October 21, 2009
On Mystical Wizards, Marketing “Geniuses” and Blithering Idiots...
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 10/20, 12:30pm) Detroit. There’s no real let-up in the swirling maelstrom of news, conjecture, rumors and innuendo going on these days, so it’s a perfect time to take a lap around “the biz” and see what’s happening, and better yet, to see if we can make any sense of it.
Sergio finally comes out from behind the curtain. Journalists received a formal invitation last week from the Chrysler Group to finally get the much-speculated low down on the company’s plans from 2010 out to 2014 on Wednesday, November 4. Chrysler Group Chairman Robert Kidder will give the welcome remarks, followed by a strategic overview from CEO Sergio Marchionne, followed by presentations from the various members of the management team. All well and good, because the growing cacophony from the media corps was starting to definitely turn from “let’s wait and see what they’ve got” to “there’s no ‘there’ there.” Except, that is, for the little notation in the invitation that said that the session “will begin at 11:00 a.m. EST and is expected to last approximately six hours.”
Huh? Six hours? A six-hour presentation to a group with the attention span akin to a bunch of high school seniors waiting for the last bell of the school year to ring? This is so wrong on so many levels that I can't even believe that they’re going there, or actually believe it’s a good thing. First of all, let’s get this out right up front: There is no way that Chrysler’s plans for 2010 to 2014 should take six hours to explain. They just don’t have that much going on and to believe otherwise suggests a level of looming arrogance within their management ranks that adds up to giant bowl of Not Good.
And it’s not enough to say in explanation that it’s the way that Sergio likes to do it, either. Wrong. What Sergio likes at this point is not really the issue. The issue is that two-thirds of the assembled media don’t give Chrysler a snowball’s chance in hell of survival, and they want to know the who, what, when, where, how and why of things. Bang. Right now. And that better take 90 minutes, tops.
And then the media wants what they’re really going to the meeting for, and that is to be able to grille Sergio Marchionne without all of the filters, or the flacks running interference, or the calculated PR bullshit pronouncements explaining that “it’s just Sergio’s way” because that’s not going to cut it and besides the journos grew tired of that act months ago.
Memo to Chrysler: Reconsider the orchestration of your big media rollout on the 4th. Get the hard details out in the first 60 to 90 minutes, and then immediately after that you better make Sergio available for 90 minutes of questioning in what will be the giant media scrum of this new century. The days of Sergio hiding behind the curtain like some Mystical Wizard of Auburn Hills is over. We’re paying attention to the man behind the curtain. And he better be damn good.
From the Marketing “Genius” File comes word that Olivier Francois, Chrysler’s new marketing chief, likes to take risks and court controversy. Oh, swell - yet another marketing “genius” ready to weigh-in on automotive advertising and make us all see the light. Francois, who is also in charge of the Chrysler Group’s brand development and marketing strategies, the CEO of the Chrysler brand itself and head of Fiat's Lancia brand likes to shake things up, apparently. I’ve got some advice for you, Olivier: Before you start shocking the world with your genius vision you better make damn sure your boss provides the substantive products to justify all of those smoke and mirrors ideas percolating in your head. We’ve been down this “Emperor’s New Clothes” road before, and let’s just say it’s not going to be pretty if your advertising is so out front of the actual product that people begin to wonder and ask, “Why?” I’m just sayin’…
Speaking of Marketing Geniuses… There’s much ado in this town right now because GM is shaking up its advertising agency roster, something that even the most casual of observers would acknowledge has been long overdue. It seems that despite Bob Lutz saying – wildly prematurely, I might add – that it wasn’t the ad agencies fault, but instead suggesting that it was the poor direction they were getting from less-than-competent marketing leaders within GM ’s marketing ranks, all bets are suddenly off and the agencies are all under the gun.
Why the change of heart? It may have something to do with the fact that certain individuals on the board began noticing that some of GM’s ad agencies have been on the same account for 100 years and started thinking that maybe the company ought to take a look at what else is out there. Or it may be the fact that a certain giant black raven whispered in Maximum Bob’s ear that it’s time to finally start making changes to GM’s ad agencies. Or it may be because GM needs to move the needle and take risks and court controversy, just like Mr. Francois’s rep. Whatever the reason, Modernista, which had the Cadillac account, has been tossed overboard in favor of a creative jump ball involving several agencies. The assignment? The new CTS Coupe launch next spring. And Campbell-Ewald, one of my advertising alma maters and the steward of the Chevrolet account for almost a century, has been put on notice that an assignment for Chevy car – the crucial “all-in” launch for the new Cruze compact – will be turned over to a “jump ball” situation too.
Campbell-Ewald, unlike other agencies put in this situation of late, is going to fight for the Cruze launch, which is commendable. Some are saying that this is a precursor to C-E eventually losing all of Chevrolet car and just keeping Chevy truck. And some are suggesting that C-E will retain the nuts and bolts aspects of servicing Chevrolet but that all of the creative will be placed elsewhere. However this scenario unfolds it’s clear that it’s not the rank and file of C-E that’s to blame – because there are some tremendously talented and capable individuals at work there, I might add - but instead it’s an upper management structure that has been moribund and notoriously stagnant to its core for years. And it’s finally catching up to them.
Speaking of Marketing Geniuses, Part II. The other aspect of this story is that Brent Dewar, one of Fritz Henderson’s pals - they served at GM Brazil together - was brought back from GM Europe to run Chevrolet and significantly was the only divisional head to be given a VP title right off of the bat. It is said that he is the chief instigator of the Chevrolet account review, but that’s not completely true, as previously noted. It is clear, however, that Dewar - a legend in his own mind and if a contest were staged would be hands-down winner of the GM executive least likely to engender any love for his arrogant, reactionary and at times nonsensical behavior and rigid view of the world and his place in it – is the heir-apparent to Lutz’s CMO title whenever Bob is ready to hang up his spurs. And in case any of you analysts out there are paying attention, this is a very bad thing and at the very least should give one pause about GM’s marketing future, “A.L.” (After Lutz.) Needless to say, this is a developing situation that will bear watching.
And finally, from “The Blithering Idiots” File comes word that the California Air Resources Board, those blithering idiots who are absolutely relentless in their “we know what’s good for you and you will do what we say and like it” attitude, are pushing a proposal for “cool cars” – but not the kind of “cool” that the average automotive enthusiast would understand, mind you – but a proposal that would limit solar energy entering vehicles beginning in 2012 (requiring new vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less to prevent 45 percent of the energy from the sun from entering a vehicle by 2014, and 60 percent by 2016), which would in turn require less use of air conditioning, which would in turn reduce greenhouse gas emissions, etc., etc.
As you might imagine, this proposal is not going over too well with the auto companies, or anyone who happens to live in the real world, which at this point constitutes everywhere but Sacramento and its immediate environs (and in Washington, of course). As David Shepardson reported for the Detroit News Washington Bureau, the Association of Automobile Manufacturers - the trade association whose members include Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota and other foreign automakers - asked the California Air Resources Board to reconsider its plans, with Association President Mike Stanton saying in a letter released yesterday that the "cool cars" standards "would do exactly what we are trying to avoid: force automakers to build vehicles solely for California."
This thinking is in line with other auto manufacturers around the world, who when not putting out politically massaged letters like the one released yesterday are privately saying that the C.A.R.B. is frickin’ crazy, per usual.
Not that such things as name-calling or common sense ever bothered the California Air Resources Board. After all, this celestial body has operated in its own solar system for years with impunity, not really answering to anything but the dulcet tones of their own delusional thought balloons.
The same thought balloons that suggest that only they have the vision and wherewithal to save the United States – and the planet in its entirety for that matter - from certain environmental death. This, of course, while developing nations like China and India embrace rampant pollution at such a prodigious rate that C.A.R.B. could order the citizens of California to immediately switch to Shiny Happy pedal-powered rickshaws and it wouldn’t make one iota of difference in the big picture of things.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the strident minions at work in the government of California and their blind ardor for regulating everything that moves has done more to create the economic disaster that currently paralyzes that state than any global or localized economic calamity could have.
But until the people of the state of California start electing officials who are responsive to the needs of the people instead of delusional bureaucrats who are hopelessly in love with their own blue sky – and relentlessly unrealistic – agendas, then this situation will continue until the whole damn state comes to a screeching halt.
That will do it for this week, thanks for listening.
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" hosted by Autoline Detroit's John McElroy, with Peter De Lorenzo and friends this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
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