One of the hobbies that my wife and I share is watching both college and professional football – American football for the international readers. Sometimes I am not sure why I like it so much; I am actually a pretty peaceful kind of guy. This last weekend was a big one for the sport, so we took in parts of a large number of games while decorating the house for Christmas, after our Thanksgiving meal and while recuperating from a 10 mile early morning hike.
During that long period of watching some intense competition and fabulously athletic plays, I also saw a whole bunch of commercials. Thanks to Ms. Pace, my high school semantics and rhetoric teacher, I tend to pay attention to commercials in a way that is a bit different from the way most people tune them out. I actually watch and try to figure out how effective the message is, what kinds of rhetorical techniques are being used, and how well the commercial suits the audience that might be exposed to it.
During the weekend I must have seen well over 100 plays of commercials by Ford, Chrysler, and GM, nearly all of which were focused on selling massively powerful pickup trucks. There was one with about a half dozen teams racing through an obstacle course, one with a guy towing a boat to the lake for the weekend, and one with a huge load of dirt being dumped into the bed and hauled away. Nearly every commercial break included one, two or three pick-up trucks being driven in ways that automatically result in low fuel economy. The pictured interiors for these muscular machines, however, came with leather, wi-fi connectivity, extra room in the back seat, back-up cameras, and turn by turn navigation displays.
Don’t get me wrong. I recognize that pick-up trucks are often owned and operated by professionals like farmers, carpenters, and plumbers who need the attributes of a truck. I also recognize, however, that these trucks were being marketed to people that wanted to feel like they were rough, tough and powerful even if their normal auto use is driving back and forth to an air conditioned, city office. Is it possible that American auto manufacturers remain out of touch with the reality of the world’s available petroleum supplies?
I also noted with interest a December 1, 2008 article from Automotive News titled Marketing budgets collapse: Cash-starved companies slash ads, events and other spending. According to that article, there may be some relief in sight for sports fans that are not terribly fond of big truck commercials.
“Automakers are whacking TV commercials, events and other spending as they urgently cut marketing costs to conserve cash.
“We are looking at a distressed industry,” said Andrew Capone, senior vice president at New York’s NCC, which sells spots on cable TV nationwide.
Fourth-quarter spending is “very weak,” Capone reported. Next year, he predicted, spending cuts could be in double-digit percentages.”
The numbers involved are enormous, according to the article, spending for commercials from the Big Three American automakers during the first 9 months of 2008 totaled more than $2.5 billion, DOWN 17% from the year before. Slicing double digit amounts from that kind of base ads up to some large dollar amounts. I wonder how the media machine will react to their loss of income? Stay tuned.