Autoextremist "Motor Trend Rant"
27 October 1999
Motor Trend's "Car Of The Year," Or, Do We Have A Marketing Opportunity For You! Reprinted with the blessings( well maybe not the blessing but permission) of the author Peter M. DeLorenzo, Autoextremist In one of my previous advertising lives, I had the perverse pleasure of witnessing the Motor Trend "Car Of The Year" scam first hand. I'm hearing groans from our readers you're shaking and shuddering and you just can't believe it? No, tell us it's not true! You can't possibly mean that the awards are, at best, dubious? Yes, my friends, Motor Trend's "COTY" (car company ad agencies learn to absolutely despise those initials and everything they stand for) is one of the most brilliantly consieved marketing schemes of all time. Petersen Publishing, the publishing juggernaut behind Motor Trend's COTY, has cajoled, bartered, badgered and threatened their way in to the hearts and minds of the(primarily) domestic car companies, to the point that I've seen"powerful" (allegedly-ed.) auto company executives literally begging for their consideration. First of all, you should understand one thing about Motor Trend's COTY: It's not about the "best" car. It has never been about the "best"car. It's about what car company will come up with the best media spending package that suits their interest in selling cars and that suits Motor Trend's interest in selling magazines and making money. And anyone who insists differently is either dreaming or a liar. But as outrageous as that may sound,here's the best part: Imagine having to literally grovel before the feet of the Peterson brass to first even be considered for this"award." And what do the car companies get for their multi-million dollar commitment to Motor Trend's COTY? Car companies and their agencies must first present their marketing plans for promoting their victory should their car be fortunate enough to be chosen. Huh? Yes, that's right. I remember having to drop everything in the fall of '86 and turn my creative staff's full attention to developing TV commercial animatics, magazine ads, billboards and associated dealer versions of the creative work in a rush presentation to the people from Peteresen Publishing, that was to be held at Chrysler's headquarters. All for a bad K-car derivative that didn't even deserve to be "Rental Car Of The Year." (Remember, this was the old Chrysler, when they were still living off the K-car). We spent two full weeks (and tens of thousands of dollars) coming up with the creative package all for the privilege of "pleasing" the Petersen brain-trust so that they may deem Dodge worthy of their accolade. Witnessing Dodge executives falling all over themselves and sucking-up to the Petersen people in the meeting was one of the most disturbing things I've ever witnessed in my 22-1/2-year ad career. If you still had any shred of doubt about what really makes the world go around in Detroit, in the car biz, it was over at that moment. But then again, that was just the first step in the process. After the "creative" was presented (ask any agency creative person about working on MT's COTY - they'd rather spend a week at a med school as a volunteer patient for the proctology final exams, then work on that drivel), we turned it over to the media gurus from the agency. They got up to present their"ideas" (complete with overheads of course) to best market the COTY. It was a detailed plan of national magazine inserts, regular print ads, billboards, tv and of course, a staggering commitment to advertising in Petersen Publishing vehicles across the board. Ladies and gentlemen, it was a total advertising package worth $25 million dollars. Whether it's future credits or trades or however you package it, that's a lot of money, folks. Wait, we're not finished. Not only do you have the privilege of handing over truck loads of cash to the Petersen coffers, but then they will tell you how their logo must appear, including final sign off on the ads. The creative department of the winning car company's ad agency is handed a three-page list of "guidelines" on how Motor Trend and COTY must appear in everything. It must be worded in a very specific way and that ugly-ass caliper "trophy" must appear in absolutely everything. The whole episode is so disgusting, by the end of the process you want to go home and take a shower for a week. Why am I writing about this now? Well, at this very moment, the wheels of commerce are starting to churn. Whispers in the hallways of car companies are turning into whispers in the hallways of their agencies, as we speak. And some poor agency creative group is about to be handed the assignment they dread the most with these instructions from the client and the account team: Make it good. Make it like we're proud. Make it like we mean it. Make it a very big deal. We want your best people on it. Don't screw it up. So when you see the releases in the press and then see the actual ads in the coming months, remember these very important things: There's nothing good about it. There's nothing to be proud of. Mean it? Are you kidding me? In terms of financialcommitment, it is a very big"deal." People were forced to work on it. And yes, the "winning" car company (and their ad agency) got screwed.Publishers Note:Unlike the print boys and girls at Petersen we at The Auto Channel continue to hold fast to unabashed independence in the awarding of The Auto Channel's COTY choices (we at TACH call our awards The Golden Tachometer or Goldies http://www.theautochannel.com/vehicles/new/awards/1999/index.html?VEHICLES) so much so that the our co-publisher cannot vote because he does not qualify as an honest to goodness expert.