No. 1009
August 14, 2019

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. Wandering through the auto landscape is always good for a few laughs, a few tears and a few eye-opening revelations. That this business chews people up and spits them out is well-documented. It’s a grind that bows to no other, and that includes the Valley of Silicon too. Here, you’re only as good as your last good decision (or wild guess), or as bad as your last bad decision, except that depending on the scope of that bad decision, you could be relegated to the slag heap of forgotten sorrows in a heartbeat. 

Yes, there are other businesses with colorful dimensions, but the auto business is uniquely unrelenting. While you’re working on the latest new vehicle introduction, your mind is focused on what’s happening five years from now. And as you and your colleagues assure each other that what’s coming is The Answer, in reality you don’t even have a shred of a clue if it’s going to work or not. A sure-fire “hit” can be derailed by a wildly unpredictable market, with consumer tastes shifting dramatically three years into a five-year product cycle. That’s part of the fun of this business, believe it or not. And part of the profound agony too.

It’s also a land where self-aggrandizement is not only a cottage industry, it’s a way of life. It’s where luck and calculated hype can propel an otherwise mediocre executive into the rarefied air of self-importance and exaltation. And if he or she can time it just right, they’re able to parlay their flimsy credentials and manufactured star power to the point where they get an actual fiefdom to run inside one of the companies. And once an executive arrives at that level, it takes an egregious act – usually involving blatant stupidity – to force them to relinquish their throne.

Now this is nothing new in the auto business (and it’s nothing new when it comes to corporate America either), but the auto pursuit has its own particularly warped cadence, one that consumes everyone and everything in its path. 

It’s inevitable that these executives on the road to their exalted fiefdoms can get lost in the sheer wonder of it all, blinded by the indelible glow of their own light, to be exact. When they occupy a world where oversolicitous minions hang – or cringe as the case may be – on every word, it’s hard to retain perspective. In fact, it’s damn near impossible. 

And this situation is most magnified in the marketing function, which seems to attract a particular strain of dysfunctional executives, those who bask in the glow of their own brilliance, whether there’s any “there” there, or not. These people are notorious micromanagers who wreak havoc on the marketing function at their respective companies, reserving special attention for the advertising. This can be a very dangerous thing, because many of these self-promoting geniuses are singularly unqualified to do so. 

And to make matters worse, many of these self-aggrandizing marketing “wizards” hold sway over the Public Relations function, too, even though these serial practitioners of pomposity have no business being anywhere near the task of image wrangling. The business of image wrangling is a tough and sensitive discipline. It’s not for the faint of heart and it’s not suited to the egomaniacal ramblings of the exalted executive trolls who fancy themselves experts on all things, but inevitably these are the people who end up having the PR function report to them, even if it’s a kaleidoscope of wrong.

It’s easy to tell the auto companies who are being poorly served when it comes to their so-called marketing “leaders.” The marketing is, at best, reactionary and misguided, and at worst, tone deaf and flat-out offensive. That too much of the car advertising today comes off as being relentlessly lame, piss-poor or just plain annoying should be no surprise. When you have marketing honchos who are amateurish, ego-driven, or simply not qualified for the job, those less-than-satisfactory results are inevitable.

Think of the car advertising that resonates today. If you squint really hard you should be able to put together an assemblage of car companies that actually seem to know what they’re doing, but those would add up to fewer than the fingers on one hand.

Take Ford for instance. Other than the advertising for the F150 pickup, Ford advertising is predictable, boring and damn near unwatchable, and that means both traditional advertising avenues and the all-important digital. This company is in the midst of a “review” of its main Ford account, which has become an exercise in futility as the incumbent agency - WPP’s GTB - was written off before it even started. In fact, the term “review” shouldn’t have even been used in this case, because this was a blatant railroad job to assuage marketing guru Jim Farley’s considerable – and runaway – ego. That Farley fancies himself as the “Crown Prince” of Ford and sees himself as the heir apparent of Jim Hackett’s temporary throne is there for all to see. And it has disaster written all over it. If there’s any hope at all for Ford, cooler heads – as in Bill Ford – will prevail. 

And GM is in even worse shape. Never have so many done so little with so much than the marketing “experts” at GM. In my travels around I have never heard more unsolicited negative comments about car advertising than I have for the GM divisions’ work. And why is this, you might ask? It’s simple, really. It’s because Mary Barra and Dan “I Am” Ammann don’t have a clue as to what’s important when it comes to advertising and marketing. And by deferring to Alan Batey as their in-house marketing “expert” it has predictably been a complete farce of Brobdingnagian proportions. It must make the True Believers at GM wince whenever they see one of their stellar products diminished by the advertising. 

But then again, the list of auto advertising underachievers is long. Audi? Have they done one single memorable thing of late? No. BMW? Which company are they trying to be today? Your sporty car purveyor, or your SUV buddy? Mercedes-Benz? That Jekyll and Hyde company is so lost it doesn’t even know what it represents internally let alone what they want to communicate. 

I could go on, but I won’t. Is there an answer to this mayhem? Yes, in fact there is. Very few of these companies have real, qualified marketing talent on their boards of directors. Start by fixing that and then hold the people responsible for marketing accountable. I think having people tapping these “geniuses” on the shoulder saying, “Excuse me, but WTF?” would go a long way toward ending the mediocrity, and it would put a serious dent in the self-aggrandizement running amuck as well.

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