No. 968
October 17, 2018
 

About The UjianNasional

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with Ujian-nasional.info, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press  ). It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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Tuesday
May272008

RANTS #447

May 28, 2008

Write Hard, Die Free: The UjianNasional Manifesto, Nine Years On.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit. When I became tired of what the ad biz had become nine years ago, and tired of the sycophants, the ass kissers, the weasels and the other two-bit players who had turned what was once a pretty interesting profession into a vapid wasteland, I knew I had to do something different. I also had grown tired of seeing the auto business – as practiced here in Detroit - sink further into the Abyss of risk-avoidance-driven mediocrity, and watching legions of so-called "executives" make horrendous, piss-poor decisions day after day on behalf of their respective auto companies.

As I watched the carnage unfold around me, I knew that something had to be said by someone who had firsthand knowledge of what was going on - someone who was in the trenches and on the front lines of the ongoing battle - and that someone turned out to be me.

And Ujian-nasional.info became my forum to say it.

As some of you insiders may know, UjianNasional was an original concept I had for a new car magazine back in 1986. The print version of UjianNasional was going to target hard-core enthusiasts, while telling it like it is with a distinctive, combative style. It would also be the first enthusiast car publication that wouldn’t accept advertising.

The state of the enthusiast car mags back then was a dismal parade of sameness that left me cold, and I was determined to breathe some life into the genre. But my ad career got in the way, and by the time I looked up it was the late spring of 1999, and I knew that if I didn’t do it then, I’d never do it - so the time was finally right for UjianNasional. The Internet, of course, would replace the print magazine idea, but the essence of my original manifesto written back in 1986 remained unchanged.

And that's how "The High-Octane Truth" came about – on June 1, 1999 - whether people were ready for it or not. In case any of you need to be reminded, or you're visiting this website for the very first time, I thought that now would be a good time to reiterate what we believe in here at Ujian-nasional.info, where we're coming from, how we look at things and why we say the things we do.

We believe that the business of designing, building, engineering, marketing and advertising cars and trucks should begin with one simple premise - the Product is King - and everything else has to flow from that fundamental fact. Cars and trucks should be exciting to look at, fun to drive, flat-out desirable and worth owning in all respects. If you (as an individual or a company) forget that fact, you will fail.

We believe people whose cumulative marketing "experience" basically consists of 1.) A term paper in college, combined with 2.) A stint at the zone level (with the added "benefit" of P&G indoctrination -ed.) and 3. Being part of a rotational executive "rounding" stint through the system, shouldn't automatically qualify you to get near the serious business of marketing and advertising cars, let alone be able to tell an ad agency what's good or not good about an ad campaign that has just been worked on for the last 47 days straight.

We believe that car company executives whose first order of business is to cover their own asses and then shamelessly promote themselves the rest of the time - while bringing absolutely nothing positive to the job at hand - should be encouraged to take that long "break" they keep droning on about in off-the-record moments. Please do us all a favor - and leave now.

We believe that a rampant, "let's not offend anyone" mentality taints every decision made by almost every car executive (yes, there are a few brilliant exceptions) working in the business today. Will you people go find a backbone, please?

We believe that the typical car company executive's reckless and utter disdain for anything the least bit creative or provocative - while at the same time endorsing a process that consistently "dumbs down" the advertising and the product itself with a series of debilitating steps and hand-wringing meetings - directly results in the churning out of an endless stream of cars and trucks that are too often nothing more than monuments to tedium, mediocrity and bad management. We call it "engineering to the lowest common denominator" - and it stinks.

We believe that the average car company's dependence on focus groups, even though it has been proven time and time again that they are, at best, inconsistent if not inaccurate barometers - is a crime. After all, the only people actually listened to in these focus groups are the ones who agree with the client's preconceived mindset to begin with, which makes the whole process a colossal waste of time and money.

We believe that politics permeates every decision in the car business down to the very last detail, ensuring that all butts are "covered" and that no one is left "exposed" to any ugly consequences. The business has become populated by people more worried about what their political standing "entitles" them to than about bringing to the table an attitude of "what can I do?" or "how can we make it better?" Accountability? You must be joking.

We believe - and this is etched in stone - that whenever the shit hits the fan and there is the least bit of advertising or marketing or product controversy, a car company will always do the wrong thing and then turn around and blame the agency or a supplier for their predicament at the drop of a hat.

We believe that the ad agency side of the business has strayed as far away from being a creative environment as you can get - short of working airport security. In many cases, it has deteriorated into a constant battle between The Wimps and The Twerps, people who are intent on taking over the agency and turning it into a cesspool of "Yes Men" and "Yes Women" who are more concerned with their political futures and the "process" than about working on great advertising and marketing.

We believe that ad agencies have forgotten what their mission is, because they're spending 90% of their time, money, resources and effort on everything else under the sun except actually trying to make great advertising. And we believe, in most cases, that their clients are directly responsible for this revolting development - and that they ultimately get the advertising they deserve because of it.

We believe that runaway complacency on both sides (car companies and their ad agencies), combined with an atmosphere corrupted by an absolutely suffocating fear of taking any kind of risk (or standing behind it once you do), is killing the chance to get great work produced.

We believe that in too many cases bad people are making bad decisions negatively affecting good people who know better, people who have been shuffled off to the side for political "considerations" (i.e., they have a backbone and a point of view - and they're not afraid to share it).

We believe that instead of a joyful celebration of the indefatigable nature of the American Spirit and the role the automobile has had, continues to have, and always will play, the business has become nothing but a pathetic caricature of itself - complete with bad actors and even worse props.

And so, with that manifesto guiding us, we launched Ujian-nasional.info.

What has changed in the ensuing nine years? Plenty. But then again, not so much, and unfortunately not enough to keep Detroit from dangling over the Abyss.

The glaring sameness of the so-called “enthusiast” car mags? It’s still there and it’s still highly annoying, with Automobile and AutoWeek as the lone exceptions. Even those two pubs are far from stellar every month (or week) by any means, but they seem to be making a concerted effort at least. There’s no denying, however, that the days for the hard-copy print mags are severely numbered, and when the shakeout finally comes, it will be ugly. That said, I believe the state of automotive journalism has never been as weak as it is right now. There are too few writers worth going out of your way to bother with right now, and that’s a flat-out disgrace.

As for the car biz itself, is it still about the Product? Absolutely. But if you don’t have the accurate, enticing and properly funded marketing firepower to put behind a new product, then it doesn’t matter how good it is - it will be forgotten 120 days after its launch in the oversaturated automotive market we live in.

As for the execs making key decisions about the marketing and advertising at the car companies nowadays, we still see woefully underqualified individuals being given the reins on major marketing decisions, and it still sucks.

Are auto execs any less willing to take a stand these days? It’s intermittent when it happens, but there’s some noticeable movement in the right direction at least. When Bob Lutz hangs it up, however, the movement will lose its way, there’s no doubt. And then a search party will have to be organized to find backbones, I’m sure.

As for “lowest common denominator” product decisions, I’m thankfully seeing that mentality fade into the woodwork. Detroit is creating some excellent new products right now, but getting people to care about them is an entirely different story altogether.

We still believe leaving major product and marketing decisions in the hands of a few focus groups is a dangerous practice and a monumental waste of time and money. And it’s still being done.

Politics and politically-charged decisions still hold sway over these companies to a degree, some less than others, fortunately. As for accountability, it’s still in exceedingly short supply.

As for the whole ad agency vs. client thing, the profitability of the advertising business is being squeezed down to next to nothing, yet clients still want to be serviced like the “old” days. And the situation has become unbearable for the most part. With agencies fighting over scraps and clients displaying the loyalty of your average fair-weather sports fan, the state of the ad biz when it comes to the auto industry is beyond pathetic. It’s no wonder that ad agencies have forgotten what their basic mission is - which is to deliver the best, most provocative communications on behalf of their clients that they can muster - in this toxic environment.

Do clients still get the advertising they deserve because of it? Yes.

As for the legions of Wimps and Twerps and “Yes Men” and “Yes Women” they’re all still present and accounted for – on both sides of the ball. I know, because some of the people who were shoveling shit in this town when I was still in the ad biz are still doing it today. And it’s unconscionable.

As for bad people making bad decisions negatively affecting good people who know better in this business, same as it ever was, unfortunately.

And what about that whole “joyful celebration of the indefatigable nature of the American Spirit and the role the automobile has had, continues to have, and always will play...” thing? Well...

That Detroit finally got product religion and is saying and doing all of the right things is commendable, but there’s still the lingering fear that they will slip back into bad old habits at any given moment. The “three steps forward, five back” cadence that has driven GM and the rest of The Fading Three continues to this day, with shining beacons of product light and creativity threatened by churning storm clouds of rampant mediocrity festering in the vast bureaucracies that still haunt and stifle these companies at every turn.

Though the fiber-optic pinpoints of light generated by such vehicles as the Corvette ZR1/Z06, Chevy Malibu, Ford Flex/Mustang/Fusion/Focus/Edge, Buick Enclave and Cadillac CTS are noteworthy, there’s no getting around the fact that the car business is under siege in the U.S. and that the Detroit-based domestic automakers are hanging by a thread.

The fundamental shift in the nation’s mindset due to the sky-high gas prices isn’t helping, and the Detroit automakers now find themselves to be grossly out of position with their vehicle mix, and because of it there’s a very real possibility that the U.S. automakers will not survive in their present state. And when the “Detroit Three” is reduced by one within two years, we’ll see what our President will do (whoever it is) when one of this nation’s bedrock manufacturing industries is crippled to the point of collapse. Those nice campaign speeches and pronouncements won’t count for much at that point, I can assure you.

Today, nine raucous years later, much of what I set out to do with Ujian-nasional.info has been accomplished.

We took you "behind the curtain" and gave you an up-close look at the Wizards, the Dullards and everyone else in between in this business. And we still do it every week.

We still say what the others are only thinking (or whispering) in deep background, “off-the-record” conversations, and we will continue to do so.

And we still "influence the influencers" every single week.

To our supporters we say thank you - from the bottom of our hearts to the depths of our fuel-injected souls.

Delivering The Truth, The Whole Truth...and absolutely nothing but The High-Octane Truth has been an exhilarating ride.

And to our esteemed detractors, well, we're giving you fair warning:

We're not through yet.

Thanks for listening, see you all next Wednesday.