Why does this happen? Is it the "schooling" these executives go through while making their way through the Byzantine systems that define the so-called "culture" at their respective car companies? Yes, that has a lot to do with it. These executives observed the ebb and flow of their bosses careers over their formative years and took notes every step of the way while telling themselves that it will be different for them because they're smarter, better and savvier. And then they proceed to make the same mistakes in the same way while making the same excuses upon the inevitable outcomes.
On the one hand it's a beautiful thing that there's such a contrived continuity in this business, that there's some comfort to be found in the sheer relentless stupidity of it all. On the other hand, the endless repetitiveness of the mistakes being made and the foot-in-mouth pronouncements that accompany them is like a virulent industry disease that cannot be quarantined. And it's beyond ugly.
(I am going to avoid diverting this discussion to the fallacy of "culture" at these car companies, because this just in: there is no such thing as culture in these auto companies. They like to tout it and insist that they have it or that they're going to fix it soon, but the reality is that they wouldn't know it if it hit them in their collective heads with well-applied 2 x 4s. But I digress.)
So while the attendant media hordes get their fix of industry auto juice in L.A., with nary a discouraging word being reported and not even a mention or even a hint of storm clouds on the horizon - it's an all blue-sky world after all - auto executives will escape with their egos and their vacuous promises intact, confident that they do indeed have it goin' on when in fact it couldn't be further from the truth. Ugh.
At any rate, there's a particular subset of delusion among industry executives that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the rampant mediocrity that seems to have overrun this business, and nowhere is that delusion more pronounced than with the marketing executives who are inevitably front and center at these auto shows.
Not all, but too many of these marketing "geniuses" would have you believe that they have descended from the Mystical Mountaintop, burdened with an intellect that is far beyond the scope of the mere mortals that they have to contend with every day back at headquarters. And it's such a trial, don't you know. From these "genius" marketers' perspective, the company would be so much better off and the world would be such a beautiful place if everyone would just acquiesce to their wishes, because after all they do know what's best for the enterprise and they will take the company to the Promised Land of market share increases, if left unfettered and free.
As I said, the propensity for delusion knows no bounds with these Super Marketers, but as in all things in this business, the reality of their actions and misdeeds leaves a lot to be desired.
Take for instance the marketing "geniuses" at Mercedes-Benz, who, over a decade ago talked themselves into believing that they could bring out a brand - Maybach - that would hover over their vaunted S-Class, that they could charge $300,000+ for it and that it would all work out just fine. Never mind that in one fell swoop they almost destroyed the accrued brand reputation of their heretofore top-line model - the S-Class - they were absolutely convinced they were right and that was all there was to it. The Maybach, of course, was an abject failure, an embarrassing foray into delusional marketing that still leaves mouths agape at the sheer stupidity of it all.
Now, it should be noted that when it comes to strolling marketing "geniuses" combined with profound arrogance and unrivaled delusional thinking, no one tops the legacy of the bumblers at Mercedes-Benz. These people have accumulated a track record of mindless marketing flubs that would merit their own wing in the Marketing Stupidity Hall of Fame, if there was one.
So, at the L.A. Auto Show this week, the marketing "geniuses" at Mercedes-Benz are out to fix things over the whole sordid Maybach mess. And their solution? They're introducing something called the Mercedes-Maybach S600, an extra-long-wheelbase version of its new S-Class that will get custom interior trim and will be priced above the S600. I find it oddly comforting that Mercedes executives are being true to their school here, in a stupid is as stupid does kind of way.
But then again that's just one pathetic example. Another? There's a virulent strain of bad marketing going on as you read this and it seems to be overrunning the business right now, and that is the idea that glorified retail, or "Tier 2" advertising is somehow a worthy substitute for real live advertising.
This is beyond disconcerting, too, because after the great headlong rush into digital social media that car marketing "geniuses" embarked on, insisting that mainstream TV advertising was dead and that it was a brand-new world, an odd thing has happened. Marketers - the real ones not the pretend ones that seem to occupy too many thrones in the car business - are rediscovering the power of Big Bang advertising on television, and they're using it to great effect.
Why do I bring this up? The current Buick campaign that has people fumbling around not realizing that the car over there is "a Buick" is the antithesis of that and a complete travesty. Mostly because the powers that be in GM marketing think it's great, and that they're trying to figure out how to do more of it. In fact the campaign is so completely demeaning to the brand that it's the equivalent of shooting themselves in the head. The dealers may clamor for it, but then again why shouldn't they? It's dealer advertising at its semi-finest. (Note: I didn't use the term "geniuses" when it comes to anything associated with marketing at GM. No one in his or her right mind would attach that moniker to anyone there, in fantasy or fact. That GM continues to stumble along rudderless in the marketing world is one of the confounding mysteries of the business. One that has no end, apparently.)
And finally, what would a column about marketing "geniuses" be without mention of the dumbest current advertising campaign going at the moment, and that is the excruciatingly painful TV advertising for the Chrysler 200 that is so beyond tedious it defies description. Using foreign language voiceovers to somehow impart gravitas to what is a merely ordinary entry in the segment is laughable. But then filling the spot with promises about quality and integrity - when all indications are that absolutely nothing has changed at Fiat Chrysler in terms of quality and reliability - is a flat out insult to everyone's intelligence.
Olivier "I'm a genius just ask me" Francois has had some hits under his watch while doing Sergio's bidding, but this isn't one of them. As a matter of fact it's some of the worst car advertising that has come down the pike in a long, long time.
And so it goes. I'd like to be able to gleefully report about the rays of light entering the car marketing world, that it's the dawn of a new era in enlightened, visionary marketing with smart people coming to the fore who are making great decisions and unleashing memorable marketing on the American landscape.
But alas, no such luck.
We're on a train running headlong into the darkness on a midnight run through the mountain passes of marketing mediocrity.
The occasional flickers of light are brief and fleeting, quickly extinguished by the next tunnel.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.