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Car sales were reported yesterday and they were quite good.  Year over year for the month of September there was a 13% increase.  The New York Times lead story in the business section announced “the best results in 4 years.”  I’ve been blogging about the automobile industry since the beginning of What’s the Idea? mostly because I’ve been so angered by what’s been happening.

People need cars.  People need money. People need to be more responsible to the planet.  These observations drive my points of view.

I have a suggestion for the auto industry, especially GM and Ford the two companies that performed most poorly. Spin off your truck divisions. Divest completely. They need their own leaders, R&D (design with a capital D), manufacturing and marketing. Most times when there is a divestiture it’s government encouraged.  But time it should be market driven.

My second suggestion relates to advertising. Volkswagen, Kia and Audi are doing good work. The brands themselves are strong enough (4Ps-wise) to allow for advertising to work. The marketing officers and executive teams of these companies are on board with investing and pushing ad boundaries. Using good ad shops. (So is Chrysler.)

During the bail-out meetings a couple of years ago, in the picture of with Ford and GM executives sitting around the table with president Obama, had not a smart phone was to be seen. The Q-Tips were running the show (insider car target reference).  We need to drop the leash here too. Peace.

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Reading today how Chrysler sales are soaring I smiled.  Knowing Chrysler merged with Fiat to introduce much needed European design into its cars I was scratching my head thinking about the Fiat 500.  I loved the merger because I knew the cars would get smaller and cooler, but the 500 was such a putz of a design that I’ve been addled.  (And pretending J-Lo would actually drive one was a real slap.)

Then I wondered if it was possible that the Fiat 500 was launched in America as a lost-loser, just to get us to pay attention to “small” and to care about “design?”  Even if it was to say this is design I don’t.  Think about it. I am passionately against the Fiat 500 design, but at least I’m passionate; unlike with many GM builds over the last decades.

Fiat may have used this to get our attention while it gets ready to kill with something really cool.  Dodge has designed some great things.  Chrysler is sweetening some designs. And Jeep has refreshed.  But I’m waiting on Fiat to launch something very Italian – and it’s going to be great. Fun, fun.  Peace!

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Greed in marketing is nothing new.  Being different. Acting different. Selling differently…all support creating a competitive advantage and making more money. But greed is not a good thing.  It has ruined the economy (mortgage-backed securities), kept the U.S. beholden to terrorist oil states, and no doubt played a role in many hatreds around the world.  Sometimes greed needs to reach a breaking point before it succumbs.

Yesterday’s announcement between Ford and Toyota, to work on a hybrid engine for pick-up trucks may be a good sign for the planet and for marketing. The U.S. gov’t smartly threw down the gauntlet in terms of miles per gallon goals for vehicles recently and this new rear wheel drive engine is a massive step toward meeting those goals. (Anyone home GM?) Normally, greed would have kept a deal like this from happening, but Ford and Toyota are showing good judgment and forward thinking and they woman-ed up.  Oh, and the only reason it is happening is because Alan R. Mulally and  Akio Toyoda (company CEOs) ran into each other in the airport and probably actually liked one another.

As we marketers put our plans together, fill in our charts and goals and KPIs, how about we ask ourselves a simple tough question “If I wasn’t going to be greedy, what new company strategy might I employ?” As my Norwegian aunt might have said “Tink about it.”  Peace!  

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Ford Huevos.

Huevos. Pronounced way-bose.  For my non-Spanish friends that means eggs. It was reported today that Ford Motor Company has decided to drop plans to re-enter the minivan market in the U.S.  Instead, it’s turning a Detroit plant loose building small hybrid cars with the silly name C-Max. Small cars.  Hybrid only.  Let the other knuckleheads build the minivans. Huevos!

My daughter drove from Long Island to Baltimore to see her boyfriend and the EasyPass bill just came in.  It showed about $50 in tolls round trip. Sans gas.  During rush hour, the Long Island Rail Road from Babylon to NYC (about 40 miles) costs $27 round trip.  The gub-ment is charging us healthily for transport.  Why?  Because it’s hemorrhaging money, thanks to bail outs. Who did we not bail out?  Ford. Why? Huevos.

If you follow this blog (Google whatstheidea+Ford or GM), you’ll know that I’ve been ranting about gas guzzlers and large cars for years.  Adapting and adopting are American traits. Pioneering traits.  I Tweeted this morning that as a nation if we put as much collective energy into clean tech and green tech as we put into Anthony’s Wiener, we might actually become the nation of pioneers we once were. Peace!

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Chrysler paid back over $7B in loans to the U.S. government yesterday.  Did they just have than money laying around?  That s lot of Benjamins.  Did they just borrow if from a sheik?  No they earned it. Blocking and tackling my friends.  Rekindling old loyalties me droogies.  Fixing the product, getting the right new people in place and fixing the message. When Daimler moved into the Chrysler brand, they tried to do all these things but couldn’t.  Fiat and the U.S. marketing stewards did.  And now they have da monies.

Good blocking and tackling.  Just like Ford did.  I knew the Fiat move would be a good one…meep meep.  The company is known for stylish small cars, just what the economy ordered. But Chrysler is also making a move with Dodge, which is a bit more of a surprise. Hemis and un-mommy mini vans and a return of the muscle car for real motor heads (Can you say Challenger?).  This is Dodge’s sweet spot.

Marketers are not talking about Chrysler in terms of cools social programs a la Ford, they are watching the rebirth of a company through focus on the 4Ps. Roots baby.  Eminem baby.  Where’s Kid Rock? GM is blocking, but I’m not so sure they’re tackling.  The foreign value brands are pretty much growing a bit over the pace of the market. Ford may want to look over its shoulder — is it losing its hunger? Is it placating the dealers once again?  Come on Chrysler. It’s pay back time! Peddle down. Peace.

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I’m not a car guy.  My sister knows more about engines than I do, not that there’s anything sexist in that statement (maybe there is.)  I asked my son recently “What’s a Hemi?”  That’s the context.  But I do know advertising and marketing and have an ear for what consumers will like. And the president and CEO of Dodge, Ralph Gilles, talking about his brand and the tres cool Dodge Challenger (in this video) is a winning piece of marketing.  Shot and (perhaps?) concepted by Cobrandit’s Owen Mack, this piece made me want to go trade in my Prius for a Dodge anything. Great advertising makes you feel something, then do something.  In my case the “do” was post to the blog.

Mr Gilles is the absolute perfect salesman for this car and this brand. Just listen to him.  Not a suit, he.  Just a lover of cars and engines and Dodge and, I can tell, people who love cars.  So they will trust him. He’s black, presumably from the motor city, rocking the bald head thing, styling the clothes.  He is very videogenic. And the cars he’s showing are pulsing with power.  As is he — in a very friendly way.

I worked at McCann for a number of years when they would trot out CEOs to walk through the corporate headquarters and tell America that “the road to the future was paved with GM” or some such.  It was suits selling suity cars. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Mr. Gilles can bring back Dodge as long as the cars are good and he keeps talking to the people like this.  Get him on TV and radio.  Show these car designs, spin some Detroit magic, mint some money.  His next Job? The new US Fiats. Peace. 


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Paul Gumbinner, a friend and one of New York’s more successful advertising recruiters, wrote a post this week about how little diversity there is among agencies today.  The unique agency segments of yore are no longer apparent.  He is quite correct.  Part of Paul’s argument is that the leaders of those agencies created unique cultures.  Bill Bernbach in the 60s.  Jay Chiat in the 70s. Dan Wieden in the 80s. Donnie Deutsch in the 90s.

Interestingly, the turn of the century brought agency start-ups and technology themed shops.  Leadership became secondary to coolness. Exciting, new brands emerged with selfless senior management: Anomaly, Barbarian Group, Razorfish, Naked, Organic, Strawberry Frog, Taxi, Renegade, Brooklyn Brothers, Mother, Droga5 (cheater) and Poke.  These leaders, smart marketers all, put their brands first. Built teams. Tried to figure out the new order and class of work, kept their heads down and promoted their brands.  It was a good strategy. BBDO, DDB, McCann went a little GM, if you will. (General Motors.)

As all agencies (big and small) move toward the middle these days, using a complicated quiver of arrows, we’re beginning to see some new leaders emerge from this new group.  These new leaders have been playing quiet offense thus far — and as Mr. Gumbinner points out.  But the decade of 2010 is providing a fresh canvas for new leaders.  Welcome Faris. Welcome Noah. Welcome Lori.  Welcome Gareth. Peace!

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Ford is a wonderful marketing story – following years and years of big car stasis and poor management it has begun down a colorful new road.  The cars have gotten smaller, management has its eyes on the horizon and in a country where borrowing is rampant, it gets props for not taking the government cheese. Cool technology, too.

G.M. has made smart decisions, but still feels like a company run by old dudes with dandruff on their suit collars.  Most businesses can sell off flagging assets and brands, get smaller, refinance, wave the flag and make a comeback.  Sorry to sound disrespectful because I want G.M. to win, but the company doesn’t feel particularly contrite or forward thinking, the Chevy Volt aside.

Chrysler, on the other hand, still struggling and playing tortoise to Ford and G.M.’s hare, is an interesting company to watch. America loves an underdog…just watch the World Series or Super Bowl some time.  And America loves European styling and design. Chrysler is the former and has a chance at the latter. It has gone quiet for a while in the area of new product development while working hard to design some exciting new cars. Good move.  While Ford’s new small cars will have big American grills and other old style embellishments, I’m hoping Chrysler will be creating some Fiat-like smaller cars that people on the street can’t keep their eyes off. Were I Chrysler, I’d design hot looking, efficient cars that appeal to women: a French looking car, then an Italian car, perhaps a German-styled car. Women love style. This is a design approach whose time has come.  It never would have flown decades ago, but it will today.  Tortoise shell glasses anyone? Peace!

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 “We want the government out. Period.” was the powerful quote from the powerful CEO of General Motors, Edward E. Whitacre, Jr. in today’s paper.  Nice efin’ bluster Mr. Whitacre.  Dude, you’re not Henry Ford. The American people own 61% of your company and you have the oafishness to pretend otherwise?  We certainly understand the sentiment – you want to be in charge again  – but it was bluster like this that got GM into its mess in the first place. I smell a relapse.

Here’s a thought Mr. Whitacre (and Joel Ewanick, GM’s VP,  Marketing).  How about taking a few million dollars and a trick from the Saturn playbook and reintroduce us to GM with a big “Thank you.” Perhaps a series of low-cost barbecues at local parks across the country.  If need be, do it under tents at your dealerships.  Put your people to work flipping burgers in cut-offs and flip flops — real people stuff.  Be contrite. And don’t buy the real expensive food either, buy store brands and make the potato salad yourselves. Show us you care about our money.  Be resourceful, like most American’s are today.  Sweat for us Mr. Whitacre.  Do something  Americana (roots), not Bloomfield Hills.

Earn back a smidgen of good will, because that quote of yours convinces me you have about as much chance of reforming GM as Lindsay Lohan has of staying away from white wine. Please prove me wrong. (And whatever you do, don’t say mea culpa via a McCann-Erickson :30 spot.)  Peace!

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I came across a great 2010 predictions article this morning, though I had to find it by reading John Durham’s wall on Facebook (John is a principle of Catalyst:SF a haps dig. co.), which pointed me to a IAB SmarBriefs piece, that directed me to, of all places, Adweek. Can you say circuitous? Here’s the piece.

Anyway, it made me think about doing a couple of predictions of my own.  (RIP William Safire…I loved your yearly predictions with the multiple choice answers.)

 Here are my predicktions:

  •  The Dachis Group will be purchased by a big consulting company. Capgemini perhaps.
  • Razorfish will snap out of its post-Microsoft “Where are my stock options?” malaise and see mad growth fueled by traditional brand business.
  • Iran will continue to revolt and the Iranian gov’t will buy Twitter.
  • Pete Doherty will clean up, become a father and get hit by a bus of tourists.
  • Gareth Kay’s name will make it to Goodby’s stationery.
  • BBH will lose the Cadillac pitch because of a dream someone at GM had.
  • The economy will show signs of real life by the time the leaves pop.
  • Brand strategy will make a comeback following tactics-palooza.  
  • A teenage with a vowel in her name will emerge as the next Mark Zuckerberg.

 Peace it up!

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