Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Until now, Cadillac has proven the adage: “Nothing hurts a bad product more than good advertising.”

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

This morning Cadillac introduced a new campaign from its new agency (Adweek 12/1013). The good news is that for the first time in a decade and a half, the product is as good or maybe better than the advertising.  The new ATS and CTS are getting rave reviews from the industry pundits and there seems to be broad agreement that finally, the Cadillac product is up to the job of moving the brand into the rarified air of Tier 1 luxury where Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus and Audi compete.

The Cadillac brand has been through a lot of marketing fits, starts and shifts over the last decade and a half. Messaging has been inconsistent and no real brand values established. That said, there have been some terrific ad campaigns that have gotten the brand noticed, unfortunately the product wasn’t as good as the advertising.

In the 2002 Super Bowl, Cadillac introduced its “Breakthrough” campaign (from Leo Burnett) hitting the heart of the boomer generation with Led Zeppelin:

The Breakthrough campaign really helped Cadillac get noticed again after years of being ignored by boomers who were buying Mercedes-Benzs, BMWs, Lexi and Audis.

In the mid-2000s Cadillac changed agencies (to Modernista) and produced this commercial for its “Life. Liberty. and the Pursuit” campaign:

In 2008, Cadillac introduced Kate Walsh as a spokesperson and raised a few eyebrows:

(more…)

On the cusp of……slipping the needle in.

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Last week the auto industry reported US sales and what a great report it was!  Just scan the headlines:

“Out of the Doldrums, Automakers Post Strong U.S. Sales.”  –New York Times 12/3/13

“Brisk Demand Lifts Car Sales”  –Wall Street Journal 12/4/13

“Auto Sales for November Hit Fastest Pace in Almost Seven Years…Industry Bullish on Growth”    –AdAge 12/3/13

“Industry rides toward 2014 on a high” Automotive News 12/3/13

“Strong US sales boost Detroit Three Car Makers”Financial Times 12/3/13

Just this morning Automotive News reported:

“Likely from Santa: Soaring SAAR for December, big ’14”

So the march out of the recession continues for the auto industry, some forecasters are even predicting that in 2014 the industry could retail 17MM units again.  Forgive me, but I find these predictions a bit unsettling. I’ve seen the boom and bust of cycle of the industry a few times and each time we go through it, I quietly say to myself, “Ok now we’ve learned our lesson.”

It was just a few years ago that the country was thrown into the worst recession most of us can remember. Auto industry sales collapsed to 10.4MM units in 2009 and Chrysler and GM went through bankruptcy. Bankruptcy gave the domestic manufacturers an historic opportunity to rid themselves of excess production capacity and correct one of the industry’s long term bugaboos, we were simply making more cars than people wanted to buy.  Too much production led to inflated inventories which in turn led to marketing that relied heavily on incentives and made price virtually the only criterium for purchase. We taught consumers to ‘buy the deal.’ Promotions are a necessary part of any business and there will always be times when incentives need to be used, but using incentives became the SOP of the industry (particularly the domestics) and made it impossible for anyone to make money.

For the last couple of years, with the recession just behind us, the industry has shown restraint. Production and inventories were kept under tight control, fewer incentives were used and low and behold, margins increased! This has been great for the industry and things are really on firmer footing than anytime in recent memory.

But, will the industry become a victim of its own success……again?! (more…)

What the auto industry can learn from North Face

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Yesterday’s New York Times had an interesting article on North Face, the outdoor clothing company: North Face keeps walking the tightrope between exclusivity and the mass market.

The question was: how is it that a brand like North Face maintains its perception as a premium or exclusive brand when it sells to just about everyone from kids and suburban moms to elite mountaineers, hikers, trekkers, runners, and skiers?

If you read the article you’ll see that the President of the company actually says that they don’t pay much attention to analyzing who buys their products. They don’t know the demographics of their customers and aren’t to worried about it. He acknowledges that they know where their products are sold and that their “core customers” (NYTs 11/17) are centered around four activities: “hiking, trekking and mountaineering, running and training and snow sports.”

It struck me that North Face is a good example of a company that understands that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” (see my prior post). North Face is very clear about their brand core values. They make products for serious, elite athletes who participate in the aforementioned activities. Their products are designed to meet the rigorous conditions these core customers routinely find themselves in.

The fact that so many people are willing to pay for North Face products, despite not being elite athletes, has been great for business but hasn’t changed the North Face “why you do it” one bit. Despite being sold in Dick’s Sporting Goods and commanding a 33.5% share of market, North Face has maintained its image as serious gear for people who test the limits because they have never lost sight of their core values and continue to execute against them: “Committed athletes, meanwhile, say North Face has managed to maintain, and even improve, it’s quality control and innovation.” ( NYTs 11/17). They haven’t adjusted their “why you do it” to reflect new opportunities or potential customers, volume has come to them because they are perceived as doing something special.

The automobile industry struggles with this idea of sticking to core values. Brands are stretched to the limit to increase volume and the potential for profit.

Porsche is a great example of a brand that has stuck very close to their core values of engineering and performance. Although known for exceptional sports cars, Porsche has successfully expanded it’s line to include SUV/Crossovers and a four door sedan by making sure that every model delivers on being the “Porsche” of that particular segment (i.e. the best performing and driving vehicle). Porsche has stuck to its knitting and volumes have grown dramatically, just like North Face.

Volkswagen is trying to walk the same “tightrope,” but has chosen to do it differently. (more…)

Americans becoming more “European” in our automotive tastes…will wagons make a comeback?

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Americans’ taste in automobiles is becoming a little more European. The fact that Ford and GM are marketing truly global cars like the Fiesta, Focus and Chevrolet Cruze with only minor modifications to reflect local tastes supports this view. Diesel, while still a tiny portion of the US market, is increasing in share of market, propelled by the efforts of VW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW.  GM has even announced that they will offer a diesel-powered Cruze in the US.

Even the hatchback, a configuration traditionally rejected by Americans is becoming more accepted:  “Five-door hatchbacks, popular among European families but long regarded as boring by Americans are catching on.  They now make up almost half the retail sales of Ford’s small Fiesta and Focus” (Financial Times).  Hot hatches like the Focus ST and Golf GTI make this segment even more appealing.

All this change is exciting and I hope that it signals a long-term adjustment in Americans’ view of automobiles.  Selfishly, I hope it will culminate in a re-appreciation of a body style seemingly lost to the sands of time…the full-size station wagon.

Europeans have a very different view of wagons, for one thing, they don’t call them “wagons,” they’re called “estates,” “Touring” or “Avants.” Just the language around the body style is better. It also helps that they have had some of the most beautiful well-designed wagons to choose from for years. For example, look at this Audi 5000 from the eighties, over 25 years old and it still looks great and feels very modern:

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For many Americans the idea of a station wagon became undesirable because of its connection to the newly suburban world of the post war years.  Most of our mothers drove a domestic version like the Ford LTD Country Squire, here’s a good example complete with faux wood, driveway and lawn: (more…)

1st post in 18 months…been busy creating an agency, reintroducing Lincoln and winning 2 Gold Lions and 1 Bronze at Cannes.

Monday, July 8th, 2013

It has been a long time since I sat down to write a post on my blog. The fact is, I haven’t had time until now. Eighteen months ago I accepted a job as President of what would become Hudson Rouge. The mission was to create an agency for Ford’s Lincoln brand in New York City.  I was employee number one.  Our goal was to “introduce” Lincoln to a whole new audience who knew very little about the storied brand and mostly thought of it as something their grandparents coveted.

Over the course of the first year we hired almost 50 people in New York, created great space in New York City and eventually named the agency Hudson Rouge.  Hudson Rouge was a reference to the fact that the Lincoln Agency Team would be located both in New York City and Dearborn, Michigan. Both cities happen to be on rivers that played a major role in their development, the Hudson River in New York and the River Rouge in Dearborn.

While hiring the team in New York, getting to know one another, getting to know our colleagues in Dearborn, getting to know our clients, and developing the agency’s eventual home, we also dug into Lincoln and figured out strategically how to re-present the brand to America.  The new brand was launched on December 3rd, 2012 with this commercial:  (more…)

The power of real people helps re-build the Mercedes-Benz brand.

Friday, March 4th, 2011

The power of “real” people in marketing is certainly not new. The latest iteration of  the idea is peer-to-peer marketing in social media. The underlying notion is simple, whether it is social media or a traditional “testimonial” commercial, consumers are more likely to trust the opinion or experience of people that they perceive to be like them…real and therefore trustworthy.

Mercedes-Benz has been in the process of re-building their brand’s core values (see earlier post) and recently has been focusing on safety. Mercedes-Benz’ use of real people to make their case for safety results in a very compelling campaign. Here’s a recent television commercial:

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” The accidents changed their lives, the films could change yours.” While the television commercial is nice, the real power comes if you visit the website.  There you can select from a whole range of films and hear each person’s or family’s story. Here are a couple of examples: (more…)

VW’s Bulli concept, the VW Bus, Jerry Garcia and Yogi; deja vu all over again?

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Wow.  VW just introduced a new people mover concept in Geneva that has everyone talking.  Understandably so, it’s called the “Bulli” and it’s great:

Obviously this idea shares some genes with the original and iconic VW Bus which many of us associate with the ’60’s, hippies and perhaps a simpler time:

The VW Bus has such a deep connection with the ’60’s, the counter culture and baby boomers, that a tearful one was used in an ad by VW to commemorate Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995:

So a reincarnation of the iconic VW Bus is inherently exciting and interesting to many Americans.  The Bulli concept seems to be creating the kind of interest in Geneva that has everyone hoping that VW will decide to put it into production.

Unfortunately, we’ve been here before.   (more…)

Ford, with Mike Rowe, gets Tier 2 retail right.

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Anyone who has worked in automotive marketing knows how tough it is to do really good Tier 2 advertising.

Here’s the issue.  Tier 1 is funded by the manufacturer and is often referred to as the “brand” communications.  Tier 3 is the communications funded and executed at the local level by individual dealers.  Tier 2 is caught betwixt and between.

Funded in part by the manufacturer and in part by the local market dealer groups.  Tier 2 must serve two masters.  The manufacturer wants to be sure that the work reflects the brand and makes the doors swing whereas the dealers are understandably concerned with just making the doors swing.  Just to make it more difficult, the manufacturer’s marketing team and the dealers often have a different points-of-view about what will make the doors swing.

Tier 2 is where the brand versus retail discussion often gets very heated.   It is very tough to find a balance between the brand and retail messages.  More often than not, you end up erring toward the retail.  We all know what this formula looks like.  The TV commercials are visuals of the vehicle on the road, held together by a litany of product features in the copy and you tie it up with a bow…the deal.  The newsprint is a visual of the car, a couple of sentences covering key features, the deal and some legal disclaimers.

This leads to a sea of sameness when it comes to Tier 2 communications.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.   (more…)

How “naughty” do you want your Volvo?

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Volvo has, since the ’70s  all but owned “safety” in the automotive segment.  Not a bad place to be…do you know anyone who’d prefer an unsafe car?

Brilliant work by Scali, McCabe, Sloves took Volvo from the choice of professors in tweed jackets to the boomer choice for family hauling. The Volvo wagon was a staple in the suburbs on both coasts.  Volvo was even featured in the movie “Crazy People” where Dudley Moore played an ad man who decided that being honest was a good idea and suggested that Volvos were “Boxy but good:

While the brand became part of popular culture and owned safety, it has struggled with that one-dimensional view for years. Volvo has its loyalists who love the brand and it’s products but it also has more than its share of detractors for whom the truth of “boxy but good” was a real barrier to purchase.  The challenge has always been how do you retain and nurture the safety reputation while also convincing a broader swath of the car buying population that the brand is cool and emotionally appealing. (more…)

Infiniti: From “rocks and trees” to “brush-strokes,” can it become a Tier I luxury brand?

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Yesterday’s Automotive News had a brief piece about Infiniti marketing that struck me as interesting.  In it, they reported that “Infiniti has told its dealer advisory group that it is committing to a five-year run for the new ‘Way of Infiniti’ campaign–a long-term pledge intended to reassure retailers that the brand will have a consistent message.”

I immediately thought to myself “Good for them.”

Infiniti from the very beginning has had a difficult time establishing a brand identity and finding a way to execute it in communications. Introduced in 1989, Infiniti was Nissan’s response to the introductions of the other Japanese luxury marques, Acura and Lexus.  The original Q45 was a sporty performance alternative to the Lexus. Unfortunately, Infiniti got off to a rough start when it introduced the car and brand with the infamous “rocks and trees” campaign created by its agency Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos.

The “rocks and trees” campaign sought to present Infiniti as the result of the unique Japanese culture and sensibility.  The campaign attempted to make its Japanese origin an asset, similar to the way that the German brands have used their ‘German-ness.’  The Infiniti ads were very different than any automotive company had ever done (they didn’t even show the car initially).   (more…)