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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Sunday
Apr122015

OUT OF IDEAS IN AUBURN HILLS.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit. Anyone who has read this column over the years knows that I have the utmost respect for the people who are engaged in the business of advertising, especially the creative people who spill their guts out on a regular basis in an attempt at coming up with advertising that is memorable, effective and even occasionally great.

Having toiled in those trenches myself for more than a couple of decades, I know what it takes to not only survive in that endeavor, but to thrive as well. It requires a drive and a passion for the work that supersede everything. It’s all consuming - at least it is for the people who have the fundamental desire to create outstanding work – and though at times exhilarating, it requires a relentless focus that is often exhausting.

So, when I comment on a campaign or a particular piece of advertising, it’s with my background in the business front and center. I’m not all that interested in presenting nostalgic ramblings about how it used to be - although make no mistake, perspective from what came before should never be dismissed - but given this incredibly intense, 24/7-connected and media-saturated environment we live in, I’m more interested in what works right at this very moment, and what doesn’t. And why.

Of the current marketing players involved at the various car companies today, Olivier Francois - the Fiat-Chrysler CMO – is certainly the most flamboyant and self-promoting actor on the advertising stage at the moment, and he has been ever since Sergio Marchionne brought him in and handed him the marketing reins. Not a fan of Francois’s personal style in the least - his tendency for self-promotion and his penchant for over-hyping grew tiresome almost from the moment he got here – I dubbed him (and deservedly so I might add), Olivier “I’m a genius, just ask me” Francois, which obviously didn’t sit well with him, or his the minions out in Auburn Hills. (As if I cared in the least.)

As much as I find him to be relentlessly tedious with his constant preaching to Americans and specifically Detroiters as to who we are and what we should be thinking about, I will give credit where credit is due and say that nobody currently working in the automotive marketing space understands “big event” advertising more than Francois. His Super Bowl spots – at least the ones that worked – have had tremendous impact. The Eminem spot deserves mention, although the wrong car was used to the point that it was inconsequential and irrelevant. (Remember what it was? Didn’t think so.) And the farm truck spot that utilized famous commentary by the late radio legend Paul Harvey was nothing less than the best automotive spot of any kind in the last decade.

But Francois has had some cringeworthy misses too. The Clint Eastwood spot fell flat from the get-go, a monument to tedium that still reeks. The Bob Dylan spot was a head-scratcher that resonated with exactly no one. And the Jeep “Beautiful Lands” spot (watch it here) for the new Renegade that ran on the Super Bowl this past February was all beautifully shot and internationally inclusive, but to foist off Woody Guthrie’s classic American folk song, “This Land Is Your Land” to launch an international marketing push for the smallest Jeep was both insulting and disingenuous. And to make matters worse, FCA was beaten to the punch by The North Face, which used Guthrie’s classic song  - and to much greater effect, I might add - for its “Never Stop Exploring” campaign, which debuted at the end of last October. 

I won’t even bother to get into the much lesser – and excruciatingly bad - work for Fiat, Chrysler and Dodge, which has been just really piss-poor of late, but suffice to say Francois’s act is a high-wire dance, and that he ends-up falling head first into the safety net more often than not is all part of it. Which brings me to FCA’s latest work for the Chrysler 300, entitled “Drive Proud.”

This is what Francois had to say about it in the FCA press release: “The Chrysler brand celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans who refuse to give up, dedicate themselves to a craft and have the guts to turn dreams into reality. Our latest homage to the relentless and proud is ‘The Kings and Queens of America,’ where we recognize nobility not as a birthright but an earned designation. Because meaningful success doesn’t appear magically on a silver platter; it is earned and should be rewarded. The crown jewel in this case being the new Chrysler 300 – a car crafted with them in mind.”

Wow, that’s a lot to chew on, isn’t it? And it’s yet another classic bit of Francois posturing, too, deigning to tell us not only what we - as Americans - think, but who we are and why we do the things we do. And it’s all unmitigated bullshit frankly, because as we find ourselves living in the Land of the Entitled and Coddled today, I wonder which America he’s talking about?  (You can watch the spot here. It was produced by the Wieden + Kennedy advertising agency in Portland, Oregon.)

To make matters worse, it’s all punctuated with ponderous, “Game of Thrones”-tinged copy, complete with voice over by Peter Dinklage, the actor best known from his work in that HBO television series.

“There is no royal blood in this country,” the spot opines, which is technically not true, because there are plenty of “royals” here – even though they happen to be powerful business titans or worse, television or movie “celebrities” instead of officially being anointed by the people or by our government - but they're there nonetheless.

“Nothing is reserved for anyone,” it continues. Oh really? I would beg to differ on that point. There is plenty reserved in this country and for a lot of people, too, whether it’s deserved or not is the subject for another column altogether, however.

“It’s all just out there, waiting for someone to reach out and take it.” The copy really goes off of the rails here, dredging up the American Dream, which is a nice idea and it's what this country has always been all about, except that the reality of the America we live in today is much, much different. Even Adweek commented on that fact saying, "While the sentiment behind the ad ignores the reality that social mobility is actually higher in most European countries than it is in the U.S., this is advertising, not sociology."

Exactly. This is advertising – or it should be – and not sociology, which has been Francois’s biggest problem from the moment he got here. He’s just arrogant enough to think that he has the American zeitgeist all figured out, and if we’d all just listen to him and do what he says - as in buy Chrysler cars - we’d be so much better off for it (plus he’d have the added advantage of making that unctuous prick of a boss of his look good, too, which, as you know, always comes in handy at bonus time).

There is more background to consider to all of this, of course. This spot is the first attempt by Francois to officially shift the focus of the Chrysler positioning away from being a near-luxury, almost-premium brand to a more “mainstream” brand; at least that’s his latest strategy for the perennially underachieving Chrysler division. But it’s a fool’s errand, because Chrysler occupies a special place in a brand netherworld, only finding product relevance – and success - in the past when it came up with something that was unexpected or unavailable anywhere else. And the 300 isn’t it. Not by any stretch of the imagination, in fact. Yes, even though it’s tweaked and refined, it was long in the tooth four years ago, and it has traveled even further down the road to irrelevance now.

But the overriding problem for this new Chrysler work is that in comparison to the “Dare Greatly” campaign that recently made its debut for Cadillac, it comes up painfully short. To begin with, the similarity of “Drive Proud” to the latest work for Cadillac – right down to its Manhattan focus - is glaringly apparent and not flattering. Instead it comes off as being nothing more than a derivative ripoff, one that pales next to the Cadillac work in look, tone, feel and most important, execution.

The ugly reality that Olivier Francois and his minions refuse to accept is that no brand could be further from status and royalty than Chrysler, and there’s no rub-off from a TV show to be had that could ever change that. Think about it, would the high achievers of America depicted in the commercial really be hitching their stars to a Chrysler 300 to make their “statement” arrivals and departures? Not a chance.

Drive Proud? No, I’d say it’s more like Drive Derivative. And in this case imitation isn’t the sincerest form of flattery, it’s just more evidence that the “genius” has finally run out of ideas.

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

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