Saturday, 11 January 2014

Tone-deafness in Advertising

Old news, because this post was conceived in the tail end of 2013, but oh well: McDonalds is in trouble again, this time for providing their workers advice on how much to tip one's pool cleaner, personal trainer and masseuse. Seriously. This came only a couple of months after trying to show how easy it is to live on a McDonalds wage if you're clever, frugal... and have a second job elsewhere. The fact that this happened twice over seems to prove McDonalds has no interest in learning from it, but the buzzword that keeps coming up is "tone-deaf", a pretty handy word. I love the image of big CEOs trying to play along to everyone else's song, which they can't hear because it's in the key of Poverty.

They're not embarrassing themselves in such an extreme way, but Ford's musical ear doesn't appear to be any better than Maccas head office. In May they made the announcement we'd long feared, that they would stop building Falcons here in 2016. But then in November came the news that, in 2015, they'd be launching the latest version of the Mustang. Ford seems to have every intention of racing it in V8 Supercars and making it their flagship model from 2015 onwards.

Not cool, guys.

It's not that the Mustang badge doesn't have an absolutely glorious history in this country - it does. Five Australian Touring Car titles in a row speak for themselves, and the Trans-Am version gave a certain Allan Moffat his foot in the door of the Aussie tin-top scene. Very worthy accomplishments for a very worthy nameplate. And I genuinely did like the rebooted model when it came out in 2005, especially the tuned Roush version that looked like an absolute beast and backed the show up with plenty of go. Buuuut... this is how the campaign started, with a Facebook post and an especially cringe-worthy...

Not making that up - Mustang Inspires. You bloody wish, Ford. Now, it's not that the Mustang sounds like such a terrible car. In fact it sounds pretty good, even if I'm not sold on some of the features, like a turbocharged EcoBoost engine option. Yeah, okay, right engine for the times I guess. It'll also be the first Mustang with rear coil springs. That should mean the handling is superb. Which just might ruin the car entirely. A Mustang is supposed to be a pony car with a big V8 and shocking handling. Surely a Mustang with an efficient engine that can corner like a dream is just an obese MX-5?

That remains to be seen, for now we'll give it the benefit of the doubt: what really sucks here is the timing. What Ford is trying to do here, swapping out the Falcon for the Mustang, is like sending one of their exquisitely-suited jerk-off execs to a hospital to see a man grieving at the bedside of his dying wife. They've been together for sixty years, been to Hell and back, shared the good times and bad... but now they're staring down the barrel of permanent, final separation. And in walks our exec with a shit-eating grin and says: "Hey bro. I heard you're about to become single, so I thought I'd play, 'Have you met Candy?' She's a former Vegas showgirl, but she just moved here and she's really into you. I thought you two might hit it off!"

See the problem? When I rise to power, Every. Single. Sales and marketing professional will have this pinned up somewhere in their cubicle, on pain of... really severe pain, I guess.
Millennials have been socialized to be amazingly aware of being marketed to, and they react poorly to such poses adopted solely for the purpose of winning their business.

The problem, though, is that the marketing that worked so well on Baby Boomers, feels plastic and inauthentic to emerging generations. They tend to be not so much immune to slick marketing as repulsed by it. To a generation that grew up watching TV and engaging the world online, attempts to package important things via slick marketing sound contrived and hollow.

Those are actually from blogs about getting Millennials back into church, but the point stands. You could argue point that doesn't really apply because the Mustang is actually a cynical cash-grab aimed at Baby Boomer nostalgia. It's an idea with some merit - Boomers are starting to retire and are buying possibly the last cars they'll ever own - but I'd respond by pointing out A) they're marketing it with a hashtag, and B) Ford and the churches still have the same problem - if they want to remain in business beyond 2025, they need the loyalty of Millennials.

And the really sad thing is, Ford would be doing a brilliant job of earning our loyalty if they'd just turn their marketing machine off for a second. The Territory? I see them everywhere I go, fantastic car. The Mondeo? Battling to find anyone with a bad word to say about it, and it's pulling double duty as America's Fusion as well. Fiesta? Nobody can believe you can get so much performance for so little money. And the Focus? Man, the Focus is one of the two most popular cars in the world (the other's the Toyota Corolla) and has a reputation as a fun, practical, very cool car - a reputation Ford are doing their best to ruin by hiring dickhead trendies to advertise it.

Hate to tell you, Ford, but the people in that ad aren't your customers. They bought an A-Class or MiTo or Fiat 500 instead (hell, having seen it, I'm thinking of buying a Fiat 500). You're doing a great job at the stuff that matters - the actually-building-cars part. But you're doing a lousy job at drumming up enthusiasm for them, precisely because you're so desperate for us to be enthused about them. And the final insult is that you're refusing the make the car we really do want... which I'll get into in my next entry.

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