By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. In the going on fifteen years (!) of writing this column and producing Autoextremist.com I have seen just about everything from the automakers and the executives who ply their trade in this business. But lest you think observing and commenting about this industry gets old, it never does. Why? Because just when you think people might be finally getting it and things seem to be progressing to a smarter, happier place, a monumental misstep of complete and utter boneheaded-ness rears its ugly head and emphatically dispenses with the notion that the Bad Old Days of this business are long gone.
Instead, I hate to report this – yet again - but they’re very much alive and well, unfortunately.
Having a front-row seat to witness the brilliance - or abject stupidity - that goes on in this business can be uproariously humorous at times but the reality is that it is not for the faint of heart. Observing “executives” who are overmatched before they even get out of bed careen around and just flat out blow it when millions upon millions of marketing dollars are on the line - with the fate of a company teetering on their limited abilities - is painful. Excruciating even.
I’ve railed against the spineless weasels, the recalcitrant twerps, the egomaniacal dullards and the bold-faced idiots all of these years, knowing full well that the mind-numbing incompetence may ebb and flow along and even go dormant for a while, but it will never be fully eradicated. It’s just not possible.
Yes, this business is a roller-coaster ride made up of sheer elation punctuated by moronic behavior, longtime AE readers understand that. And so do a lot of smart people in this business. But when executives think they’re smarter than everyone else, disaster usually ensues. And every once in a while companies in this business that should know better get it so wrong that it’s shocking.
Let’s take Jaguar, for instance.
The download? Classic British car company. Fantastic historical relevance with its beautiful D-Type racers and the vaunted XK-120 sports car. Responsible for one of the greatest cars of all time – the timeless and fabulous E-Type – but doomed to producing wildly inconsistent production cars ever since. They managed to get things close to good occasionally, certainly enough to keep the brand breathing at any rate. Bought and sold by Ford, now owned by the Indian conglomerate Tata, they’re ready to capture the imagination of the consumer public once again with their expressive F-Type sports car.
At least that’s how Jaguar and its ad agency think the script will play out.
Is the F-Type a nicely rendered car? Absolutely, but even though the design is competent it’s certainly not the design “reach” that I expected from a new sports car from Jaguar. In many ways it’s too predictable and too grounded in the contemporary idiom, and it doesn’t say “oh em gee, did you see that new Jag?” like it needed to. When you only get one shot at it I expected to be wowed, but the new F-Type is merely okay.
The bad news for the F-Type is that it will make a splash on the scene and be an afterthought within a year. It’s just not memorable. And that’s really unfortunate.
But that’s not the issue here today because the advertising campaign for the new F-Type (and the strategic thinking behind it) is so wrong on so many levels I hardly know where to begin.
The horror show begins with the creative director of Jaguar ad agency Spark 44, who said he wants consumers – according to Automotive News - to view the two-seat convertible as "the baddest boy on the block." Really, they’re going to spend $20 million to say that?
The naiveté behind this statement is obvious, painfully so I might add. In their minds they’re going to go up against the new Corvette and the new Porsche 911 with this “baddest boy” posturing and it’s so wrong-headed I am just stunned.
Even in its brief heyday when the E-Type Jaguar was the talk of the automotive world, Jaguar was never even remotely the “baddest boy” on the block. It was sleek, sophisticated, beautiful and sexy - and amazingly enough that image survives to this day despite the fact that they tried to kill it many times over throughout history with relentlessly incompetent cars masquerading as desirable – but there was never a hint of “badass” associated with it. And for good reason too.
And guess what? Nothing has changed. Despite its many missteps Jaguar has managed to retain a shred of integrity all of these years, but clearly there was no one involved in this project with a modicum of sense, or history, or context, or hell, I don’t know, even a hint of a clue.
It gets worse.
A spokesman for Jaguar-Land Rover North America said that the new F-Type is aimed at alpha male "go-getters." Oh, ugh. Wait a minute - are they going to turn the F-Type into the thinking man’s Camaro SS? What am I missing here? They’ve even signed the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick to an endorsement deal, suggesting that he would fit in nicely with the new F-Type’s “march to a different drummer” positioning.
Why stop there? Why not hook up with Monster Energy drinks while they’re at it? I mean, if you’re going to be wrongheaded and resolutely inappropriate, why not abandon all pretense of common sense and try to wash away the historical legacy of one of the great automotive brands in one fell swoop?
It gets even worse.
Jaguar and Playboy also announced a deal to have the Playmate of the Year pose in front of an F-Type for a cover wrap on the June issue. Repeat that to yourselves, please, s-l-o-w-l-y. No, I’m not kidding. I would imagine the Hooter’s sweepstakes giveaway is right around the corner, wouldn’t you? I mean, if you’re going to go down in flames you might as well blow the whole thing to smithereens while you’re at it, right?
For the record, the ad campaign for the F-Type is called “Your Turn.” It’s supposed to seduce alpha male types “who love fast cars and sports” and make at least $150,000 a year. That certainly narrows it a bit. Better still, why not just say your target is anyone with a checkbook who can stumble into a dealer? At least it would be brutally honest. And more accurate. But no, we have to watch as they go through the motions of naming a target market that could be applied to oh, any number of luxury automobiles. If you’re getting the picture that Jaguar marketers have traveled to the Planet Tedious, you would be correct.
I won’t bore you with a description of the campaign, but needless to say it’s everything that a campaign for a new Jaguar sports car shouldn’t be.
I write about brands - and the creativity, deep thought and degree of expertise needed to market them - often in this column. And I will remind you again that it’s one of the toughest endeavors out there. If it were easy to do well, every brand would be a marketing success story and every new car launch would be mind-boggling in its overall market impact.
Jaguar is going to spend $20 million on the initial launch of the new F-Type, a car that starts at $69,000 and goes up to $92,000, and I just cringe at the thought – or the lack thereof – that went into it.
This brings to mind yet another brand that is so desperate to be hip that they make a mess of things – and repeatedly too. (See anything Mercedes-Benz has done in this market for the last decade at least, if you need to be reminded.)
The stewards of Jaguar have decided that they will use the launch of the F-Type to reinvent the brand so as to appeal to a whole new hipper audience. In the process of doing so they will turn the brand into a recurring joke, with “baddest ass badboys” thrown in for good measure.
It’s an insult to the brand’s legacy and a rank insult to anyone who might even be remotely interested in checking the F-Type out.
In other words, it’s a double-shot of Not Good with room for pathetic.
It would be laughable if it weren’t so damn excruciating to watch.
Here's an idea: If they’re going to be this off-base and insulting to the brand, why not dredge up that immortal Jaguar print ad from the classic movie “Crazy People”? The one with the riveting headline that read - "For men who'd like hand-jobs from beautiful women they hardly know."
At least it would be honest.
And not tedious.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.