F’d Company

July 24, 2006


It’s heartening that Ford has finally gotten around to making vehicles reasonable people might want to buy. And it’s disheartening that the company has moved its weaknesses from the factory floor to the airwaves.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Car TV advertising, with very few exceptions, is the Lindsay Lohan of the marketing world: ubiquitous and inane. When they’re not shilling the “unique look” of utterly interchangeable coupes, the shmoes responsible for moving units drive those same coupes on scenic highways with the common attribute that they’ll never, ever be as traffic-free as they are in the ad. Even when they’re “edgy” (see: Hummer), auto commercials tend towards such implausible overfreighting that, if only to guard your dignity, it’s impossible to remember five minutes later what was being sold (see: Hummer’s latest tag, “Restore Your Manhood.” Cialis, anyone?). 

Ford has avoided these problems. It has done so by unleashing a series of commercials that are vastly worse than anything else on the market. It’s a bold new direction, I guess: the vehicle doesn’t move, but the dude selling it does. And boy, does that dude have an attitude.

Ford’s campaign features a man from the Bruce Willis School of Rockin’ Out, wagging his fingers and closing his eyes in moments of presumed soulfulness, or possibly just gas. He dances around a Lucite stage and performs a one-man Busby Berkeley in wingtips as he sings a song of empowerment. Its lyrics include the timeless phrase, “I do it my way, because that’s what I say.” He ends by bellowing the word, “possibilities!”—presumably what awaits him at the county talent show quarterfinals. 

So here’s Ford’s recipe for rebuilding: 

Have a forty-five-year-old throw a tantrum where he reminds you that he’s boss

Give him choreography and staging worthy of an Albanian theme park

Hope that this somehow obliterates the memory of the creepy final days of the Taurus

I guess there may be a person out there to whom this appeals. But I very much doubt that there’s more than one.


Dunce Caps

July 24, 2006


With apologies to St. Augustine, give me large caps…just not yet.

That’s what the market seems to be praying these days. Oh, sure, everyone with a receding hairline and an MBA claims the biggies are back. And then, like folks at the Jonestown 30th Anniversary Party punchbowl, buyers seem to be sticking hands in their pockets and mumbling, “no, really, you first.”

So J&J, GE, et al. are gussied up with new dividends, stock buybacks and even (gasp!) growth, but nobody wants to dance. There are all sorts of intelligent explanations for this, but the one that seems to me to be the least intelligent, and truest, is that people are scared. Scared of safety. Because, god knows, there has to be a catch when you can buy companies with 125-year histories of expansion for only a little above book value, when you can have the best managers in the world work for you for much less, relatively speaking, than options-crazed gurus who are so, so close to developing a means of extracting ethanol from snake oil. 

The common wisdom is that now is a great time to get into large, high-quality companies with strong, sustainable competitive advantages. This would require a willingness to break ranks with the people who’ve slapped 3M to a 52-week low. But keep in mind that unanimity tends to appear at two places: the top of a market, and the bottom. We’re in the rare instance now where the smart money hasn’t caught up with the smart mouths. How much longer do you think this division will last? 

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July 10, 2006

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