Letter From Europe (2/23/98)
23 February 1998
European Bureau Chief
I happened to be in the United States during the Olympic Games and, like those of you living here, suffered from the abomination hiding under the guise of live coverage courtesy of CBS. Oh dear, what a load of rubbish! It was an insult to everyone's intelligence, especially for sports fans.
As for the ads, well, what can I say. Whilst advertising agencies will do their best to justify the huge costs involved, I can't help feeling that some of them at least must have been counter-productive. Their traditional, lame excuse is that well, you did see the ad? True, but most of them were appalling and repetitive. I would not buy most of the products featured as a matter of principle. They annoyed the living daylights out of me.
Not only were there far too many of them, in some commercial breaks there were ads for Ford and Toyota within a minute of each other! How the agencies involved can accept it is beyond me. As for some of the ads... the one for the Mercury Marquis was possibly the worst car ad I have ever seen, an insult to a perfectly good car.
Whilst the Nissan ads were brilliantly filmed and hugely amusing, I sometimes wonder whether they sell more dogs than trucks. Mind you, the timing is perfect with the Westminster show in full swing. (For the uninitiated there are two great dog shows in the World: the Westminster in New York and Crufts in England.)
Being the "official car/truck" of a ski resort is all the rage these days, I wonder how many takes the agencies had to do to get their products up those hills, especially the ones with two wheel drives!
Having followed the marijuana saga of the Canadian snow-boarder, I have to tell you a story. Many years ago when my partner Fraser and I ran CAR Magazine in Britain we thought it would have made an interesting experiment to drive on a private road with and without the much-publicized joint. So off we went to Scotland Yard and explained what we had in mind if you pardon the unintentional pun. We even agreed not to publish should the result show that people high on the dreaded weed drove more safely, the whole thing was intended as a safety message.
We got extremely short shift from the men in blue. They took our names and addresses and showed us the door. So much for our experiment. By the way, if any readers could throw some light on the subject I would be very grateful indeed.
For Formula One fans, the long wait is nearly over, the season will kick off in Melbourne, Australia on March 08. Early indications are that Mika Hakkinen in the McLaren could be the man to beat. It took him over 80 Grand Prix's to win his first one, and even that was part of a deal between McLaren and Williams. Still, a first win is a first win, and now that Mika is finally past that hurdle we can expect lots more from this very sympathetic young Finn.
As for arch rivals Schumacher and Villeneuve, well, I think it will be a far more open season in 1998 because the Benettons have also been very quick during recent testing in Barcelona.
A huge question mark hangs over the Belgian race, at least at the time of writing. It is acknowledged by everyone as the greatest race track in the World, unfortunately that may not be enough to save the race unless the Belgian Government caves in to Messrs Mosley & Ecclestone. Surprise, surprise, it's all to do with cigarette advertising, as if you did not know by now. I do hope they can reach a compromise, because if there is one track that separates the men from the boys it is Spa.
I had a very nice letter from the CEO of Goodyear the other day, thanking me for my article concerning the tire company's decision to pull out of Formula One at the end of the season. There are some rumors in Europe that they might change their minds because of pressure from the dealers. Whatever they decide in the end, I do hope they will go out on a winning note, should they decide to stick to their original decision. After all the money and effort they've put into Formula One, it would only be fair.
An old friend is here in California editing a film that he just finished shooting with Robin Williams. Being French, he had a fair old go at all the Americans present at the dinner table concerning what he called "American cultural imperialism". Well, as a British passport holder I managed to stay out of it claiming neutrality. But when the subject -finally- turned to cars, I did point out that good products by and large tend to succeed and bad ones tend to fail. Whereas we all happily eat French cheeses and drink their champagne when we can afford it, the French auto industry proved to be a huge failure in the United States. There was no anti-French sentiment, the cars simply were not good enough. The Renault 9 and 11 were possibly some of the worst cars ever made and fully deserved to fail just like the Yugo. British cars had a horrendous reputation for years courtesy partly of Lucas who were known as "Purveyors of darkness to five continents". Ford Motor Company executives nearly fainted when they took over Jaguar, they simply could not believe the quality control--or rather the lack of it. They are turning Jaguar round, but people do have long memories, especially when it comes to being stuck by the side of the road.
Peugeot has also failed in the States, although their 504 was a fine workhorse. Maybe they did not have the financial muscle to push their products in this huge country.
On the cultural front, I have to admit that my friend Peter does have a point, but I am afraid that much to the regret of all the people who grew up on French films--this writer included--only Hollywood can afford to gamble 200 million dollars on Titanic. C'est la vie.