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Volkswagen’s insidious software hack intended to cheat diesel emissions testing is, perhaps, the worst violation of environmental law to date. V-dub is facing huge fines (setting aside US $18B, planning of the worst) and criminal action.  Basically the story is this: When faced with the high cost of new emissions equipment to keep levels legal, Volkswagen decided to create a software hack that momentarily reduced emissions during testing.  

Global warming is a certainty. Smoke stacks pounding the atmosphere with carbons are melting ice caps and f’ing up our ecosystem. Cars and cow ass aren’t helping. Clearly, we have work to do. But Volkswagen leadership doesn’t seem to give a shit. In my book, they are eco-terrorists.

Here’s how I would deal with VW, were I president. Fines in the American tax system are probably tax write-off or work-arounds. I’d give VW a 2 year death penalty in the U.S. Just as we sit athletes for cheating, let’s sit VW. No new car sales in the U.S. for two years.

And don’t tell me it’s harsh. Yeah American VW workers would feel it. Make then keep workers on payroll to an extent. VW is not too big to fail in the U.S. It’s time to take corporate environmental terrorism seriously.



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I’ve posted a number of times about the role of learning in marketing. If we help consumers learn the value of brands we’re more apt to gain favor and loyalty. The discovery of new product information and utility is a learning moment which is much better than by being taught by rote recitation of benefits.

We all know the most common leaning environments – schools – aren’t always that effective. Kids are bored. They can’t concentrate. They’re not engaged. So it helps to introduce a little entertainment. Today’s marketing, certainly today’s advertising, tends to be very entertainment focused. Too much so.

The best work helps consumers learn but holds their interest through entertainment. These Deutsch Volkswagen spots on diesel engine myths are a wonderful example of learning and entertainment. Watch all three.


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If I met you for the first time and asked  “Describe yourself to me” what might your answer be?  If I were to ask a consumer a similar question about Langone Medical Center, what might they say?  “They are the NYU hospital.”  Or that’s the hospital with the purple ads.”  How about this question “Describe for me PNC Bank” or “Describe Volkswagen to me.”

Top recall explanations are telling. They are not deal breakers as it relates to purchase behavior – we buy things and brands we don’t know all the time – but those explanations share what is most important to the consumer at that time.   Two things drive first response associations for consumers: product experience and marketing communications.  Readers know that an organized brand plan has powerful impact on the latter.  If all internal and external dollars are used to support a tight strategy, consumers are able to play back that strategy.  “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.”  What reader may not know is that a tight brand strategy also impacts the product, offering ways forward for new features, line extensions, aftercare, etc.

The opposite of a tight, embedded brand strategy is every man for himself. And when that happens you become the company with the purple ads or the company that has banking on the mobile phone. Don’t allow that to happen. Peace!

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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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Music in Advertsing.

It is that time of year when people start talking about the “bests.” In advertising, most agree the two best spots are Deutsch’s Darth Vader spot for Volkswagen and Wieden and Kennedy’s Chrysler ad with Eminen “Imported From Detroit.”  Both are car ads but in my opinion what sets these spectacular efforts apart is the use of music.

Music was once a much bigger part of advertising than it is today. Often, it’s a throw-away now.  Big ad agencies used to have large music departments with recording studios, op boards and lots of seats for musicians to sit in while awaiting auditions.  Today music departments are on someone’s computer. When the spot is 65% complete someone might ask “What kind of music bed do we need?”

Muscle memory is something I always have my clients aspire to in branding and advertising.  Associate your work with clear ideas, images, turns-of-a-phrase or something to hum.  When I hear Eminem these days I’m ready to buy Detroit. To buy Chrysler. I’m thinking Kid Rock and “In it to win it like Yserman.” Imported From Detroit was is a brilliant brand strategy – but the spot was even better.  Poetry and music are still the best ways to deliver a sale. Peace.  And RIP Police Officer Peter Figoski.

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Pop quiz.  You are thinking of buying a new car.  A Volkswagen Beetle is among your choices. For the sake of this exercise, let’s say you are 25 years old.  Here’s a marketing multiple choice:

A.     You’re invited to a special free concert with the black Eyed Peas performing. There are Volkswagen Beetles positioned at the entry points to the concert.  There is mad signage and car pictures projected on screen throughout the concert but the performers never mention the words Beetle or Volkswagen.

B.     You like the Black Eyed Peas and buy a ticket to their concert. At the show there are no physical cars on display, but there are large display ads tastefully arrayed around the concert space showing car, brand and promise.

C.     Fergie, in workout clothes, is photographed leaving the gym of her personal trainer. She looks particularly aglow and has a hand darting around her bag looking keys — about to get into her new black Volkswagen Beetle.

I can tell you what an event marketing company would pick. And charge. I can suggest what a typical social media company would select (all three, they rarely care.) And I can tell you what a PR company would prefer. Heavy on one, but all three would generate fees.  There is only one true answer here. And that answer is fundamental to marketing. And you all know which one it is. Marketing is hard. Peace!

PS. Answer “A” actually happened… and it’s not correct.


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“Chrysler looks beyond BBDO for advertising” is the headline on Ad Age Digital this morning. BBDO has always done great work for Jeep, but Jeep was an iconic brand with a branding idea. The Chrysler brand doesn’t really have an idea. Ford doesn’t have a powerful branding idea. And certainly GM doesn’t. But GM doesn’t really need one because short of GMC trucks, you won’t find a car with a GM name on it. Volkswagen had an idea but let it slip away to the point where when the market was ready for the idea (small, efficient, eco-conscious), they weren’t there. Had they been, they might now be on their way to a defensible position as the world’s largest car company. Even Hummer has an idea.  


When you possess a branding idea — also called a brand strategy — product design and innovation become easy. When you don’t, you change vendors, partners, ad agencies, and management. And that’s not much of an idea. Peace!

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I applaud Interpublic Group and its Emerging Media Lab for dabbling in social networking. A firm, firm believer that branded social nets will be an important marketing tool, I think this particular effort in conjunction with SocialVibe, will not work. Not in its current incarnation.  
Using micropayments to consumers to endorse brands, even in cause-related marketing feels forced. SocialVibe as a branded third party intermediary is where the idea falls down for me. Social nets bringing people together on marketers’ sites does make sense: Pampers talking baby ass, Milk Bone talking dog teeth. Volkswagen talking energy conservation and greening even makes sense. But the whole payment thing based on a personal endorsement — even to a cause — feels like a marketing dud. Another example of a technology looking for a marketing idea?
If IPG learns from this effort and creates a means by which marketers can turn up meaningful social nets, with ease, brand relevance and differentiation, it will have a winner. Though I would bet on Publicis rather than IPG in this space, I’m hopeful IPG pulls it off.

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MTV is showing its crow’s feet. Those are wrinkles around the eyes for you younger readers. Here’s a franchise that blazed new trails in music, thanks to video, and has now lost much relevance. They are into many, many things today: cable TV programming, video games, movies, online portal content — I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a consumer food product in there somewhere.

The MTV Awards has been flagging in viewership the last few years and this is their biggest chance each year to be relevant. And relevant in a core business way.

Some say MVT has lost touch with kids’ media consumption habits, missing the boat in online video and social networking. I completely agree. As TV and computer morph together, you have to know that MTV wasn’t paying close attention.   MySpace became the online venue of choice for small and mid-size bands. YouTube became the purveyor of online videos. And the next video platform is still being figured out and I don’t think it will have an MTV brand associated with it. (Sadly, this will be a pay-for service.)

This was, and is, all MTV’s turf. A couple of weeks ago I wrote that Volkswagen should have owned the small car, energy efficient vehicle market. It was a natural. They missed the boat too. MTV can turn its sh*t around, but it needs to hurry.

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It’s never too late, but this whole fuel efficient, lower emission car thing should have been the provenance of Volkswagen. It was made to order for them.   But NOOO, they had to spend time designing the Touareg.

They owned both the “product” and the “consumer psyche” in this rich automotive marketing space. Moreover, as anyone who has ever written a brief for a German multinational knows, German companies gets major credit for engineering. It would have been a “can’t miss.” Yet they let the Toyota and Honda beat them.
In the early fall Volkswagen is launching a marketing campaign around fuel-efficient, low carbon-dioxide emitting vehicles.    Will it be too late? No. Muscle memory will help. But they clearly didn’t have enough vision, to get ahead of this one. Where’s the leadership?

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