No. 964
September 19, 2018

About The Autoextremist

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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May 19, 2010

Why advertising still matters, and why Dodge marketers well and truly suck at it.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

(Posted 5/17, 4:00PM) Detroit.
Some of the comments about last week's column were interesting, with some readers insisting that advertising matters not one iota when it comes to jump-starting a car company. I vehemently disagree. Unless you live in a vacuum and have all of the possible myriad exposures to advertising, marketing, and image enhancing Internet campaigns expunged from your existence, advertising well and truly still does matter.

You only have to think about the favorable impressions you might have for a product - any product - to know that a piece of communication aimed at you has somehow broken through to leave an impression worth noting, whether you choose to believe it or not. So, to suggest that a particular car advertising campaign - good or bad - is meaningless, is simply ludicrous, or worse, displays a level of close-mindedness that you might consider having looked at, just in case you find yourself railing against the machine on an imaginary sidewalk in the near future. I'm just sayin' is all...

Now, did I say that a great car campaign can overcome an uncompetitive product? Absolutely not. There is no ad campaign in the world that can do that. But have I seen an outstanding advertising campaign pull a mediocre car up by the lapels and damn near turn the industry on its ear? Yes. When Hal Riney tackled the launch of the Saturn he created an aura for a brand that pretty much glossed over and transcended the fact that the first Saturn was a mediocre car, at best. (As a matter of fact the dulcet tones of a Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engine could have given the Saturn powerplant a run for its money on the noise-vibration-harshness meter back then.) The aura that Riney's brilliant ad campaign created basically allowed Saturn to survive long past its sell-by date, to the point that most early Saturn owners didn't have a clue that Saturn was part of General Motors. So don't tell me that advertising doesn't matter, because for car companies it can be absolutely crucial in establishing an impression for consumers.

Look no further than what BMW has accomplished with the "Ultimate Driving Machine" campaign (although they seem hell-bent on screwing it up with this witless "Joy" business of late). BMW has hammered that message home to American consumers for going on 35 years now, and it has resonated spectacularly well for the Bavarian bunch, to the point that BMW is one of the iconic brands on the road today. Yes, BMW executes excellent products for the most part, but there's no question that the "Ultimate Driving Machine" helped BMW achieve an image and a level of consumer loyalty that other car manufacturers would kill over.

But after saying all of this, what are we to make of the train wreck called Dodge advertising at this very moment in time?

We praised some of the reinvigorated Dodge Charger spots that first ran on the Super Bowl as being well written and interesting. But then, Dodge and their agency proceeded to take a pretty clever idea and beat it to death by trying to apply that same idea across the board to the rest of the product lineup, utilizing Michael C. Hall's (of "Dexter" fame) voiceover on spots that were simply boring and in some cases, flat-out tedious (mirroring Dodge's woefully dismal product lineup perfectly, I might add). Which just goes to show you that when left to their own devices, a car company and their ad agency are nine times out of ten incapable of mustering an edit button to keep themselves from royally screwing up a good idea.

But the latest work for the Dodge minivan is so horrifically bad and beyond category horrendous that I absolutely refuse to describe the ads, seeing as Chrysler's self-absorbed marketing leader (he's a frickin' genius, just ask him) - Olivier Francois - would then get the satisfaction of trotting out the predictable bullshit line that "if they're talking about it then it must must be good advertising." Not a fucking chance, pal. As a matter of fact I can't even remember the last time I was subjected to such egregiously bad advertising. Wieden & Kennedy has not only gone completely off the reservation with this miserable excuse for cogent ad work, they have managed to insult everybody's intelligence in one fell swoop too. And Chrysler marketing brainiacs actually allowed themselves to be talked into this unmitigated bullshit? Unbelievable.

A buddy of mine - Patrick Shelton - who has been in the marketing field for a long time, took me to task for criticizing Cadillac's new "Mark of Leadership" campaign last week because, all things considered - especially when you see the craptastic "ads" that Dodge is churning out - it's pretty damn good work and worthy of the brand. The fundamental difference here for me is that Cadillac's standing in the automotive spectrum is such - and GM's long history of futility when it comes to marketing is so pervasive - that being "good enough" just will not do for one of America's most iconic brands, which is why I refused to give Cadillac marketers praise for mediocre work, at best. Just showing up with competent albeit minimally acceptable work will never do for any of GM's brands from here on out, especially Cadillac and Chevrolet, and Joel Ewanick, GM's new marketing chief, knows that as well as anybody.

But in Dodge's case it's different. Much different. In this case you have a hot-shot chief executive - Sergio Marchionne - who thinks he's always right and everybody else is either wrong or stupid or both, combined with an allegedly hot-shot marketer - Olivier Francois - who has made a career out of shocking consumers with "compelling" ads that get a lot of play but leave a lot to be desired in the effectiveness department. And together they're working on a brand that is so downtrodden and off of consumer radar screens that they're throwing up everything against the wall that they can get their hands on to see what - if anything - will stick.

Well, they must have Velcro in the conference rooms at Wieden & Kennedy, and Francois must be so in love with himself - and his "gut" - that he must have relegated his bullshit detector to a museum somewhere back in Italy, because this latest work is the most patently offensive crap I have seen in years. Way to go, boys and girls, because you well and truly suck on so many levels I've lost track.

And here's a clue going forward for Sergio, Olivier & Friends: Self-absorption is standard operating procedure in this business. We get that. But self-absorption combined with furiously out-of-control egos is a sure-fire path to self destruction. And guess what? That fiberoptic pinpoint of light at the end of the long, dark tunnel that you think might be the beam of optimism that you've been waiting for all these months and a signal that Fiat-Chrysler's precarious fortunes are finally on the upswing?


It's a 100-car freight train headed straight for Auburn Hills, and it's about to crush you like a grape if you keep making boneheaded advertising like the Dodge minivan spots. Talk about a train wreck...

That's the High-Octane Truth for this week.




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