Buick Says

April 30, 2001

DETROIT—Brand management. Gotta love it.

We all know that General Motors doesn’t know how to market its wares. But we were given a wee bit of hope a few months ago when the General hired C.J. Fraleigh from Pepsi to be its advertising czar. But if this week’s release from Buick had C.J.’s seal of approval then I’d like to retract my enthusiasm.

“It’s All Good” is the new rallying cry for Buick. It ushers in the new Rendezvous, but will be extended to the rest of the Buick lineup over the next few months.

Marketing 101: An ad slogan should say something meaningful about the product that the customer can relate to. It should draw the consumer in, and serve as a guidepost to the ad executives, the Buick brand managers, and the Buick designers in the studio.

How does “It’s All Good,” do any of that? And doesn’t it sound a little like something you’d hear not from a car brand, but from a guest on Jenny Jones?

Here’s an imaginary conversation in the GM design studio:

“Jim, I’m working on the roofline of the next LeSabre. What do you think?”

“Well, Bob, it’s interesting, really. But I’m not sure it says, ‘It’s All Good’ to me.”

“Huh?”

How ‘bout an imaginary conversation between the Park Avenue brand manager and some bloke at an event promotion company, talking about a sponsorship being pitched to Buick:

“Nate, we think a sponsorship of MTV spring break next year makes a lot of sense for the Park Avenue. I hear you want to lower your average age buyer. What better way than Daytona Beach in March? All those bikinis, beer and co-eds.”

“Fred, before you pitch an idea to us, you should ask yourself, how does this event fit with ‘It’s All Good.’ It must say...nigh...it must scream, ‘It’s All Good.’”

“Nate...I looked at these chicks on the screen and I said to myself...this is aaaalllll good.”

Joy in repetition

At the risk of repeating earlier columns, let me point out the following:

BMW. The Ultimate Driving Machine.

Chevrolet Trucks. Like A Rock.

Volkswagen. Drivers Wanted.

Lexus. The Passionate Pursuit of Perfection.

Jeep. There’s Only One.

What’s behind all those slogans? BMW and performance. Chevy trucks and toughness. Volkswagen and fun driving. Lexus and precision engineering. Jeep is the original SUV.

Buick and...um...hmmm...it’s all good. You know, all of it. Stem to stern. Bumper to bumper. From Century to the Park Avenue Ultra. It’s all...you know...good.

Let me lay down $20,000, $25,000, $30,000 or $35,000 on something that’s...you know...all good.

Here’s the thing. I really like Buick. I actually dig that Buick has been using Willem Dafoe to voice its ads.

I really like LeSabres, Regals, Park Avenues, Roadmasters. I like ‘em all. They aren’t fun to drive. But sometimes I’m in a Buick mood. Sometimes I just want an executive car, a sedan to get me to church and the doctor’s office, and to drive my sainted gray-haired Mother to bible meeting. Sometimes I want to drive Fred Mertz’s car.

And that’s okay. Buicks are respectable. They are Dick Cheney without the heart condition. Buick is gravitas. Buick should own gravitas.

In a 30-second TV spot for the new Buicks, a baby boomer couple confidently drive a Century through raindrops of pennies that turn to water droplets on the car's surface. The couple takes advantage of Century's features, such as traction control and a V-6 engine. The passenger reaches through the Century's sunroof to collect the pennies into a cup, just the right amount to go through a tollbooth.

"A luxury car you can afford," the ad claims. "That's our idea of heaven. Buick Century - It's All Good."

"The pennies metaphor works well to demonstrate Century's affordable luxury," said Dave Moore, creative director of McCann-Erickson Detroit, the advertising agency which creates Buick's ads. "The surreal feel of the spot and other new marketing will help garner interest from a group who may have never before thought of Buick."

Sure thing, Dave.

You know what Buicks are? They are nice, classy cars. You want to do something cool with a Rendezvous? Put Tiger Woods behind the wheel for a start. Then get a little clever. Get a little witty. Maybe even get a little self-deprecating.

And for Pete’s sake, get a line we can get behind, a line that means something to everyone buying, shopping and working for Buick. And stick to it for more than a year and a cup of coffee.

GM’s biggest advertising problem is that it seems to design advertising strategies to be replaced in 18 months or sooner. They’re worse than software sellers.

Ford’s new ad man

It hardly seems cricket to hammer a new hire before he has a chance to buy his first Ford ad, but Rich Stoddart asked for it. Stoddart last week came to Ford division to replace Jan Klug as head of advertising. Klug moved upstairs after Jim Schroer shuffled off to Auburn Hills and DaimlerChrysler. Stoddart comes from capable and talented ad agency Fallon McElligott, which does ads for BMW.

Klug helped recruit Stoddart, having worked with him at ad agency Leo Burnett, Oldsmobile’s ad agency. But Stoddart wasn’t working on car business. He was account director on McDonald’s.

In Stoddart's new role, he will oversee marketing for all Ford division products and will work closely with the division's ad agency, J. Walter Thompson in Detroit, where former Cadillac chief Mike O’Malley is headed.

Stoddart, noted an Automotive News account, is best known for the $75 million rollout of McDonald's Arch Deluxe brand while at Fallon. Stoddart called Arch Deluxe "the most successful product launch in McDonald's history." Unfortunately, he said, not enough people liked "the burger with the grown-up taste."

Arch Deluxe was meant to be a product aimed at adults who thought McDonald’s other products were too much kid stuff. It was a flop.

Here’s the place to worry. Stoddart considers the Arch Deluxe the most successful launch ever despite the fact that it fizzled and flopped.

Call me silly, but if I had worked on the launch of the Arch Deluxe, I’d either keep my mouth shut, or limit my conversation to what I learned about marketing during an expensive flop so I didn’t do it again.

At Leo Burnett, Stoddart also worked on accounts for Ralston Purina Co., Lee Co. jeans and Miller Brewing Co. No cars, but that doesn't matter, he said.

"I know how to work with the agency to get the best work out of them to drive the business," Stoddart said Tuesday. "All the brands I worked for, I'm proud of my intimate understanding of what the consumer is all about."

If I was this guy, I’d be talking about Ford’s products, and about his “intimate knowledge of the consumer” after he had something to show for it besides a bad sandwich.

We’ll be watching, Rich.

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