Friday, September 3, 2010

You cannot annoy me into buying your product

Yesterday, my NFL Preview edition of Sports Illustrated showed up with a massive insert from DirecTV stuffed in the middle. While I appreciate the scale of this endeavor, clearly the guys who designed this don't actually read magazines.

I'm one of those people who remove all inserts and tip in cards that make the pages hard to turn. This one was nearly impossible to pull out with two strips of booger glue on it, and once I got it out, the giant poster with a picture of a ticket to every game on one side and NFL stars on the other was worthless from a communications standpoint. It didn't tell me anything I didn't already know about DirecTV, and it nearly ruined my magazine. And I can only imagine how much it cost.

I wonder if the team that dreamed this thing up are aware how many of these will end up crumpled in the recycling bin, unread.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I'm not saying...

In my search for a car, it quickly became apparent to me (and anyone reading this blog) that I wanted a sports sedan, with guts under the hood and a manual stick shift in my hand. On August 17th, I wrote this about the Buick Regal...

"Give me a smoother powerplant with a little more oomph, and I'd seriously consider this car."

On August 25th, the New York Times reported that Buick would release the Regal GS later this year and it will be equipped with a 255 horsepower, 2-liter turbocharged engine paired with a 6-speed manual transmission.

I'm just saying.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Is Harley riding off a cliff

Earlier this week it was announced that Harley-Davidson was parting ways with it's long-time ad agency, Carmichael Lynch. I've been a big fan of the work CL has done for Harley since day one. They took on the account when Harley was deep in bankruptcy and helped the brand find its focus through ads with headlines like "Would you sell an unreliable motorcycle to these guys?" over a visual of a prototypical motorcycle gang.

At their core, great brands always stand for one thing and only one thing. For Harley, that thing is the rebel in all of us. That's what made the brand successful.

Harley allows you to feel like a badass, without being bad. And that's a very powerful promise.

A lot of respectable dentists and lawyers buy Harleys because the brand adds an aura of danger to their otherwise normal suburban lives. It transports them – literally and figuratively – from the dull monotony of the everyday to a place where they're free. It's an archetypical need that resides deep within every one of us, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

If Harley is walking away from this core belief in an attempt to appeal to a broader audience, it's pure folly and destined to fail. This quote from Marketing Director, Mark-Hans Richer in Ad Age concerns me:

"We've had a good run with Carmichael Lynch over the past 31 years but as our brand has grown globally and with new, broader audiences and cultural opportunities... Our strategies have been moving away from a singular consumer target and a one-size-fits-all agency solution. Rather than accept this new reality, CL chose a different path and we respect that."

Yes, Harley is a global brand that needs to grow its ridership in places like Europe and China. But it won't do it by changing its brand to mirror the cultures of those markets. It will only succeed by being Harley, the iconic American Rebel motorcycle brand, everywhere it's sold.

Clearly, the folks at Carmichael know this and aren't willing to help destroy the brand they helped save 31 years ago.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My long nightmare of salesmen and test drives is finally over

For the past few weeks I have been going through the agonizing process of buying a new car. For those of you who have stuck with me, your reward is now at hand.

Day 17: The decision.

Yesterday morning there were five. Today, there is one. And it really boiled down to a battle between desire and money.

I love the BMW. The way it drives, the way it fit me, the way it felt to be behind the wheel. Heck I even liked the looks. But after realizing that we need new windows to make the ramshackle beach cottage a little less like a wind tunnel this winter, $41,000 may just be a little out of reach.

Then there is the Audi A4. Very close to the BMW in every way in my mind, and with the added benefit of not carrying around all that yuppie baggage. Quattro all-wheel drive, a fast revving, quick shifting powertrain and understated good looks. I could really see myself driving this car. At $37,500 equipped the way I want it, however, the A4 presses the upper reaches of my budget.

The VW Jetta TDI SportWagen looks great, drives better than I expected and delivers the kind of fuel economy even a penny pinching, tree hugging, car hater could love. Can I really put my family and clients through the torture chamber that is the back seat in this car? And at nearly $30,000 it doesn't feel like a great overall value. But damn, this car is fun to drive.

As I said before, if I wasn't interested in something sporty, the Subaru Outback would be the perfect car for me. Incredible utility, excellent performance, with just enough personality to keep it from fading into the mainstream. And the price of $27,500 seems like a bargain compared to the Jetta. If I were a rational being this would be a no-brainer...

The Ford Fusion Sport is fun. The powerful motor and 6-speed automatic launch the car from a dead stop. The tight suspension digs into the corners without being too rough on the highway. The seats offered great support and the overall design of the interior is as good as I've ever experienced in an American car (as long as you stay away from the optional color accents for the seat and dash). The price I was quoted was $25,250. Very reasonable.

The problem is I made the mistake of driving a BMW and Audi and realizing how much I enjoy driving a car with a real stick shift.

I blame my father. He bought that Porsche 911 Targa back in 1968 and as soon as I could reach the pedals, I was sneaking it out of the garage and driving it around the neighborhood. There's something so active, so satisfying about running through the gears. And no matter how good the auto-stick or steering wheel paddle shifters are, they just can't match it.

So on the advice of my son, I did a quick search of the web and found a Certified, pre-owned 2007 Audi A4 with 32,000 miles on it for $22,000 at a dealer in Chicago.

It's set up just as I would have ordered new, even the speeding ticket red body color. With the Audi program, it comes shod with new tires, brake pads and anything else that might be suffering a little wear and tear. I get the balance of the four-year, 50,000 mile warranty plus an additional two-years and 50,000 miles of factory-backed coverage. Audi made the financing easy with 2.9% interest for 36 months and they have a promotion going on so they're making my first payment for me.

I put the deal together over the phone last evening and will drive to Chicago to pick up the car on Saturday. And for less than the price of a base Hyundai Sonata, I get exactly the car I discovered I wanted.

Going into this process, I fully intended to buy a new car and it really wasn't until late Sunday that the thought of buying used occurred to me. I know I'm not stimulating the economy as much as if I had purchased a new car, but I'm improving my personal economy and psyche as well.

I'll give a full report on the car next Monday after living with it for the weekend.

Now I can get back to my regular rants about marketing, advertising and new products.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Decision time

It's time to shop for a new car. For the next few weeks I'm chronicling my search, reviewing the process, the products, the marketing, the sales experience and the transaction.

Day 16: Reality sets in

This weekend, I drove two more cars and passed on a third.

My day began behind the wheel of a Ford Fusion Sport. Excellent handling, a beefy, 263 hp V6 engine, aggressive styling and a comfortable interior, this is a nice package for anyone who likes to drive fast. Just a couple of complaints.

Like the Malibu LTZ, there is no manual transmission available in this Fusion. The 6-speed autostick was sharper shifting in the manual mode than others I've driven, but it's still not as fun to drive as the BMW and the Audi.

But my biggest complaint is in the packaging of the options. Because they build so few of these, they're hard to find. And they're hard to find without all the bells and whistles, which includes a backup camera and a blind spot warning system. I can understand these features for mini vans and big SUVs, but this is a mid-sized sedan, what the hell do I need a backup camera for? In spite of being over-featured, I liked the way this car drove and it's a finalist.

The other car I drove was a Mazda 6s. I owned the original Mazda 6 years ago and enjoyed it. I bought it because it was a little smaller, had a sporty set up, nice V6 engine, and a slick shifting manual transmission. Unfortunately, the new 6 is larger, a little softer set up and you can only get a manual transmission with the four-cylinder engine.

My final visit was to the Mini dealer in Milwaukee. I was excited to get behind the wheel again, but as soon as I pulled onto the lot and looked at the car, I knew it wouldn't work for me. It's just too small. Rather than waste another hour and give my phone number out to yet another salesman, I drove on.

So where does that leave me?

After considering 28 brands and driving ten cars I'm down to five: The BMW 328i Xdrive, Audi A4, Ford Fusion Sport, VW Jetta TDI SportWagen and the decidedly less sporty, but oh so practical Subaru Outback.

Today I contact the dealers, see what they can do in terms of pricing, incentives and financing and then I'll make my final decision.