Car Advertising

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A Branding & Advertising Evolution: 3 in a Series of Musings Sparked by “The 100 Greatest Advertisements,” Julian Lewis Watkins, Dover Books, 1959

Today’s digital/Internet/mobile/social media world is indeed a modern marvel, but we have a tendency to lose sight of how far technology has come in the last century plus.  Data, data everywhere at the drop of a hat, with apps that entertain and inform and guide is remarkable and ever-morphing, although it has the capability to trigger an ADHD epidemic as youth gets used to multi-tasking  by multiple devices and disengagement from the real world grows.

A trip through some of the 100 greatest ads reminds us how enormous a part transportation played in growing industrial America, connecting our vast country, and helping to create the global economy we all enjoy today.

A car card promoting the elegant travel of the coal-powered Lackawanna

A car card promoting the elegant travel of the coal-powered Lackawanna

For those who have a hard enough time remembering when air travel was a pampered, glamorous experience, and that coal once enjoyed a heyday powering transportation and heating our homes, this car card for the Lackawanna Railroad will seem very mysterious indeed. There was a time when train travel was the epitome of sophistication and a dramatic way to see the country. I doubt Joe Biden’s boosterism and California rail subsidies can ever take us back there.

A ride on Boston and Maine. Take it or leave it.

A ride on Boston and Maine. Take it or leave it.

Eventually, as this ad for Boston and Maine shows, train travel was so prevalent that weather and usage demands created real world problems and PR issues. The ad is an acknowledgement, but an underscore that in spite of it all, Boston and Maine always runs.

This tribute to the young men serving in America's armed forces in WWII really resonated with the public.

This tribute to the young men serving in America's armed forces in WWII really resonated with the public.

Overbooking of train berths took another wrinkle during World War II when the nation’s young men received orders to report for duty on short notice. The Kid in Upper 4 for the New Haven RR was one of the earliest and best of ads in support of our military — everyone who read it had a young son or brother and they could instantly relate to the ad’s poignancy.

The Ford Model A was rolled out without any images of the car, but a lot of selling copy.

The Ford Model A was rolled out without any images of the car, but a lot of selling copy.

Moving to America’s roadways, it is hard to imagine being able to sell a new car with 1,500 words of text, no image of the vehicle, but a head shot of its inventor and manufacturer, Henry Ford. However, this announcement of the arrival of the Model A in 1927 was one in a series of five such ads produced by the N W Ayer agency. It must have been pretty heady stuff to have Henry Ford himself arrive in Philadelphia to approve the low-key copy in a series of low-key meetings. It must have resonated because within a few weeks of the new campaign orders for the new car reached over 800,000.

It's a bird. It's a plane. Oh, it IS a plane!

It's a bird. It's a plane. Oh, it IS a plane!

Ironically, one year later, N W Ayer and Ford collaborated on another series — for Ford Air Transport. Lift Up Your Eyes was the first ad in the first ever campaign to sell air transportation to the general public. It included tributes to the Wright Brothers and Charles Lindbergh. The dramatic shadow over the landscape emphasized that American transportation was about to change in a big way.

Ask the Man Who Owns One

Ask the Man Who Owns One

By 1938, another car company exec made some history of his own. J. W. Packard not only built a sought-after automobile, he penned one of the most famous ad slogans of all time — Ask The Man Who Owns One. Young and Rubicam were smart enough to recognize that it doesn’t matter where great ideas come from, so long as they’re great. They concentrated on the nostalgic copy and the rest was history.

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Before the Internet, before Facebook, before smartphones, local advertisers concentrated their ad budgets on TV and at least some of them felt they needed to work very hard to get noticed. Faux (or forced) insanity was the order of the day. The king of this method of advertising was Crazy Eddie, the NY metro area consumer electronics retail chain, that brought a heightened sense of urgency to take advantage of sale prices (and of Eddie himself) to everyone’s living room.

Not sure why the yelling announcer model became so popular, but it was employed by car dealers, restaurateurs, the Atco Speedway, and at least one local merchant in every city. In Philadelphia, Ben Krass made himself a hometown celebrity selling his Krass Brothers suits surrounded by a harem, usually in bikinis.  All of these “mad men” wanted to ensure that viewers didn’t miss their schtick by heading to the bathroom during program breaks.

It’s likely even then that mental illness advocacy groups lodged complaints about turning affliction into an attention grab. Most viewers, however, just found the spots obnoxious. Still, they did their job, created awareness and buzz for these businesses, and moved a lot of product.

Today, local advertisers would have to be truly loco to pass up the amazing range of online options for geo-targeting and reaching prospects and customers. They could save their vocal cords and save a lot of marketing budget dollars in the process. The array is dizzying. Local is the new focus of Google, which has hired local salespeople and repurposed its Local Business Center as Google Places. Businesses know that with so many spending so much time on Facebook, they need to be there with pages and ads. Yelp and Foursquare were ahead of the curve on helping advertisers build local followings. Groupon, Living Social, and in Philly Metro, Dealyo have bought couponing and promotions into the digital age. Then, with Microsoft Tags and QR Codes, retailers can build their own brick-and-click campaigns to generate sales with smartphone users.

Next week’s blog post is devoted to yet another local program/platform called Matchbin that gives local businesses a wide range of ways to connect with customers. So many choices for those looking for asylum from the crazy method of advertising.

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Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" 2-minute SuperBowl spot

Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" 2-minute SuperBowl spot

Originally, I was only going to devote one post to SuperBowl commercials. However, a lot of blog-worthy controversy erupted over two banned spots going into the game. By last Sunday, the majority of spots were posted to YouTube and elsewhere prior to the game that I was able to blog about my favorites even before kickoff. This week, on to other marketing matters. Well, not quite.

Last Sunday’s SuperBowl set the all-time TV viewership record, 111 million viewers, eclipsing the prior year’s Saints-Colts matchup of 106.5 million viewers, which had finally beaten the long-held record of 106 million viewers held by the 1983 finale of M*A*S*H. Wow, now that’s 222 million eyeballs (give or take a few fans who may have finally dozed off during the Vince Lombardi trophy ceremony).  I would say that all those advertisers who shelled out $3 million per 30-second spot got their money’s worth in viewership.

Well, maybe not, and that’s the reason for Part III. A week later, people are still talking about SuperBowl commercials on talk radio, in social media, around the water cooler, but not especially in a good way.

It’s not like 1984 when Apple’s vision of the digital future smashing an Orwellian present with a Thor-like hammer seized everyone’s attention and imagination. This year’s conversation was all about specific “what were they thinking?” controversies.

The spot that I think came closest to a “1984” statement was Chrysler’s 2-minute gritty ode to the resilience and spirit of Detroit, featuring Eminem, unidentified at first, as he drove viewers around his hometown and the voiceover narrator shared some pretty inspirational thoughts. It resonated with me and a lot of other viewers. At least until I multiplied 30 seconds times 4 and arrived at a $12 million advertising media price tag for a car company that just two years ago was getting bailed out by Uncle Sam. Hard to make those numbers add up. The line between “warm and fuzzy” and “fuzzy math” got a lot blurrier.

Creatively, my favorite work from the SuperBowl is still Audi’s, although not a huge number share my opinion. I hope the car company sticks with this campaign and gives it the exposure it deserves. I posted a link to last week’s blog in five different ad and marketing LinkedIn groups I belong to as a way to get discussion going about the SuperBowl spots. A lot of people weighed in with their own favorites, thoughts on the controversies, and insider baseball. Kerry Antezana, a Creative Director from Seattle, shared this particularly good link to the BrandBowl site that blended stats from Twitter responses to pick ad winners (Chrysler for overall, so maybe that $12 million was well spent).  There were a lot of comments that everyone was underwhelmed by the creativity of this year’s spots, but that even the lamest spots resonated more than social media’s role in all this.

Edginess of spots did not automatically mean people were talking about them. Doritos scored more for their amazing pug on a hunger mission than the cringe-worthy ad where a cheese-flavor-obsessed Doritos lover sucked the fingers of a co-worker and pulled the cheese-dust-covered pants off another.

However, Pepsi Max managed to turn edgy humor into racial controversy on the floor of the U.S. Congress when Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee denounced its stereotypes as a sorry distraction from Black History Month. I don’t think most viewers saw it that way. It was more about relationship humor, but it was neither funny enough nor edgy enough to register much on either the laughs or controversy scale.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O89q-RDHRjc

The biggest controversy belonged to Groupon, who sought to have some snarky fun with the seriousness of social causes, by having Tim Hutton flip the mention of political turmoil in Tibet around to this week’s Groupon deal for Tibetan restaurant cuisine. Tasteless? Yes. Intentional? Yes, in a Saturday Night Live commercial parody kind of way. Successful? Obviously not, in light of the nearly universal righteous anger it generated. Some of the posters in the LinkedIn discussions noted that it may not have affected Groupon as much as originally predicted, but by week’s end, the company pulled the offending spot.

Closing thoughts. When you are spending $3 million per 30 seconds of SuperBowl time, a little more spent for a focus group might be warranted (not to tweak creative, but to act as a canary in a coal mine). As for the impact of all this? Put in the context of events in Egypt this week, it’s a little silly and a lot self-important. The freedom we have to enjoy the NFL, commercials, and commerce should not be taken for granted. Here’s hoping for a better life for Egyptians, Tibetans, and the rest of the world.

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Audi's Terrific New "Luxury Prison" Campaign is This Year's SuperBowl Champ

Audi's Terrific New "Luxury Prison" Campaign is This Year's SuperBowl Champ

The hype over SuperBowl commercials gets bigger every year. That’s because the number of advertisers willing to pony up $3 million per 30-second spot has mushroomed. That’s excluding creative strategy, development, and production costs. If you have a celebrity endorser, the price tag goes even higher. Obviously, this is a competition only the biggest brands can compete in. The real value is in the opportunity to cut through the clutter with some truly memorable messaging and brand positioning.

Ironically, with the advent of YouTube and social media, the buzz generation machine was in full swing the last few weeks. The vast majority of the spots, or teaser versions of those spots, are up on YouTube and sites like this and this and this. The best place to take the temperature of hot, hotter, hottest spots, however, is Mashable, which has compiled Twitter results on the ads generating the most advance interest. Advertisers and agencies have caught on to the formula that Hollywood uses, releasing various versions of movie trailers and stills, especially among “fan boys,” to build excitement to a fever pitch when big budget blockbusters hit the theaters.

Even with this unprecedented opportunity to win fans in advance of the big game, some brands still don’t get it.  The posted clips are long-form making of the spot promos (Mercedes) or celebrity behind-the-scenes documentaries (Faith Hill for Teleflora).  And amazingly, Coca-Cola has told Mashable to take down their video because of copyright issues (it’s free publicity, folks!).  David Meerman Scott’s book, “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” recounts a similar tone-deafness to new media opportunities when the soda giant ignored opportunities to leverage the viral video phenomenon created by dropping Mentos candies into open liter bottles of Diet Coke (the ultimate junior high science fair experiment).

According to Mashable’s Twitter tracking results, Volkswagen has won the SuperBowl advertising fan poll with an entertaining spot of a young Darth Vader wannabee trying to marshal the “Force” by interacting with a variety of things around his household. Its popularity is earned and it will definitely be a water cooler favorite on Monday morning.

The real winner, though, came in second in those Twitter results. It is an audacious new campaign for Audi that is so creatively and strategically original that the car company deserves to reap huge rewards in new car sales in the months ahead.  Previously, if pressed, I couldn’t name you a single Audi commercial, marketing theme, or slogan. For a luxury brand, their advertising has been unmemorable as wallpaper. Not any more.

The change started in recent weeks with a spot that was a narrated voiceover takeoff on the children’s bedtime classic, “Good Night, Moon.” That spot began to redefine luxury and set the stage for something totally unexpected that came next.

The new campaign for Audi is a parody of  the landmark 1978 documentary “Scared Straight,” in which lifers from Rahway Prison spoke to juvenile offenders to paint an unflinching unforgettable portrayal of hard times they can expect from the penal system if they don’t turn their young lives around immediately. Not exactly material for selling luxury cars, right?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MIs0sBBwBo

That’s the beauty of the new “Startled Smart” spots and extended YouTube videos that are set in a “luxury prison” where old money convicts are enlisted to talk sense into a group of Generation X drivers who think they understand status and how to spend their inherited wealth. The segments are so new, unexpected, and hilarious that you can’t wait to replay them. The real strategic brilliance is that Audi’s creative team has found a way to entertain baby boomers who remember the rawness of the Rahway inmates, as well as Generation X who are down with spending less to get luxury and to sharing these spots via social media.

Following on the first spot’s heels is a second that adds yet another rich layer. It is devoted to the quelling of riots at this luxury prison. The answer is none other than smooth jazz elevator music sax man, Kenny G, having tremendous fun at his own expense.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXE6L2gUDKQ&NR=1

Audi has managed to turn the luxury category on its head with unexpected, truly inspired humor. In the process, it will make a much bigger name for itself, with all those SuperBowl eyeballs. It deserves to win the big game ad contest hands down over all those beer and snack food retreads devoted to all too familiar themes.

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The term “captains of industry” rings pretty hollow these days. Not seeing much leadership from any industry sector, particularly oil. Beyond BP’s ineptitude and functioning as a piñata for the President and Congress, no other oil industry leaders are stepping up to address the mess in the Gulf and the mess created by decades of unbalanced US energy and environmental policies.
Lack of Leadership Honors, Chief Marketing Officer Division, this week go to two separate auto makers for incredibly bad decisions. Each is very different. Both are stupefying in their own right.

Chevrolet not Chevy!

Chevrolet not Chevy!

First is all the press garnered by General Motors for pushing purity of the Chevrolet brand to an absurd level. According to a memo by several GM vice presidents sent to Chevrolet employees, the importance of brand consistency means stopping use of the nickname “Chevy” for dealer ads, for official communications, for talking with your friends and family. They’ve even instituted “cuss jars” for those guilty of non-compliance, with funds going toward team building.
Such idiocy starts to explain why GM got itself into such an economic trench that it required a Federal bailout and partial takeover. As the Pop Crush web site rightly notes, the Chevy name is heavily embedded in pop culture, from a long list of rock songs, to the vernacular of several million pick-up truck owners. Chevrolet may be the brand’s proper name, but even the Federal government can’t issue a recall for its nickname now.
Branding consistency is important, but not when it creates brand bureaucrats. Isn’t the purpose of Chevrolet’s branding and marketing team to focus on convincing consumers to buy Chevy cars and Chevy trucks? When did allegiance to a corporate identity manual take precedence over ideas to attract more Chevy buyers?

Hyundai capitalizes on World Cup mania but by offending Christians.

Hyundai capitalizes on World Cup mania but by offending Christians.

As dumb as this venture sounds, it is not as stupid as what Hyundai recently approved in the name of commerce. It happened in Argentina and it began as a clever statement about World Cup soccer mania. Unfortunately, it ended very literally in an exercise that insulted the faith of millions of potential Hyundai customers.
Details about the controversial TV commercial appear on Greg Burke’s LiveShots blog, although the spot itself has evidently already been taken down. It is intended to depict fan worship of the “religion” of soccer by creating a “new” church that uses, but in doing so makes light of, the symbols, doctrine, and faith-based rituals of Catholicism and Christianity. Communion is replaced with pizza slices. A soccer ball is shown with a crown of thorns.
This is not a creative freedom/freedom of speech issue. No one prevented Hyundai from creating and airing these ads in front of a huge audience. However, were no grownups present at any point in the creative, production, and placement process? Managers who spoke up and noted that this spot might be deeply offensive to a large segment of the buying public and what did any of this have to do with the product merits of the latest Hyundai models?

Customer service as a religion.

Customer service as a religion.

I am sympathetic to the agency based on intentions and their overall concept, because a few years ago, we presented a print ad concept that was well received but never ran to help a local bank build its brand and push its central message to customers — Expect the Star Treatment. The difference is that we left it at the general metaphor that customer service is a religion to us. As soon as Hyundai started getting literal and trivializing the symbols and rituals that Christians consider holy, they were over the top.
Religion and politics used to be the twin topics that were off-limits at the water cooler. Friends, neighbors, and co-workers used to be quietly respectful of each other’s beliefs. That quaint concept is still worth remembering when your main goal is selling cars.

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