“Somewhere out there, a mom or dad is explaining to Mustang-loving children they didn’t get to see the new model because Ford was playing ‘I’ve Got A Secret’ when the family spent its time and money on a day at the show.”
The Detroit Free Press is madder than the proverbial hatter over Ford’s decision to delay the introduction of the 2018 Mustang until the Tuesday of the NAIAS public week. But you can ignore all the hysteria, including Freep’s suggestion that Ford offered refunds to everybody who attended the Charity Preview and the first three public days, because once again, Ford’s got a better idea — and it’s one that is going to be used everywhere from Audi to Volvo in years to come.
With its late-breaking Mustang introduction, Ford was merely taking advantage of Wee Willie Keeler’s famous advice: “Keep your eye on the ball and hit ’em where they ain’t.” In this case, of course, the “ball” is publicity and the sales to which that publicity leads. And hitting ’em where they ain’t? Why, that just refers to finding an open spot in the news cycle.
Let’s start with this: Revealing a new car at the Detroit Auto Show is a waste of time and resources. As Natalie Merchant would say, it’s a tear in a salted sea. The journosaurs and vid-kids are rushing from one press event to the next, trying to digest your spiel into a three-paragraph summary to go with some hastily-snapped shots or the pre-loaded embargo pics given to them ahead of time. Nothing you say or show is going to get a full share of attention. It will just be stacked up with the rest of the news from the show.
All of that is well and good if you’re just introducing some new trim levels or blabbering on about mobility, but if you’ve spent a couple of billion dollars on a new car, or even the hundreds of millions of dollars involved in a major refresh like the 2018 ‘Stang, sticking with the regular show program will ensure that you wind up being stuck between the new Odyssey and the new LS500 in the enthusiast-site show round-ups. That’s no good.
Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen an increasing number of automakers step outside the traditional Detroit-show script to get special attention for their products. Because the self-sustaining blobular entity that we know as the journosaur-PR-industrial complex thinks in certain narrow and predictable paths, most of these off-schedule reveals have come in the form of a fabulously expensive and exclusive party before the show to which only the the most dependable bootlickers/influencers are usually invited. The quid pro quo is both fair and explicit: we cover your dinner and drinks for the evening, you write about our product before you get swept away in the rushing tide of Monday’s press-release events.
Ford’s certainly done that sort of thing in the past, but this time I think somebody decided to apply some intelligent thought to the process. It probably went something like this:
- We don’t want to be buried in the Monday rush.
- But doing it beforehand is both expensive and difficult, because the average toad-shaped journosaur will skip the 2018 Mustang’s reveal for a Rolls-Royce or Mercedes-Benz party every single time.
- But… and here’s the key piece of thinking…
- nobody buys a car right after the show anyway!
- So it’s not necessary to beat the show… you only have to be separate from the show.
So, Ford waits a week for all the hype and all the PR and all the hot takes to die down… and then, BAM! NEW MUSTANG, BICHEZZZZZ! Had they shown it in the midst of all the sustainability crap the previous Monday, it would have been worth two sentences in a wrap-up piece. But by letting it appear on the public day with relatively little fanfare, Ford created a newsworthy story all by itself.
There’s a particular scene from the book God Emperor Of Dune that I’d like to use as a metaphor here, but how many of you have read the book? Very few, so let’s just continue on. (If you did read the book, think back to when the Face Dancers attack Leto’s cart in the form of multiple Duncan Idahos, and the real Duncan chooses an unusual way to differentiate himself.) The point is that you’ve got to hit ’em where they ain’t if you want to make real waves in $THE_CURRENT_YEAR.
There’s no debate to be had about the brilliance of Ford’s action. The only question left: Was it ethical? The Free Press’ Mark Phelan is upset that the car wasn’t available for viewing during the Charity Preview or the first few days of the show. As far as the Charity Preview goes — seriously, fuck those people twice. I attended the Charity Preview every year from 2001 to 2007 and every year I walked away asking myself why I was spending $800 to associate with the biggest group of loudmouthed jerkoffs in the Midwest. So they didn’t see a Mustang. So what. If you can spend $450 or more per head on a party, you’re probably not a buyer for a 2018 Mustang anyway. Based on what I saw at that event, 90 percent of it is standing around holding a champagne glass and desperately trying to make eye contact with somebody whom you have a vague personal or social connection. Shed no tears for the “charitable” — they were all too busy taking selfies in a Rolls-Royce Ghost or something.
Things are a little trickier when you talk about the public, who paid real money to come in and see all the cars. But participation in an auto show for a manufacturer is a matter of choice, not a public duty. Look at Porsche — they skipped the show entirely. You can argue that the Big 2.5 owe the public a little bit of participation, since many of the people visiting the show are employees of the domestic automakers or their suppliers, but it’s hard to define exactly what is “owed” there.
If you didn’t see the 2018 Mustang at the auto show because you went early, you have two choices. You can go back, of course. Or you can visit a Ford dealer. This latter option is what Ford would prefer, because you can’t buy Mustangs at the auto show. You have to go to the dealers. So once again we see that Ford is a little smarter than the average bear. Look for the other automakers to start following the Blue Oval’s lead.
Maybe you’ll eventually see the majority of the new-car reveals happening during the actual show, and not the media preview. Once that happens, there’s another question that we’ll all need to ask: What do we need the media preview for, anyway? Why not make the press go to the show like regular people? What harm would it do? If playing “I’ve Got A Secret” is a bad idea, and according to the Freep it most certainly is, then why not get rid of all the secrets entirely?