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. When working in the creative arena in the advertising business, the chance to work on an image-rich brand with larger-than-life resonance and marketing staying power is something to desire and wish for. Not everyone toiling away in the ad “biz” gets the chance to do this in their ad careers, but when they do it’s a golden, albeit rare, opportunity to savor.

On the one hand, working on a powerful brand with an enduring legacy is the easiest assignment you can ever hope for because ideas can rush out in a torrent of on-strategy creativity. On the other hand it is the most difficult challenge imaginable exactly for that reason. Why? Because even though those first euphoric ideas might be accurate and true to the brand in question, too often the early work veers toward the obvious and the expected, or worse, falls victim to the dreaded “it has been done before,” which is anathema when judging any response to a creative assignment of this magnitude. And there’s really nothing worse in the ad business when it comes to evaluating creative work than that, except when the notion of “borrowed interest” rears its ugly head, which seems to be too often the case in the current advertising environment. It could even be classified as an epidemic it’s so ubiquitous.

In the automotive advertising space a few genuine, truly iconic brands are present and accounted for today (I am not going to mention all of them, so please don’t write me to complain if your favorite Belchfire 8 isn’t represented).  

As bad as the Diesel cheating scandal is, Volkswagen still resonates positively with legions of people. Even though the brand managers for this iconic Japanese automobile company are perpetually struggling to get back to the aura of “the motor company” days, consumers still love Honda. Even though German marketers squandered one of the greatest automotive ad themes of all time – “Engineered Like No Other Car In The World” – years and years ago, for a lot of people engineering is still fundamental to the legendary brand reputation of Mercedes-Benz.

And BMW is also blessed with another of the great automotive ad themes of all time - “The Ultimate Driving Machine” - and it still resonates for this brand even though its marketers have too often lost their way. For Porsche “Excellence was expected” as Karl Ludvigsen famously wrote, and the company formerly known as the little German sports car maker has become a juggernaut and one of the most desirable brands in the world.

Even though Sergio Marchionne insists on cranking up the volume in search of even more profit, and even though its marketing types have ventured into too many tchotchke distractions, Ferrari has the most impeccable of high-performance reputations.

Subaru, because its marketers have adhered to its brand message and turned it into a force to be reckoned with that transcends its hoary stereotypes. Having taken Chevrolet’s place in the U.S. market by its calculated campaign to become part of the American fabric and delivering unrivaled quality, Toyota has garnered intense loyalty over the years.

Even though you can count the great, iconic advertising campaigns for this brand on one hand going back 60 years or so – the most recent being a sobering 25 years ago – and even though Toyota has stolen much of its thunder, Chevrolet is still the essential American brand. And Ford is the founding car company that put this country on wheels. It is not just part of the American fabric, it is the American fabric when it comes to creating transportation and mobility for this nation and now, around the world.

And last but not least there’s Jeep, the brand with the legendary, unimpeachable reputation forged in World War II when it played a crucial role as part of the Arsenal of Democracy. That Jeep has stayed the course and stayed focused is a tribute to the True Believers involved in its stewardship over many decades. Jeep represents individuality, adventure, unrestricted mobility, and at its basic and most powerful, freedom. Jeep is, without question, the quintessential American brand.

And with that in mind, the advertising campaign launched for the new Jeep Compass is worth a closer look. The 60-second spot called "Recalculating" cleverly uses the female navigation “voice" from a cell phone as its voice-over. We hear "recalculating" throughout the spot as we see images of millennials (make no mistake, this advertising is aimed squarely at this specific segment of the population) having various pivotal life moments thrust upon them, and we watch as they decide to go their own way and forge their own paths, with the Jeep Compass along for the ride and playing a key role, of course.

It’s a highly engaging spot, one that is strategically focused and nicely executed. Yes, the voice-over annoys – "Stay single til you're 34... recalculating. Tow the company line... recalculating. Be a vegan... recalculating" – but that’s exactly the point, because when confronted with these life defining moments the people in the spot rebel, recoil, recharge, rebut, step up and inevitably choose freedom, with the Jeep Compass playing an essential part in all of the scenarios. You can watch the spot here.

(By the way the vegan bit seems to have set off a firestorm in the YouTube comments section, with a stream of hostile posts that suggest Jeep is insulting vegans, ruining the planet by encouraging the murder of innocent animals, etc. And needless to say, these people insist they will be “recalculating” their vehicle purchase decisions going forward... Ah, the Internet, it’s such a welcoming, collegial place. Not.)

For the most part this spot is exceptional, framing real life challenges for millennials while delivering a crucial message about the brand, which again, at its essence, is freedom. But after saying all that it’s still just a B+ spot. It could have been a grand slam A+ spot but the creative types responsible clearly couldn’t help themselves by leaving well enough alone, and so the spot is brought to a screeching halt with some unfortunate heavy-handedness right at the very end, as the voice-over attempts to make sense of it all with the following: "Love, hope, happiness... whatever your destination there's a million beautiful ever-changing ways to get us there." Ugh. And why? As in why ruin the tone and imagery of the spot with this self-righteous gibberish that adds exactly nothing? Fortunately this is followed by the on-screen tagline "Find Your True North" as the symbol for a compass appears. “Find Your True North” is actually dead, solid, perfect. Too bad they had to ruin it with those superfluous words right before that.

Olivier Francois, Fiat Chrysler chief marketing officer, had this to say about the campaign in an interview with The Detroit News: “We wanted to tap into a human truth. These millennials are literally living life through these recalculating moments. These are stories that really appeal to our core customer. Plus, the name of the car is Compass." Thank you, Captain Obvious.

As I said in the beginning, in the advertising world being handed the plum assignment of coming up with a new campaign for an iconic brand is a privilege and an opportunity, one fraught with challenges and pitfalls, but an opportunity nonetheless. The creatives involved in "Recalculate” almost pulled it off.

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