Posted in Tuesday's Rant by DCroy on 2 December 2008

It’s time for a new feature on your Untitled blog: Tuesday’s Rant. Tuesday because it’s Tuesday and I haven’t scanned anything. Of course, it’d probably make more sense to make this Wednesday’s or Thursday’s rant (full of woe and half baked, respectively). But it’s Tuesday and we’ll just have to make due.

Today: The end of Marketing. 


These rants are basically theories based on nothing but my own cranky bias, so we’ll take that as a starting point. It seems to me that among the few things upon which there is general agreement, regarding the downfall of Detroit auto makers, is their decades-long streak of woeful products. I have to believe that the designers are good (it’s not easy to get into, much less complete, auto design coursework). And the manufacturing can’t be that bad. So why do the cars suck such big donkey dick?  

My theory is that the designers don’t make the decisions; don’t have very much input in the direction of the products at all. It seems like the marketers poll their focus groups and develop cars based on the whims of a small section of consumers (consumers who, let’s face it, don’t have anything better to do with their evenings than sit in a small room with a two-way mirror, eating Reese’s Pieces and talking about cars with the worst people in the world). The result is cars envisioned by two groups of people (marketers and focus groupers) with zero experience in designing or building cars, with virtually no interest in the history or future of autos. And the people with the experience and interest are directed to follow these directives, constrained by the economics, and we end up with cars that are almost instantly out of date. 

The advantage of this method is that it’s safe – you can make a profit projection (probably pretty small), and safely make it with a car (or SUV) that will sell enough to make the margins. This is what marketers do.

The problem is that you’re then always running behind. I think the beloved cars of past decades (and for that matter, the beloved architecture and signage and graphic design, etc.) was generated by designers creating something out of their own blend of expertise and historical understanding and craftsmanship. It was then the job of the marketers to sell it. The general public has never created something exciting, engaging, or lasting because the consensus is, by definition, bland. 

Will the auto companies figure this out? The marketers will never surely never go away, but shouldn’t the scales be tipped to better balance the importance of design, of the actual things the companies make? Of course they won’t. So maybe it’s time for the companies to die if their structure is so flawed that they no longer know how to make something salable. They should die like old people die: slowly and at great cost to everyone’s bank accounts, to lessen the impact. But die nonetheless.


2 Responses

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  1. Rick Cogley said, on 2 December 2008 at 6:27 pm

    Interesting perspective. A designer friend at Nissan, told me that sometimes there’s truly too many people involved in the designs, and politics get in the way of making great cars. He lamented that “my designs almost never get through unscathed”. –Rick

  2. David Croy said, on 2 December 2008 at 7:01 pm

    I understand that you wouldn’t necessarily want designers going wild without any regard to budget and the market (although I also think the best designers consider those things as part of the job). But yeah, I’ve never once had something improved by the involvement of committees. It’s both nice and disheartening to find that that happens everywhere.

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