish direct, relevant and ongoing contact with potential automotive buyers and existing owners, and then bringing these contacts into direct and intimate contact with the product. Until someone seizes that opportunity, companies withdrawing their money from auto shows to spend on traditional marketing will be close, but no cigar.
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