May 3, 2006
Ford's Biggest Departure
Yet From Reality
mind publicity stunts. I once talked someone into building a 50-foot
burrito to try to get on TV – and it would have worked if some idiot
hadn’t decided to do his barricaded-gunman routine at the local high
school just as the TV cameras were showing up at my friend’s
gunmen cause more problems than you realize. But that doesn’t mean
publicity stunts can’t be fun and even helpful to your business.
Unfortunately, much of the time people decide to try publicity stunts
because it seems easier than making products that – how shall I say
this? – people actually want. But even then, it still might work if the
stunt is creative and interesting enough.
which – creative, interesting, products people actually want – has
anything to do with Ford Motor Company and its latest publicity stunt
idea. Ford plans to produce its own reality TV show about people
designing concept cars.
a scintillating idea. A bunch of engineers sitting around talking about
what a car might be like. I think I’ll tune in to that as soon as I
finish watching Tinkle, the new no-holds-barred look at how
leading-edge urinal designers plan to minimize flow misdirection and
splash overage in 21st Century men’s rooms.
you find a more compelling convergence of concepts and cultures more
disconnected from reality than we find here. The so-called reality show
– strangers together on an island, strangers racing across the country,
housewives ballroom dancing with Mr. Peterman from Seinfeld - has
about as much to do with most people’s reality as the Hell’s Angels have
to do with Longaberger gift baskets.
the people who make “reality” shows are probably more connected to
actual reality than most people in the automotive industry, where people
speak their own language, run in their own circles, make their own
economic rules and never doubt for a second that everyone in America is
obsessed with the products they make.
people, cars are nice, in some cases even fun. Some of them are kind of
cool. But for the most part, cars are utilitarian. They get you from
Point A to Point B, hopefully without costing you too much money,
sucking up too much gas or making you nauseous in the process. What cars
are not is romance. Or adventure. Or your girlfriend. Or a substitute
for a substandard body part.
are for some people – the ones that leave you looking at your watch all
the time when they’re talking to you. But for most people, they’re just
cars. You pick the color you like. You pick a style that doesn’t remind
you of your Aunt Helga’s breadbin. And you buy it and drive it to the
steeped in the culture of the auto industry have no idea about any of
this. They think everyone in America eats, sleeps and breathes dreamy
thoughts about the cars they’re making. So it only makes sense that they
would expect us to tune in to watch them making said cars – even as it
would make no sense whatsoever for anyone to actually do so.
respect engineers as much as the next guy, but do you know any? Even if
they were reading scripts written by Steven Spielberg, I don’t think
they would be very interesting to listen to. What are they going to be
like when they’re sitting around expressing their own thoughts? And you,
you’re watching it on TV!
Ford might want to research a few of the popular reality shows before it
makes its own. People talking about what a car should be like is not
going to cut it. You need one engineer who’s secretly sleeping with
Paula Abdul. You need an engineer who comes to work naked every day, and
who, needless to say, is very careful how close he gets to some
of the equipment in the plant. You need a marketing supervisor who has
just swapped mothers with the union shop steward, only to discover that
she is loud, foul-mouthed and insufferable. (Fortunately, she only comes
to work with him a few times before being named the newest panelist on
say none of this sounds like it has anything to do with reality? Don’t
tell me. Tell Ford. They’re the ones who think you want to watch them
making blueprints, talking about torque and screaming at each other
about where to put ashtrays.
trying to warn them. Not enough people have wanted to buy their cars for
quite some time. Now they want to show people the process by which they
create these cars people don’t want to buy?
for them, reality is going to work in their favor here. No one will
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