May 30, 2012
The High-Octane Truth, thirteen years on.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted May 30, 8:00 a.m) Detroit. No, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the years have flown by, because that's really not true. I have lived every minute of Autoextremist.com, from its inception as an idea for a new car magazine in 1986 to my original layout for the homepage in the spring of 1999, all the way through today at 4:00 a.m. EDT, as I write this.
To say that Autoextremist is a labor of love wouldn't be accurate either. Yes, of course I do love it, but it has also been the most relentless pursuit of my life. Making Autoextremist come to life every week requires a level of intensity that astounds even me at times, and I've been in the thick of this publication for thirteen years.
When I started this publication I had no idea where it was going. Not even a little. The advertising profession had become a never-ending procession of mewling spineless weasels who couldn't muster the energy to fight any more, and I had had it with the "thank you sir, may I have another?" death march the business had become. Clients were woefully ill-equipped (not all of them, I should point out) and incapable of making a decision out of fear for their jobs, budgets were slashed, the cars for the most part were dismal and the whole damn circus was about to pirouette into the ground.
It was the spring of 1999, I was nine years into my final ad stint at Campbell-Ewald on the Chevrolet account (having just witnessed the worst ad meeting of my life), and I wanted out. The business I loved had long since retreated into a swirling maelstrom of mediocrity. Yes, there were plenty of talented people still trying to make a difference every day, but it was as if a cloak of inevitability had descended on the business, and it was going nowhere good.
I walked out of that meeting, called WordGirl, and said that I couldn't possibly take it one moment longer. She reminded me of the Autoextremist Manifesto I had written in 1986 and said that maybe it's finally time, that the Internet would allow me to say what I had to say (without mustering all the cash for a print publication), and the rest, as they say, well, here we are.
(By the way, people love to watch Mad Men and they inevitably ask me, was it really like that? And though I came into the business in 1980 I always say the same thing: The early years of my career were much wilder, deliciously outrageous and more flat-out fun than any episode of that show could ever be. As in you have no idea. It was just a different time and a different era. Better than today? Yes. The creativity today, I'm happy to say, is still present and accounted for, but the fun? Not even remotely close.)
Enough about that.
I often write about the True Believers in this industry, the ones involved in the actual business of making cars and trucks, because I am awed at what they do and I have the utmost respect for the passion they bring to work every day. It isn't easy. Not by any stretch of the imagination. It wasn't easy for the True Believers at Chrysler to keep things going after the Mercedes contingent packed up and left. It wasn't easy for them after being gutted by those blatant mercenaries from Cerberus either. It wasn't easy waiting for the new Italian regime to take over, but they persevered and did some great work during all of it.
It wasn't easy for the True Believers at GM either. The people in product development and design kept the company in the game throughout the bankruptcy nightmare, and they even managed to create the Chevrolet Volt in a compressed development schedule during the most intense period in the company's history while under untold pressure. My hat's off to them.
And it certainly wasn't easy for the True Believers at Ford, who had to watch as the entire company was put up for collateral. But then again Bill Ford went out and convinced Alan Mulally that saving the Ford Motor Company and saving an American industrial icon was a challenge that he could believe in. And fortunately for everyone at Ford and the American industrial fabric, Alan was more than up to the challenge. Today Ford is a company full of True Believers, led by the most gifted corporate leader of the 21st century.
I could comment on the state of the business at this point and how it has changed over the last thirteen years but I'm going to take a break from that. Suffice to say the companies that are overflowing with True Believers and that focus every moment on the integrity and the fundamental desirability of the product are doing very well right now, and they'll continue to do so. The rest? Well, they'll continue flailing and floundering about in search of a clue. Pathetic, but true.
On a personal note I can relate to those True Believers because creating Autoextremist requires a deep well of passion that courses through my veins right through to my soul. It requires a level of focused consistency that is daunting, but then again, that has been the way we've gone about it since Day One. Any less of an effort would be beneath our standards and thus inexcusable. And besides, mediocrity is boring and has no place here.
When I'm finished with an Autoextremist issue I have maybe a day before I start thinking of the next one (and this is all while I'm conducting my other business life as well). But then again, who am I kidding? I never stop thinking about it. That's just the way it is. And exactly the way it should be.
As I said, creating Autoextremist is a relentless and at times frightfully all-consuming pursuit. It has long since blurred the lines between who I am and what I do, and frankly, at this point I wouldn't have it any other way.
And as much as I would like to sit back and call it good going into our fourteenth year of AE, well, it's never good enough.
That's just the way it is and the way it absolutely must continue to be.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week, 4,745 days and 649 issues later.