Editor’s Note: In this week’s Rant, Peter takes on the Tech Geek hordes who are infiltrating the auto biz with a terribly negative – and costly – effect. In On The Table, WG exposes a misguided move by GM; Rolls-Royce introduces its last V12-powered car (a tragedy) and one of Peter’s all-time favorites – Rodney Crowell – presents our AE Song of the Week with his enduring classic, “After All This Time.” In Fumes, Peter continues with Part IX of his popular new series “The Great Races” – this week showcasing the finale of the 1966 Can-Am season at Las Vegas. And finally, we have results from the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Saudi Arabian F1 race and NASCAR from Atlanta in The Line. Enjoy. -WG
By Peter M. DeLorenzo 
Detroit. As I’ve said many times before, the automobile industry most closely resembles the film industry, and on many levels too. Hollywood and its environs are the biggest company town on earth, even more so than Wall Street is for financial types. Every move associated with the film industry dominates the news in L.A., because let’s face it, it’s the straw that stirs the drink out there.
The most similar city to Hollywood in terms of being a company town is the Motor City, where automotive news dominates the headlines here on a daily business, and where every move made is reported with great fanfare in the local media. It’s such an inexorable part of the fabric of southeast Michigan that little attempt is made to pretend otherwise, because it’s the straw that stirs the drink around here.
Another similarity between Hollywood and the Motor City? Everyone, and I mean everyone has an opinion on the products each city produces. As for Hollywood, Americans of every stripe register their pleasure (or displeasure) on films being shown every time they go to the movies (or don’t go) or watch at home with one of the countless streaming outlets they pay for. It’s entertainment with an immediate vote, and it has a direct impact on Hollywood’s popularity and profitability.
And the products produced by the Motor City? Everyone, and I mean everyone has an opinion on the cars and trucks produced by the automakers. And they register their pleasure (or displeasure) by buying (or not buying) these products on a daily basis. It’s a fashion choice, because, after all, the automobile business is dominated by fashions and fads. Don’t think so? You only have to look as far as the dominance of crossovers, SUVs and trucks at the moment. It’s the vehicle fashion of the moment for any number of reasons, and probably will remain so for the foreseeable future. And if a vehicle is successfully rendered, the results in the showroom are immediate and definitive, and the people responsible at the manufacturers can be rewarded handsomely for their efforts. If a vehicle misses the mark, however, the results can be devastating, and this can cause turmoil, jobs and yes, profitability. 
Billions of dollars are expended by the automakers to lure buyers to their products, and billions of dollars are spent by Hollywood operatives to lure consumers to view their latest efforts. The downside of this ongoing reality for both industries? Consumer opinions – however shortsighted or misguided they may be – weigh heavily on what’s going on for the Hollywood studios and the Motor City-based auto companies alike. 
Average consumers weigh in on films that took countless hours, months or even years to produce, and most consumers can obliterate a film on a whim, even if that film merits more nuanced consideration. Taking this to the extreme, average consumers can easily veer into the territory of thinking that they could do it better, even though they haven’t the first clue as to what it takes to bring a film to life.
Automobile companies have similar problems when it comes to consumer interactions. Just about everyone who actually thinks about it for more than two minutes has definitive opinions on vehicles. Such as, what brands are the best, what vehicles are the best, which vehicles look the best – which is key because as I’ve said many times before, Design is the Ultimate Initial Product Differentiator – and, of course, what marketing and advertising is the best. That this is a recipe for disaster goes without saying, because some operatives at these manufacturers can be easily led astray by, how shall I say this, blithering idiots, which can have a hugely negative – and costly – effect.
I remember when one of my Dodge ad clients (who shall remain nameless), a person who was rotated into a marketing position of considerable authority – with no viable credentials whatsoever (which was basically standard operating procedure back then, unfortunately) – had the temerity to say to me in a first meet-and-greet meeting with us ad agency types, “I know what good advertising is; I watch TV.” That comment was greeted by dead silence, but since I was the Executive Creative Director, it was up to me to respond to this obviously ill-informed comment. I thought about it for a moment and said, “We all know what we like when we watch TV and even the kind of advertising that’s presented that we enjoy, but there is a more to it than that. A lot more. There’s a definitive strategy behind the advertising, based on countless hours of research and subsequent creative development and execution represented in that commercial. It takes a tremendous effort by a professional team to get to the point when it is ready to be put on the air. I hope we can show you what that means in the coming weeks and months.” That the guy was an unmitigated disaster is no surprise, and he was rotated out in less than a year, but not before he cost the company millions in boneheaded decision after boneheaded decision. But I digress.
What is the point of all this? Right now, the automakers in this town are falling all over themselves sucking up to and acquiescing to hordes of so-called “tech” people who are inundating their halls and having an inordinate amount of sway with people who should know better. Just one example? The CEO at that car company in Dearborn has been dangerously under the influence of these ex-Silicon Valley-types, and it has proved to be costly, with the positive results missing in action from the get-go. But then again, there’s no one over there tapping him on the shoulder saying, “Excuse me, but I believe you’re resolutely full of shit,” so the carnage will continue.
One area in particular is being overrun by these geeks, and that is the marketing arena. There are some higher-ups in this town who think that because of the fallout from the great tech explosion there are hordes of “gifted” people available who are ready, willing and able to dispense their “wisdom” on this business, especially when it comes to marketing. 
But it is a Fool’s Errand of the first order.
Why? Just as everyone has an opinion about what makes a great vehicle, there are plenty of “armchair experts” out there bringing their whims and biases about how to market cars and trucks to the Motor City. That some of these geeks have been given a wide berth in this town is embarrassing, wrongheaded and wildly off the mark. Misguided people who have no business dispensing marketing advice being given weight and influence at this juncture is an indictment of where this business finds itself right now. It is both silly and pathetic, and it’s going to cost these companies millions in mistakes and do-overs. 
Why? Part II. Because, the automobile business is one of the most complicated endeavors on earth, and just because a person has seen a version of success in the tech industry, does not mean that whatever accrued expertise he or she brings to the table is necessarily applicable to a business that isn’t easily defined by knee-jerk reactions, or subject to the whims of an “armchair” marketing expert.
Memo to automakers everywhere: Beware of Geeks bearing imaginary gifts. It will cost you dearly.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
Editor’s Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on “Next 1 Entries” below. – WG

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