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Marty’s Marketing Minutia

This week's obituaries, oddities and obfuscations.

by on May.01, 2009

Why is this car here? The answer is hidded in the story. This Pontiac is for sale at

Why here? The answer is hidden in the post. This Pontiac is for sale at

My first new car and first car ad account was Pontiac

I was recruited and came to work in the Hills of Bloomfield for MacManus, John and Adams (MJ&A), not to work on one of the agency’s General Motors accounts — Pontiac, Cadillac, GM Corporate and Mr. Goodwrench — but as the account supervisor for Hush Puppies shoes. I had been the advertising director of a major, multi-brand-gender shoe company.

There’s a back-story of how Hush Puppies with that big, slobbering, ungainly Bassett Hound living logo account morphed into my working on Pontiac, so please allow me a little reflection.

The account, I learned the first day, that was in deep you-know-what.  Hush Puppies parsimonious veep of advertising in Rockford, MI was going justifiably nuts over wastrel profligate budgets, hated the creative, wanted exciting “VW-type” advertising, thought the agency team ineffective and was threatening to fire MJ&A, unless they hired someone with shoe industry experience to supervise the account.

Courtesy of Hush PuppiesThat would be me. 

“Get the damn account in line,” I was admonished by Chuck Adams, the president of the agency.  Lovely first day. And it wasn’t even lunch time.

The second day was worse. I got the client’s side of the story in a very long meeting, and it was not nice. The client told me, “Shape up the agency or it’s fired.”

Immediate change was necessary to save the account, but internal personnel, politics and policies were career- and client-ending mine fields. Management said “proceed and fix it” which I did, not making many friends along the way.

The first change was in print ads. Everything started fresh from concept, to layout and copy, to art direction, and production. Previously expensive art from Van and Fitz, or equally costly photos by Northmore and McGuire, was tossed with much AD anguish. Fashion magazines were the wrong medium, and were tossed, as the medium of choice became Sunday roto sections.  Store listings were added, as was a new service back then, an 800 information number.

Upshot: Subscribe to TheDetroitBureau.comSaved Hush Puppies money, sold more shoes, retailers were listed in ads and loved it. That problem was solved.  But now I had little to do. And that’s how I happened to fall into automotive advertising.

My new and secret creative group for Hush Puppies was an agency within the agency, known as Group 11. This was John Z. DeLorean’s private creative team for Pontiac. It was an elite, temperamental strike force with carte blanche access and direct report to him. Housed in apartment #11 at the old Kingsley Inn, they were what we’d now call a creative boutique. And god, they were good.

I became their unofficial-part-time marketing guy when not holding Hush Puppies’ paw.

It was a new world of really big budgets, great cars and exciting times. All for a charismatic, albeit sometimes petulant client, John Z and with his agency Sancho Panza, Jim Wangers.

Group 11 was quick, responsive and adept at print and the then emerging medium – television – with which I had some experience producing live commercials on the Jack Parr Show as an account type, which made me different and welcome.  And I was accepted into the group.

The breakthrough movie, Bonnie & Clyde had just been released. DeLorean called and said he must have a new commercial like the movie. Within three weeks it was done, and on budget too. To see the result, turn back the hands of advertising time to this circa 1968 award winning: 60-second commercial.

This same group followed this up with a commercial for a 1968 car of the year award with an equally unique product demonstration and magazine thank-you.  The arresting, sonorous, mellifluous voiceover in this commercial was that of Paul Richards – the voice of Pontiac. He was the great voice of voiceovers long before James Earl Jones.

Not surprisingly, select members of the Group 11 team moved to Campbell-Ewald when John Z. Became head of the Chevrolet division.  And I moved to CECO a few months later.

MJ&A was then a privately owned company- sounds quaint today – which has gone through many iterations as mergers changed the name – MJ&A become DMB&B then Chemistri and now Burnett – but Pontiac loyally stayed with ‘em until now.

To the hundreds and hundreds of men and women, from account services suits, to the creative’s and of course  media,  research, and even management types who toiled long and well on the Pontiac advertising account over the years, I metaphorically I lift my super-extra-dry-gin-martini-straight-up at the Kingsley Inn or Fox and Hounds, now also gone, to toast you all.

You were the Midwest Mad Men from those halcyon days, but as an advertising poetic genius once wrote: “Times are tough, things are hard … and that’s your effen condolence card.”  Fleeting expletives be damned.

Weird Mercedes German commercial

Recently there seems to be a bizarre focus on some automotive creative concepts from Germany. Take this recent offering.  It’s Salvadore Dali-like with Kafka overtones.  You decide.It’s from the troubled minds of Mercedes’ agency, Jung von Matt/Alster in Hamburg, Executive Creative Directors, Deneke von Weltzien and Armin Jochum, with added credit to creative directors, Thimoteus Wagner and Christian Fritsche.

Rolls-Royce Ghost loses  its scarlet letters

Hester Prynne would be happy.  While Tom Purves’  announcement last week from the Shanghai Auto Show confirmed what published months ago — the historic Ghost designation for the new, often called Baby Rolls, received comment and attention here at TDB and in other media, one fact went unmentioned  … The scarlet, okay red “RR” letters logo was changed to black on the grille and wheels.

Subtle, very subtle and verrry British, right?  So I went straight away to Goodwood for the answers to:

  • Why was the logo red anyway?
  • What is the official logo color?
  • How many journalists have inquired about the change?.
Black returns the logo, as tradition dictates.

Black returns the logo, as tradition dictates.

The answers from the public relations department noted, “Red RR ‘badges’ are a feature of cars with the EX (experimental) designation; 100EX, 101EX and 200EX and are an homage to the original colour of the Rolls-Royce marquee.  The badge colour was changed in the early ’30′s when it was changed to be more harmonious/colour compatible with the increase in colours of the vehicles then produced.” Yeah, I know it’s an English-like language.

And a RR spokesperson told me, “You were the only query to date,” then added, “When the Rolls-Royce Ghost is launched at later this year it will have black badges.” I’m so glad consistency is restored, aren’t you?

The first Roll-Royce Silver Ghost was first shown at the London Motor Show at Olympia in 1906. The car got its name from Claude Johnson, managing director of the company, who had the car entirely painted and plated in silver.

The “Ghost” part of the name derived from the car’s remarkable quietness. The car was extremely popular, and demand outstripped supply. Silver Ghosts continued to be made until 1926, with about 8000 produced in total, including 1,703 which were made in Springfield, Massachusetts. How many know about the U.S. fact? (Pace’ Ken Zino, you don’t count.)

And somewhat surprisingly, given the worldwide economic crisis, there will be more Ghosts to in the Rolls-Royce world, when Purves said, “This car will be the first in a new generation of models to carry this evocative name will give us two pinnacle product lines – Phantom and Ghost.”

Manufacturers’ websites losing impact

According to the recently released J.D. Power and Associates 2009 Manufacturer Web Site Evaluation Study(SM) (MWES) which ranks on a scale of 1,000 Honda came in first with a score of 882 while rounding out the rest of the top five were Porsche (867), Mitsubishi (866), Kia (865) and Acura (862).

The bottom five in descending order were GMC (821), Jaguar (813), Pontiac (801), Audi (793), smart (789) and last in line was Scion (773). Average number for all sites was 840.

Looking over all brands’ scores the biggest over average was Honda at plus 42, the rest of the top ten were on average 21 points over average; the middle 10 almost 8 points over; third quartile sites averaged -7.2 points from the average; and the six remaining sites a whopping -41.7 below average. The study noted that maker web sites have “lost usefulness,”  since June 2008 with 16 manufacturer Web sites demonstrating double digit decreases. This is not a surprise. Most manufacturers’ web sites, in my opinion follow the lead of their advertising: ineffective and dumb.

The third party sites – Edmunds, KBB  and others- are the consumer favorites for those few who are still shopping for a new car no matter the make. Why? They are unbiased, objective easy to use and provide facts not hyperbole.  And a few brands CMO’s have told me these sites bring better leads than their own sites.

Really interactive television

Dreams do come true. Cable networks have been claiming ‘soon’ their subscribers will be able to get more information, order something and other features by pushing a button on the remote.

A new business organization, Canoe Ventures, backed by the six largest cable operators Comcast, Time Warner, Charter, Cox Communications Inc., Cablevision, and Brighthouse Networks will be able to provide these unique services later this year.

Just think of the potential opportunities to vote for your Idol or Dancing Star Favorite without leaving the sofa and of course to order pizza.  You can be certain of one thing, when this comes to fruition, and it will, advertisers are gonna pay for the added service as will the already overcharged cable subscribers. That’s double dipping isn’t it?

The magazine bankruptcy almost overlooked

Source Interlink, LLC the publisher of over 75 magazine titles including Automobile Magazine and Motor Trend (recently mentioned in this column) this past Tuesday announced the company had reached a  “very favorable agreement” with lenders to privatize the company and cancel nearly $1 billion of existing debt through a Chapter 11, bankruptcy filing in which all common stock will be canceled.

For a list of endangered magazines and web sites owned by the company click here.

No  marketing humor  … It’s been that kind of a week. Oh, my first new car was a 1953 Pontiac Catalina, the coolest car on the road back then.

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