Autoextremist: Car Advertising Sucks

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

On this Wednesday’s wailing wall, lambastes Motown’s marketeers for their cowardice and creative poverty—without naming names, providing egregious examples or suggesting rectification. “Automotive marketers are too often squeamish, risk-averse or clueless. There, I said it. Yes, at least 75 percent of the people involved in automotive marketing don’t know what the hell they’re doing – it’s a pathetic fact but it’s the High-Octane Truth.” Not in these parts it isn’t. You want the truth? DeLorenzo is guilty of the same timidity that he assigns to unnamed auto execs and their equally unidentified ad agencies. Where’s the indignation at GM for cutting Caddy’s cutting-edge ad agency adrift? Or some good-old-fashioned finger pointing at Bob Lutz, for his infinitely asinine decision to put Chairman Wiseacre at the front of the nationalized automaker’s laughable “May the best car win” ad campaign? Where’s Chrysler? What’s up with Ford’s epic failure to figure-out Lincoln? Someone show DeLorenzo how to sample crickets chirping. Meanwhile, truth be told, DeLorenzo’s dissing the competition for no greater goal than feathering his own nest . . .

Lest we forget, the self-styled Autoextremist earns his crust as a consultant. He knows exactly how far he can push the Angry Old Cheerleader shtick before it endangers his ability to eat lunch in Mowtown again. As for “I am the Great and Powerful Oz” recommendations—an exercise with which your humble TTAC founder is familiar—I reckon DeLorenzo has yet to recover from the sniggers that greeted his “ Hyundai should buy zombie Saturn dealers and launch an upmarket brand in the teeth of a recession” rant. Call it the self-actuated witless protection program.

But here’s the really strange part: DeLorenzo uses the words “marketing” and “advertising” interchangably. They are NOT the same thing. Marketing is about product, consumer research, product, positioning, product, branding, product, sales, product, service, product, customer feedback, product, advertising, product, promotion, product and direct customer communications. Oh, and product. Did I mention product? Advertising is about promoting the product. Period.

The above BMW ad is the definition of clever. And effective. And all the things that DeLorenzo values. But it only really works because the product had a justifiable rep for speed and engineering excellence.

This isn’t the first time that DeLorenzo has betrayed his mistaken belief that the sizzle is the steak. But it’s a perfect illustration of Motown’s collective failure to understand that the product is everything; a failure that’s a stake through the Detroit zombie’s heart. To wit:

The mope-a-dope, apologetic, ‘inoffensive is best’ tone being employed by too many marketers in automotive advertising today is tedious. And wrong. They need to get over themselves and in a big hurry too.

One automotive marketer who seems to get it is Scott Keogh, Audi of America’s director of marketing. In an interview with Automotive News this week he had this to say:

“Automotive marketing has become very conservative, very safe and entirely focused on the transaction – how cheap can I get it? You still have to be in the business of selling desire, dreams and great products.”

Amen, Scott.

Could DeLorenzo really have missed that last bit? Or has Sweet Pete, like the Detroit suits that put food on his table, convinced himself that American automakers have the great products thing sussed? That marketing—I mean, advertising is the only missing piece of the puzzle? If you’re a hammer . . .

Memo to automotive marketers: Stop banging out singles and start swinging for the fences. Stop anesthetizing the masses and start energizing the few who will jump-start that word-of-mouth buzz.

And whatever you do, just remember one thing: Before you can make us believe, you need to convince us that you believe.

Ironically enough, Sweet Pete has it exactly backwards. Detroit has far too much belief in itself. I believe the correct word for that state of mind is “hubris.” The reckoning continues, with or without its enablers.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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2 of 22 comments
  • James Hendricks The depreciation on the Turbo S is going to be epic!
  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.