No. 768,
October 15, 2014

About The Autoextremist

What do you do when when you've been immersed in all things automotive since before you took your first steps? When you're the scion of an automotive family in an automotive town in its very own automotive universe? When you've forgotten more about cars and motorsports and everything and everyone involved in the business than most people will ever know? When cars aren't just in your blood, but also in your bones and your brain and the very air you breathe? If you're Peter M. De Lorenzo, you ramp it up a bit further. National commentator, industry consultant and author (as well as former superstar ad man), De Lorenzo's daily (and nightly) focus for the past 15 years has been Autoextremist.com, a weekly Internet magazine devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry and the business of motorsports. Translation: De Lorenzo likes to tell the truth about what's really going on behind the scenes in the car business. And sometimes, things get ugly. Real ugly. But he is as passionate with his praise as he is with his critiques, and Autoextremist has become a weekly "must read" for leading professionals in all industries. De Lorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today. It's the very definition of a high-octane life. And it's what fuels De Lorenzo to keep the pedal down - hard. He won't stop because he can't stop. A bit tired, perhaps? No way. De Lorenzo is one of the most untired people we know.

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

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Monday
Feb042013

Image wrangling at the Super Bowl.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

(Posted 2/4, 5:30 pm.) Detroit. Well, after surviving the "Harbowl" and the "Blackout Bowl," there is no question that the talk of the post Super Bowl landscape - at least in corporate marketing circles - isn't the game itself (although it turned out to be a pretty damn good game, but, really, that 49er play calling in that final series? Ugh), it's the fallout from all of the major league advertising that went on. 

They don't call it the Super Bowl of image wrangling for nothin'. It's the big leagues, folks. And if you've never been a part of it, I can't really do justice to the intensity and the hand-wringing that goes on before you see those spots on the game (or the countless pre-game exposures that have now unfortunately become de rigueur). The amount of time, money and sheer effort involved in bringing these commercials to fruition is staggering.

That said, the post-mortems can be brutal. A lot of money has been spent. And a lot of "suits" are looking at their watches this morning and asking the hard questions, as in: Was it worth it? Did we get what we wanted? Are the metrics good? Did we get the social media buzz we wanted? Did we move the image needle? 

And yes, in some painful meetings, WTF? As in, we spent that much and got that

Yes, it's true. Excruciatingly so, in some cases. Despite all of the earnest and well-meaning strategic planning, despite all of the countless hours that went into the creative work, despite all of the rote rationalizations (talking yourselves into things is a cottage industry in the ad biz) and the endless internal discussions and the belief that whatever is ultimately proposed is "the right thing to do," it can all go horribly wrong, and on so many levels too.

So without further ado, then, let's see who hit it and who... well, didn't. Editor’s Note: You can see all of the Super Bowl advertising at AdAge’s website here. – WG)

(I’m not going to cover all of the ads here, by the way, just the high hard ones relating to the automobile business, and one, my Best in Show, which doesn’t. Yes, of course, there was plenty of absolute crap on the Big Game: Budweiser Black Crown, Go Daddy, Coca-Cola race to the oasis, etc., but today, we’ll stick to cars.)

The Mercedes-Benz “Soul” spot was only mildly entertaining, certainly not up to the hype. Desperate to present itself as a newly hip brand, Mercedes seems to be trying oh so very hard. And it always seems to leave a little bit, okay a lot, to be desired. But speaking of the CLA, it’s what, nine months away? Do you think Mercedes will beat that spot to death in the interim in order to hammer the point home that the CLA starts at $29,900.00? Yes, of course they will. Will it matter? No, of course it won’t. But shhh, don’t tell anyone at Mercedes-Benz that, because they’ll be crushed. Oh sure, they will point to the uptick in their social media exposure and all of the associated hype metrics, but in the end, they’re way too out front of when the car is going to actually be at dealers, and there’s no amount of hype that will overcome that. That’s Problem No. 1.

Problem No. 2 was the “live” shot that Mercedes-Benz North America President and CEO Steve Cannon did with supermodel Kate Upton (who appeared in “Soul” and the car wash pre-game spot) on NBC’s Today Show early Saturday morning. It was painful. Let me change that, she was painful. If she wasn’t prepped by Mercedes-Benz handlers before that interview, they should be flogged. If she was? Ugh. You would think that she could at least present a modicum of intelligence and lucidity on the brand’s behalf, given how much they’re paying her. But no. An opportunity missed. Dot com.

The Audi spot “Prom (Worth It)” was, well, actually worth it. It didn’t embarrass the brand, it was consistent with Audi’s march-to-a-different-drummer positioning, and it was fun. Featuring a kid going solo to the prom – after his father tosses him the keys to his Audi – and then turning it into a most memorable night. It was certainly better than last year’s ill-conceived spot, so, well done for them.

The VW spot with the happy Jamaican-sounding guy was amusing, but, as I stated last week, not in the same league with the two previous spots from the brand. And the racist “controversy” attached to it? Simply ridiculous and much ado about nothing.

The Hyundai spots were well executed as always, the one with the kid gathering a team of his uniquely talented friends to take on the bullies’ football team being particularly noteworthy.

The Kia spot with the kid asking his parents “Where do babies come from?” followed by a fantasy story told by the dad was a digital animation tour de force, but beyond that it was just a “cotton candy” spot, meaning though beautiful and colorful to look at, it wasn’t memorable. The other Kia spot with the woman robot product specialist kicking an annoying auto show attendee’s ass drew a slight chuckle, but it was eminently forgettable in a matter of moments.

Lincoln Motor Company marketers have their hands full, faced with the dual task of relaunching a moribund brand as well as trying to lure a younger demographic to its showrooms. The company split its 60-second ad buy on the game and went in completely opposite directions with the two 30-second spots. The first one, "Phoenix" was on a similar wavelength to its visually stunning product campaign, which they have been rolling out since late December. These spots have done wonders in getting Lincoln back on the radar screens what with their dramatic look and feel, and they have started to move the image needle for the brand ever so slightly in a positive direction.

The other 30-second spot was entirely driven by stories of people’s memorable road trips gathered by tweets off of twitter, with guidance provided by Jimmy Fallon and Lincoln’s new ad agency HudsonRouge. In keeping with Ford marketing’s deep engagement with the social media space, it was clear that Lincoln marketers invested more in the run-up to the game and the engagement in the social media space, rather than actually trying to hit a home run on the game.

Risky move? Most definitely and to their credit, in fact. And Lincoln marketers are reveling in their decision to go in another direction. It’s fun to be unpredictable with your marketing as a Detroit automaker, there’s a certain measure of satisfaction in going against the grain and I, more than anyone, understand that completely. But for all of the metrics Lincoln marketers will trot out to justify the direction of the creative, the net-net of it was that the resulting spot was a total disconnect from the Lincoln creative work offered up since December. And thus its impact was diminished going in.

Three years from now, once the Lincoln Motor Company is established and its product cadence is truly on pace, I could see doing a whimsical spot for the brand on the Super Bowl. But they’re clearly not there yet.

(I also believe you buy a :60 on the Super Bowl to maximize the impact of your message, providing, of course, the you can come up with something creative that truly resonates with the audience. By splitting the :60 into two :30s, I think Lincoln hurt themselves going in.)

And finally, Fiat-Chrysler. After wowing us with the “Imported from Detroit” spot for Chrysler with Eminem three years ago, the Auburn Hills bunch followed up with the dreadfully overwrought “Halftime in America” spot with Clint Eastwood last year. A poorly rendered advertising atrocity, it featured the unique premise of having an Italian-owned car company lecturing Americans on how to be better Americans. And it fell flat for a lot of people. Including me.

This year, the Fiat-Chrysler mash-up offered up two distinctly different spots. The first was "Whole Again" a purposely gut-wrenching two-minute tribute to veterans (complete with a voiceover by Oprah Winfrey) and the role that the USO plays in helping the veterans and their families out. Oh, and Jeep of course, because after all, Jeep earned its spurs in WWII and has stayed with that positioning ever since.

I applaud Jeep’s participation in “Operation Safe Return” because we cannot do enough for our veterans and their families as far as I’m concerned. But to me the spot veers dangerously close to exploitation of our vets. I’m sure there will be a boisterous bunch out there who will question my patriotism for deigning to question the motives behind this spot, but tough. Even though the majority of the Super Bowl viewers are quite thrilled with the spot, I think it crosses the line.

I have no qualms with the other spot from Fiat-Chrysler, “Farmer,” for Dodge Ram truck. (And for the record I refuse to call it just “Ram.” It still doesn’t work no matter what Fiat-Chrysler marketers say.)

As a matter of fact “Farmer” and my Best in Show (to follow) were head and shoulders above the rest in the annual Super Bowl marketing extravaganza.

“Farmer” is a brilliantly executed two-minute spot, even if the Fiat-Chrysler agency – the Richards Group out of Dallas ­– liberated the idea from a farming website (Farms.com). They will have to deal with that fallout on their own dime, but at any rate the spot was derived from a famous speech that the iconic American radio commentator Paul Harvey delivered in 1978, "God Made a Farmer," in which he paid tribute to the hard-working American farmers across the country, in a magnificent piece of writing.  

Snippets of Harvey’s speech were pieced together against breathtaking visuals that paint a heroic picture of the pastoral and at times gritty scenery of American farming life, with the farmers themselves playing a prominent role. And it is flat-out brilliant, a powerful example of what advertising can and should be.

And again, as I mentioned last week, the fact that these spots were not talked about, teased, revealed or jacked-up in social media before the game made them that much more powerful. There’s a lesson here for the rest of the advertisers out there, which they will conveniently ignore in this social-media-is-everything world we live in today.

And that’s too bad.

Finally, the Budweiser “Brotherhood” spot was my “Best in Show” simply because it eclipsed everything else on the game with its powerful emotional pull. In 60 beautiful seconds, this spot made you care about this horse and the man who groomed it into adulthood, made you sigh when he had to turn him over to become one of the famed Budweiser Clydesdales, and made you get a lump in your throat with their reunion at the end.

As image wrangling goes, it was true to the image that has been carefully crafted for years for Budweiser, and it reinforced everything good about Budweiser that most consumers attach to the brand.

All in one 60-second spot of pure joy.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

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