February 15, 2012
Demagogues, vapor trails and brand auras.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 2/13, 7:30 p.m.) Detroit. It wouldn’t be February in the auto industry without the UAW’s favorite son/demagogue, Bob “Captain Clueless” King mouthing off about something that only serves to heighten the UAW’s rapid descent into irrelevance and ultimately, oblivion.
This time, in celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Flint sit-down strike against General Motors in 1937 – the action that forced the automaker to sign its first contract with the UAW – King is calling on his troops to take “direct action” including “non-violent civil disobedience,” according to The Detroit News.
"It will take direct action. It will take us being willing to face arrest. It will take us being willing to be part of marches and demonstrations," King said in a speech designed to send his dwindling supporters into full froth. King took particular umbrage, according to The News, with GE, who King said was depriving middle America of what, I’m not really sure, while paying no taxes.
"It's immoral!" King shouted. "We should be so outraged at the injustice in America!"
King regaled his audience last week with promises to team up with other unions, including the Service Employees International Union, and to ensure that he makes a complete fool of himself and the UAW, with members of Occupy Wall Street and others to create a new "movement for social justice" that will employ the tactics of the civil rights movement to fight against what he called "corporate greed" and attacks on labor, according to The News.
King is exhorting his troops into marching around the U.S. in what will surely turn into a tediously grim display of abject futility guaranteed to purge what little fleeting support is left for the UAW into mass indifference. "In April, we're going to be part of a broad coalition that's going to be training our membership and anybody who cares about justice in this society in nonviolent direct action," King said.
Aiming at the GE shareholders meeting in Detroit on April 25, King’s rampage continued. "It is morally wrong — it is absolutely wrong — that they make billions and billions and billions of dollars and pay not a single penny in taxes," King said, his veins bulging as his voice grew hoarse from shouting, according to The News reporter on site. "Enough is enough. We're the 99 percent who want 100 percent fairness for everyone."
(GE, to its credit, pointed out that the company paid a billion with a “B” in taxes in 2010, but the facts never get in the way when King is in high dudgeon.)
That King has become a painful anachronism and a pathetic figure resolutely living in the past is no secret to anyone who toils in and around this business. King conjures up old times for his dilapidated union and its minions, and rails against “the man” with hoary notions of moral indignation and perceived inequities that are so archaic in the globally chaotic business world that the U.S. exists in today that he has become a recurring embarrassment guaranteed to peg the “wince” meter every time he opens his mouth.
That all would be bad enough, of course, but then again the fact that this caricature of a union “leader” will be glomming on to the spotlight as the political candidates traipse through the state pretending that they’re all up to speed on the challenges of this industry and the issues facing this city and state is even worse.
Moving on to another topic...
The hand-wringing about the impact of the auto companies’ marketing efforts in the aftermath of the Super Bowl that happened over a week ago has now reached comically annoying proportions. As I’ve said repeatedly since I started this publication, no business lives in a constant swirling maelstrom of self-aggrandizement like the advertising world, a back-patting, self-promoting fairyland where everyone is amazing and everything is great, even though the reality of the situation is usually dramatically different from the industry-generated spin.
That the advertising world is a known quantity and predictable in its delusional “way” is oddly comforting in that it never changes no matter how enlightened the new guard involved in the pursuit of “makin’ ads” is allegedly supposed to be.
But it’s when the corporate world gets involved in this sort of self-indulgent grandstanding that things seem to really go off of the rails. The rush of “Look at us!” promotional efforts by the participating auto companies before the Super Bowl took on a life of its own, even though that life was defined by relentless self-absorption and little else.
For instance the auto companies went out of their way to trot out metrics that shouted from the rooftops that what they were really doing with their “this is so hot we must share it with our adoring public!” premature advertising ejaculations was enhancing their social media impact, even though everyone in the business knows that you can manipulate statistics to justify whatever it is you’re trying to say or sell at will. And the same type of spin doctoring was done for the results afterwards, with GM in particular touting the impact of their Super Bowl ads to an outlandish degree.
What was the real impact of the ads? Well, much to the chagrin of the participating automakers, whatever the long list of things they wanted to accomplish or allegedly have accomplished can be and should be boiled down to the simplest of terms. And those are:
1. Did the ad create a positive image for the brand? Or was it just a glorified ego trip by the executives in charge that had little lasting impact and made little difference in the overall scheme of things?
2. To go further, was there a genuine connection to the brand with actual name recognition and recall among consumers? Or was it just a nanosecond mention followed by a vapor trail?
3. Was a compelling raison d’etre for the brand created for consumers by the spot in question? Or was it just a “we’re great, and the sooner you realize that the sooner you’ll be able to bask in our brilliance and the better off you’ll be” exercise that is the equivalent of burning piles of money in a hubris-fueled bonfire?
In other words, did the ad in question ultimately help the brand image or aura of a participating manufacturer, or not? What was the real net-net for the auto companies and their Super Bowl marketing adventures, as opposed to their self-promoting spin?
I’ve distilled those answers down to a few 140-character bursts...
Acura: Seinfeld shtick with the Soup Nazi, Leno and a very hot-looking sports car that’s three years away. Quick what car was that spot for again?
Audi: All that for LED lighting? Really? And using vampires? So beneath the level that this vaunted brand aspires to that it was painful to watch.
Chrysler: It’s morning again in America and life coach Clint Eastwood tells us that what’s good for Detroit is good for America and vice versa. Yikes.
GM: Twinkies, the Green Hell, flying Sonics and free product placement for BMW and Ford. But a happy graduate steals the show. This is progress?
Honda: “Ferris Bueller” spot conjures up iconic movie but shortened version on the game disappoints. And the net result for Honda is what, exactly?
Hyundai: Uninspired, predictable and forgettable, Hyundai discovers that just being Hyundai doesn’t cut it anymore, much to Krafcik & Co.’s chagrin.
Kia: The “Dream Car. For Real Life.” spot for the Kia Optima was clever, funny and on point suggesting that Kia is worth a serious look. Bingo.
Lexus: “The Beast” spot on the Super Bowl for the Lexus GS was everything bad about car advertising times a billion. Clueless is as Clueless does.
Toyota: The Blandtastic Practitioners display a sense of humor for once, but did anyone actually notice? And better yet, does anyone really care?
VW: Employing a classic advertising formula, one suggesting that ads with a kid and/or dog equals can’t-miss viewer interest, VW scores again.
The point being in this discussion is that these manufacturers can pull together all of the statistics – both real and fabricated – that they can muster in order to demonstrate that they were the biggest winners on the Super Bowl, but that doesn’t mean they actually “moved the needle” enough to make a difference.
I would suggest that consumers do not have a better feeling about Acura after its Super Bowl spot; rather, they just recall it as the “Seinfeld” ad.
Honda’s “Ferris Bueller” spot resonated with those of a certain age and drew a few chuckles, but beyond that, what?
Audi’s ad was so uncharacteristic of the brand’s carefully crafted image that it might have resonated with some viewers at least initially, but its lasting impact is already gone with the wind. Why? Because the communication was woefully inconsistent with what the brand aspires to be.
And that sexy Fiat 500 Abarth spot after the game (a spot that had been out for quite some time, by the way)? It garnered a lot of attention but will it accomplish any more than that? In a word, no. Not that it isn’t a fun spot, but because the pool of serious buyers for a car the size of the 500 is small and not likely to grow anytime soon. And since Fiat-Chrysler did a piss-poor job in establishing a fundamental reason for being for Fiat, the spot exists in a vacuum.
Super Bowl ad buzz is terribly fleeting, and the real impact of the number of YouTube hits and the thousands upon thousands of “likes” and “tweets” can ring hollow. In other words, connecting with the social media space – while touting your scorecard – isn’t enough.
It’s about creating, shaping and managing your brand’s aura.
It’s about a manufacturer making every instance of communication consistent with what it believes, what it wants to be, and where it wants to go.
It sounds remarkably simple, but as the automakers proved over the last couple of weeks, it’s anything but.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
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