No. 919
October 18, 2017
 

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 Autoextremist.com, 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  witchhuntbook.com). 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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Monday
Nov092015

THE INVASION OF THE MARKETING BRAIN SNATCHERS.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit. Now that Hyundai has finally decided to get serious about its intentions in the luxury market after flirting with the segment for years, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. Hyundai will transform its Genesis nameplate into a brand new luxury division in 2017, one that will expand to six vehicles by 2020.

Hyundai wisely resisted going all-in on this years earlier when they were most tempted, because they weren’t close to being ready and their serial arrogance almost got the best of them. With cars that wallowed dynamically and designs that were consistently third rate, it was a wise decision.

Now, with two of the top designers in the world – President and Chief Design Officer Peter Schreyer and Luc Donckerwolke (formerly VW’s design chief) – leading the charge for the new luxury brand, and dynamic chassis engineers with experience tuning German luxury-performance cars hard at work on behalf of the company, the transformation of Hyundai, led by its new Genesis division, should be very interesting to watch because make no mistake, the company has finally gotten serious about developing the capability to match its will.

And believe me none of the brand leaders for the current road stars – Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus – will be taking Hyundai’s serious push into this segment lightly.

But then again, this being the wonderful world of automotive marketing, the powers that be at Hyundai just couldn’t help themselves when it came to framing what this new luxury brand would be, painfully pegging the “wince meter” with their tedious and predictable words. Euisun Chung, Hyundai Motor Co. vice chairman, said the company would go after younger, upscale buyers who are “savvy, affluent progressives, who are reasonable, progressive and young.”

Really? That’s it? That’s the best they could come up with? No matter how good the cars and crossovers are, it should only take you a millisecond to realize that those words could be assigned to almost every single car manufacturer in the world (except for the perpetual short hitters in this business, oh you know who you are so don’t go pretending otherwise).

“Savvy affluent progressives.” Check. Who are “progressive” and “young.” Check. Because as a car company desperate for acceptance in the luxury segment you certainly wouldn’t want to target stoic, aging iconoclasts living off the land, would you? Or people without the financial wherewithal to even casually stroll through one of your dealerships, right?

The only word that was a bit puzzling in the Genesis dossier is “reasonable.” About what, exactly? Reasonable in thought and demeanor? Reasonable for considering a Korean brand instead of the traditional German segment leaders? Reasonable in your choice of shoes? Reasonable because Hyundai doesn’t want to deal with you if you’re not? Reasonable in that you’re not a known, card-carrying resident of Crazy Town?

I’ve been listening to marketing executives for decades and it’s all the same horseshit. It’s always something like, “We did our due diligence and our research clearly points us to go after people who can afford the prices we’re asking, who are hip and cool enough to understand the goodness they’re being presented with, and who are progressive in thought and action - even some with a little ‘maverick’ in them - those who are comfortable enough to go their own way and not just drive what everyone else is driving.”

Like they’ve somehow discovered the secret stash of marketing magic beans and they’ve cracked the double secret code somehow all in one fell swoop. As if.

You can apply Hyundai’s brand words to countless car companies. Buick, Cadillac, Lincoln, Lexus, they could all march into battle with those same words. Although Buick marketers take it one step further by insisting that Buick is “an international modern luxury brand offering vehicles with sculpted designs, luxurious interiors and thoughtful personal technologies, along with responsive-yet-efficient performance.” Come to think of it, Hyundai could have just as easily borrowed that Buick line, and you could apply that statement to any of the near-luxury and luxury contenders out there as well.

What gives, exactly? Well, I’ve distilled it down to three Absolutes of Negativity when it comes to automotive marketing, to save us all a bunch of time.

1. The Lack of Original Thought. It’s not just a plague; it’s standard operating procedure, something that permeates car company marketing enclaves all over the world. I am convinced that there is a secret automotive marketing boot camp buried underground somewhere (perhaps in the legendary salt mines under the Motor City?) that beats the same old marketing platitudes into marketers’ heads so that they can go forth and multiply, spewing their time-honored, predictable “givens” until everyone just shrugs and acquiesces to the ongoing train wreck. It works too. Sit through enough of those meetings and you realize that the inertia is so pervasive and unimpeded that it’s like sitting through a horror movie called “The Invasion of the Marketing Brain Snatchers.” One that no one wants to see let alone endure in a two-hour meeting.

2. The Unwillingness to Try Something Else. I was going to say “different” but I realized that would be expecting way too much. Different is a scary word in the automotive world. Different means out of sync. Different means courting borderline ostracism. Different means, “Well, we want to be hip and cool, but geez, not that hip and cool.” I’ll take the willingness to at least attempt something else, to see someone actually present it in a meeting full of marketing strategists schooled in the marketing salt mines knowing full well the room will be ready to pounce and eviscerate you with even the slightest quizzical raised eyebrow of disgust from the Meeting Overlord. Wonder why all of this marketing gibberish sounds alike? There is a really good – and obvious - reason for it.

3. It’s Easier to Aim for the Middle. If I’ve said this once I’ve said it at least a thousand times in the last sixteen going on seventeen years of Autoextremist.com, and that is that mediocrity isn’t bliss in this business, except when it comes to marketing. The marketing function is too often a giant sinkhole where truly creative strategic thoughts go to die. In automotive marketing mediocrity is in fact bliss because to go against the grain and come up with something genuinely disruptive is too often a career killer, unless you’re Olivier Francois, of course, who despite his satchel full of annoyances is still the only automotive marketing strategist at work today – at least on the client side - who truly gets it.

There are many more things contributing to the sameness in automotive marketing thought these days, but at the top of the list is the incessant, mindless overuse of social media by auto company marketers. It has become so predictable and boring and just plain stupid that it almost defies comprehension. Automotive marketing and PR strategists continue to confuse “participation” in the social media space with “creative disruption” when in fact rarely ever shall the twain meet.

Just because an auto company – orchestrated by its obligatory gaggle of PR firm minions/surrogates - participates in whatever the social-media-of-the-moment craze is, that doesn’t mean it’s worth it or the least bit effective. Their idea of “creative disruption” usually amounts to a series of petty annoyances that lead to nowhere good. And this is lost on every single car company marketer in the world today. Every single one. And they’re wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on it without the slightest burden of a clue too.

So the next time you’re perusing a luxury automotive website, notice the keywords seemingly shared by everyone: Individual. Expressive. Personally tailored. Intelligently designed. Progressive. Unrivaled. State of the art. Personally connected to you. Effortless. Passionate. Luxury redefined. Luxury for those who demand more. Performance for those who expect more. Designed for those on a different path, etc., etc., etc.  

And then take a step back and realize that it’s all the same unmitigated bullshit and that they’re coming for your brains, and they’re absolutely convinced that you can’t tell the difference.

Then tune it out, walk away and decide for yourself what really matters because ultimately, when it comes to marketing, the auto companies are just throwing stuff up against the wall to see what sticks.

Because after all, they've always done it that way.

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

(Hyundai)
Renderings of Hyundai's new range-topping G90 luxury sedan (EQ900 in Korea) hint at the Genesis brand’s future design direction. Hyundai is calling the Genesis brand’s design style ‘Athletic Elegance.’ The launch of the G90 is scheduled for early next month in Korea.

Editor's Note: Watch "Episode 5" of AutoextremistTV on YouTube here. -WG

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