No. 951
June 20, 2018

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, 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 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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By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Back in my advertising days, I worked indirectly for a guy by the name of Phil Dusenberry, who ruled the creative efforts of the BBDO advertising empire like a potentate. Even though I, along with my able colleagues, was toiling on the Dodge account back in Detroit – an account that was responsible for a staggering 85 percent of the agency’s profitability at the time – occasionally we’d be summoned to the Supreme Creative Leader’s office in New York to have a chat. Usually it was for a new creative assignment, but sometimes it was so Phil could review proposed new creative work, which always led to some tense sessions.

Dusenberry was small in stature and he wasn’t one to raise his voice or explode into histrionics, but then again he didn’t need to. If he didn’t like something about the proposed creative work there would always be a calculated pause before he commented, in sotto voce, “It’s not very good, is it?” Those six words could send chills down spines, of rookie or veteran alike. And it has become a go-to saying around here at AE headquarters to describe any number of situations or scenarios, although we usually shorten it - for the whole brevity thing – to: “Not. Very. Good.”

I could probably devote at least three columns to that time-honored catchphrase and how it applies to the automobile business these days, from the manufacturers and suppliers, to the ad agencies and back again, but I’m going to focus on the advertising business today, in particular the new VW campaign for the Atlas SUV.

(Before I get started, I should point out that I apply my “33%” rule to advertising, for cars or otherwise. As in, 33% of advertising is tedious, unmitigated crap, 33% is serviceable but too often borderline workmanlike, and 33% is actually very good. What about the extra 1%? I reserve that designation for the truly out-of-the-park exceptional.)

Now, right up front, the new ad campaign for the Atlas (or Atlast as VW dealers refer to it), which utilizes Paul Simon’s song “America” throughout its various iterations, including the Simon and Garfunkel original as well as a remake recorded by First Aid Kit, actually is very good. I know you thought I would say Not. Very. Good., but that doesn’t apply here.

Driven almost completely by that iconic Paul Simon music track, this new VW campaign tells a story of a three-generation family and their cross-country journey of discovery across the United States. And, of course, they discover things about themselves – and the Atlas - along the way. The tagline? “Life’s as big as you make it.”

A sidebar? It’s interesting to note that VW’s U.S. agency of record, Deutsch, is behind this work. It's also interesting to point out that back in the throes of the 2016 Presidential campaign, when the Bernie Sanders campaign came out with a TV spot about one year ago using the same Paul Simon track, the Morning Joe program on MSNBC – where ad man Donny Deutsch is a recurring guest panelist – ran the sixty-second ad uninterrupted, twice. Not as part of an ad buy, but because the show’s hosts wanted to discuss its impact. And Deutsch just about came out of his chair with effusive praise for the spot. Is it just a coincidence that "America" ends up as the centerpiece of the new VW Atlas campaign by Deutsch’s ad agency? Maybe. Or maybe not.

At any rate, this work is carefully nuanced and nicely executed, but I have one very large concern. And that is you could plug in a couple of other car companies, at least, into the spots and the campaign would work just as well.

For one, I could see a sweeping brand spot for Subaru in VW’s “America” campaign. In fact, it would be damn near perfect. But even better, this should be an image campaign for Chevrolet, because they’ve clearly lost their way in search of finding new roads. (I consider the current ad work for Chevrolet to be the worst in the business right now. Tedious, insulting and completely devoid of brand integrity, the Chevrolet advertising has the fingerprints of heavy-handed clients all over it, those who don’t even have a shred of a clue as to what they’re doing. Tedious, unmitigated crap doesn’t even begin to cover it.)

VW is all in with this campaign, as well it should be. This company is at the very early days of rehabbing its image in the U.S., and the “family-sized” Atlas is just the ticket for SUV-crazed American consumers. It would have been nice, however, if the company refrained from pounding “with America’s best bumper-to-bumper limited warranty” into the voiceover at the end, but that’s what clients do. It’s as if they have to remind us all that it’s a car spot and that they should say something about the product, in case we missed it (you can watch the 1:30 version of the VW “America” ad campaign here).

Believe me, I get it. The client mindset dictates that creating memorable, positive impressions is never enough for nervous hand-wringers plunking down $5 million plus to produce a new advertising campaign, and another $40 million or so in launch spending in total. So, you get a bumper-to-bumper warranty mention at the end of the spot, which seems to come out of left field, because, well, it does come out of left field, and it manages to bring any accrued good feelings in the previous 1:25 to a screeching halt.

Oh well, VW and its ad agency almost hit one out of the park. Which is better than most.

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


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