No. 757,
July 23, 2014

About The Autoextremist

What do you do when when you've been immersed in all things automotive since before you took your first steps? When you're the scion of an automotive family in an automotive town in its very own automotive universe? When you've forgotten more about cars and motorsports and everything and everyone involved in the business than most people will ever know? When cars aren't just in your blood, but also in your bones and your brain and the very air you breathe? If you're Peter M. De Lorenzo, you ramp it up a bit further. National commentator, industry consultant and author (as well as former superstar ad man), De Lorenzo's daily (and nightly) focus for the past 15 years has been Autoextremist.com, a weekly Internet magazine devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry and the business of motorsports. Translation: De Lorenzo likes to tell the truth about what's really going on behind the scenes in the car business. And sometimes, things get ugly. Real ugly. But he is as passionate with his praise as he is with his critiques, and Autoextremist has become a weekly "must read" for leading professionals in all industries. De Lorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today. It's the very definition of a high-octane life. And it's what fuels De Lorenzo to keep the pedal down - hard. He won't stop because he can't stop. A bit tired, perhaps? No way. De Lorenzo is one of the most untired people we know.

De Lorenzo'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. De Lorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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The Autoextremist - Rants


Tuesday
Jun302009

THE AUTOEXTREMIST

July 1, 2009

 

Buick ascendant. The marketing? Not so much.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

(Posted 6/30, 2:00pm) Detroit. Creating noteworthy advertising in a communications world dominated by YouTube - where far too many people with access to a video camera and an editing program fancy themselves as instant auteurs – is no easy task. That’s not to say that creating interesting videos is only the purview of a handful of ad agencies and an even smaller pool of directors, either. Far from it, in fact, as video expressions by the millions travel the Internet constantly, with a few of them actually being eminently watchable or even “buzz-worthy” now and again.

But the difference between creating videos on a lark as opposed to creating compelling advertising for a product that balances the needs of a demanding client in precarious financial straits – in a crippled industry to boot – and effectively communicating that product’s strengths/reason for being while enhancing its image is another thing altogether.

Right now, the Buick division of GM, one of the Gang of Four left (along with Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC) finds itself in just such a precarious position. As one of the designated “survivors” of the “new” GM, Buick - which is already tremendously successful in China, the largest automobile market in the world - is being forced to reinvent itself yet again in the eyes of the American consumer public, and it’s going to be an extremely difficult challenge.

Buick, like the rest of General Motors, had its moments of greatness over the years. From the stunning “Y-Job” and “Le Sabre” from the Harley Earl-led design era to the magnificent Riviera from the Bill Mitchell-led era, Buick was often used to forge the forward-looking designs that propelled GM to industry leadership in its heyday.

Today, with GM embarking on a new and unchartered era, history is indeed repeating itself, as Buick is once again being called upon to forge the new design image for the company, only this time with the sensuous, free-flowing and confident design language that expresses Buick in the Ed Welburn-led design era.

Having accompanied Ed on a tour of the GM Design headquarters recently, I can safely say that the current and future design language of Buick - as expressed by the incredible talent at work in GM studios in the U.S., China, Australia and other points around the world - is absolutely riveting, and it will not only forever change any hoary preconceived notions that may have defined the brand in the past, it will establish Buick as a global design leader and propel it into an entirely new stratosphere of respectability.

To see this transformation taking place is exciting, because not only does it mean more visually compelling designs will be dressing up our streets and byways - always a good thing, in my estimation - it means that Buick will become a highly desirable and sought-after brand, which admittedly will take some getting used to by many American car-buying consumers who have grown accustomed to ignoring the nameplate altogether.

But - and there’s always a “but” in there somewhere isn’t there? - how the powers that be in charge of Buick marketing have decided to kick-off the new Buick leaves a lot to be desired, and as a matter of fact, it’s frankly appalling.

You may have already seen the spot entitled “Photo shoot” running on various programs over the last few weeks. Using the commercial shoot within a commercial shoot idea – which immediately starts the spot off with one big strike against it before it even attempts to get out of the gate in my book – we’re subjected to a “high fashion” photo shoot where the new Buicks are allegedly the stars, complete with an annoying “director” caricature, annoying crew and oh by the way, a look at the new Buicks in question, that is if you can put up with the interruptions from the photo shoot shtick long enough to figure out what you’re looking at. The whole thing comes to a screeching halt - and with a resounding thud I might add - as the “director” is seen hugging the new LaCrosse saying, “You’ve changed...and I love it.”

You have to be frickin’ kidding me. There may have been a worthwhile idea roiling around somewhere during the development of this spot, but I can’t imagine what it might have been.

There’s an old adage in the advertising biz that states that “clients get the advertising they deserve.” In other words, if the clients are clueless or have bad instincts - or both - when it comes to understanding this “imaging thing,” then they get exactly that kind of advertising in return.

Conversely, if the clients are dialed-in and understand who they are and where they want to go as a company and most important - how their products must be portrayed in order to get there – then the whole “imaging thing” usually comes out quite nicely, in other words it’s accurate to the direction of the brand, it showcases the product strengths and it’s compelling to experience, whether it be TV, print, Internet or whatever the medium might be.

It’s clear - at least with this spot anyway - that the people charged with the stewardship of the Buick brand are overmatched for the task at hand. They either don’t get it - “it” meaning the power of the new Buick design language and how pivotal it will be to portray it properly in order to help launch the brand in its new direction - or they’re incapable of understanding what they’re supposed to be getting in the first place, which is even worse.

One more thing, the tag line for the “new” Buick is “Take a look at me now,” which is another one of those internal brand positioning themes that somehow should have never seen the light of day but usually escapes to the public when the people involved don’t have a clue as to what they’re doing.

I’m distressed about this whole episode for a number of reasons.

First of all, it suggests to me that the wholesale changes rumored for GM marketing are long overdue. With four brands left – Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC – I would expect to see the very best people involved in shaping these brands for the public. And if this latest exercise by the powers that be at Buick marketing is any indication, they’re not only in deep trouble, they’re out of their league. And that’s a RenCen-sized helping of Not Good.

Secondly, given my background in the ad biz, one of my pet peeves from Day One of Autoextremist.com has been that the Detroit automakers have steadfastly refused to hire anyone with direct advertising agency experience - or at least the right kind of seasoning while working with ad agencies - to oversee major advertising decisions. I can’t tell you how many times during my career in the biz when I saw individuals with no qualifications whatsoever making monumental decisions that were not only costly to the company in question, but devastating to their image “out there” in the real world too. This Buick work smacks of that kind of bumbling. And after all this time? Really?

And finally, and most important, the new Buick design language will be one of the stories of this business in the coming years. The transformation of the street image of this brand will be shocking, it’s that dramatic, and these sensational cars will deserve the kind of precision positioning, laser-sharp marketing and compelling advertising worthy of their new-found stature in the marketplace.

GM desperately needs to get its act together, and on a number of fronts. It’s fine to have all these billions in cost savings associated with the leaner, meaner “new” GM that emerges from bankruptcy, but if they can’t market the products right – products that deserve all the competence and talent they can muster – then it will be a giant waste of time and money.

And that’s simply unacceptable in my book.

Thanks for listening.

The sensational 1938 Buick Y-job, Harley Earl's magnificent design statement that invented the notion of the "concept" car.

1951 Buick LeSabre Concept. Harley Earl actually used this stunning creation as his daily driver, putting over 50,000 miles on it. (All photos courtesy of GM.)

The 1963 Buick Riviera, the dramatic design masterpeice that solidified Bill Mitchell's standing as one of the greatest designers in automotive history.

The 2007 Buick Riviera Concept.

The 2008 Buick Invicta Concept clearly signals Buick's future design direction.

The 2009 Buick Business Concept is aimed at the highly desirable "executive transportation" market in China.

2010 Buick Enclave.

2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS.

General Motors Vice President, Global Design, Ed Welburn has put his stamp on the future of GM Design and is responsible for not only keeping the flame started by Harley Earl and continued by Bill Mitchell alive, he is also directly responsible for the resurrection of GM Design to the preeminent position in global automotive design, a lofty perch the company hasn't seen since its heyday during the 50s, 60s and early 70s.

 

See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" hosted by Autoline Detroit's John McElroy, with Peter De Lorenzo and auto industry PR veteran Jason Vines this Thursday evening, July 2, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.

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