In my years as an ad agency copywriter, I have seen just about every kind of automotive marketing scheme in the proverbial book. Some have been brilliant and quite successful; others, not so much. Falling into the latter category is well-intentioned but almost always misguided co-branding, which involves a car company teaming up with a well-known non-automotive brand with the aim of increasing sales for both. Sometimes it works: Witness the Ford F-150 King Ranch and Harley-Davidson editions. Other collaborations (think Levi’s Gremlin and Imperial FS “Sinatra” Edition) are less successful. And in the seventh circle of marketing hell are hookups that spawned offspring to rival Jeff Goldblum’s Brundlefly for unalloyed repulsiveness. As Santayana observed, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. With that in mind, let us revisit some four-wheeled Brundleflies in the hope that they will forever represent the last of their ilk.
By the early Seventies, it had become painfully obvious to Lincoln’s product planners that the wallets of an increasing number of Town Car shoppers carried an AARP card as well as a driver’s license. Eventually, the findings of Lincoln-sponsored focus groups were condensed into a now-infamous marketing brief, The Prostate-Driven Life; it led to the first (and last) partnership in history between FoMoCo and Kohler. The result was, to say the least, a disaster. After a steady stream of initial sales, interest slowed to a trickle shortly after Cadillac, still flush with cash, introduced the Opel-based Cathatera with the tagline “The Caddy That Zips.”
Buick Pork Avenue & Cadillac deVeal
Talk about your Broug-hams! Since Midwesterners love big ol’ American cars and big ol’ slabs of meat, it was only a matter of time before GM and Armour Star joined forces and rolled out these two heifers. Actually, they weren’t bad cars; in both cases, the chief drawback involved an irresistible exhaust aroma that proved too tempting to the packs of howling, hungry dogs in constant and inevitable chase. The whole unpleasant episode caused GM to ban future meat-related cross-promotions, thus killing off any hope of a GM-McDonalds Fleetwood Mac Edition.
Any wild and crazy, babe-magnet, swingin’ kind of guy will tell you nothing’s as sexy as a hot tub–providing it’s in-ground, just as the Almighty intended. Sure, there are a few oddball Jacuzzi-equipped stretch limos rolling around, but most of them started life as Escalades or Excursions. What wasn’t so sexy was replacing the back seat of a muscle coupe with a fiberglass cauldron of bubbling hot water. The conversion did absolutely nothing for acceleration, braking, handling or muscle relaxation, a lesson that Chevrolet and Cal Spas learned very quickly.
Ford Mustang Ranchero
Actually, this is an example of accidental co-branding. The idea of a Mustang Ranchero tested very positively in focus group after focus group. According to group participants, the Mustang Ranchero name inspired thoughts of freedom, open skies and limitless pleasure. However, all it conjured up in the minds at Ford’s legal department was a rather celebrated brothel located in Nevada, despite the fact that a bed in back was all they had in common.
Buick LeSabre Saw
When Black & Decker first approached GM with this idea, on some level it might have made of sense: “OK, guys, here’s the concept. Every full-size car on the road has power steering and brakes, but get this, fellas—we can give them the first power tools!” Soaring insurance rates, caused by excessive claims for finger replacement surgery, quickly killed sales of the buzzy Buicks. The remaining cars were stripped of their saws and rebadged as Cutlesses.
Apparently marketing stupidity does not stop at the water’s edge. Consider this unfortunate offspring of between Hyundai and Big Tobacco. Instead of lighting up the sales charts, this unfiltered bundle of wrong quickly became Sonata non grata among car shoppers and smokers alike.
There are simply too many examples of automotive/cinematic co-branding to cover individually, but a few efforts stand out:
In 1972, The Godfather sparked a mob-culture craze that added such phrases as “An offer he couldn’t refuse” and “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli” to the American lexicon. It was too late for American Motors to cash in with a Marlin Brando Edition, but Chevrolet pounced on the opportunity by offering a limited-run Monte Corleone. The interior featured a unique pistol-grip shifter between the front buckets, while the trunk had a second pair of buckets–of cement.
The classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird inspired an iconic and eponymous motion picture. The idea of a Ford-Cuervo “Tequila Thunderbird” died quickly after Henry II actually thought it through and considered the consequences of being in bed with a distiller—most probably after a night of hard drinking.
Besides being well-heeled, ultra upscale buyers tend to be well-grounded in the literary arts. An idea recently pitched to Rolls-Royce involved a special Grapes of Wraith Edition that would include a collection of first editions signed by John Steinbeck. The adman who proposed it was immediately placed in restraints and forcibly taken away by Rolls-Royce Security. He is now forbidden to so much as set foot in a Rolls-Royce dealership. You know, I’m going to miss that most of all.