I've been out of touch with the auto business for the past three weeks, so I don't know who's doing what with whom; what brands are up, and which are down, who is partnering with whom for what and why. Things change so fast in the business that I’m now at a major disadvantage.
I returned to the U.S. from Eastern Europe on Friday, and this morning was greeted with a release about Hyundai's new media agency, Canvas Worldwide, created from scratch by Innocean and Horizon Media. I thought I had news until I did the requisite search. Oops. I had not brought my computer with me overseas, so I’d missed the memo. I could have used my phone, I guessed but had refused; the trip was as much about getting away from Trump’s face as anything else.
Actually, the first news I got from “outside” came from the TV monitor at my gate at Zurich, something about an explosion. A couple of compatriots were also watching the newscast. “What? Where?” They must also have been traveling light, digitally speaking. And speaking of the explosion, it was also the first auto news: hundreds of new cars, Toyotas mostly, burned in that maelstrom in China. Oh, yeah, that and the fatalities. I remember when I started covering the beat back in 2000, when I had to write an item about a cargo ship that sank in the English Channel or thereabouts. Hundreds of Volvos went down, lost at sea. I made some stupid joke about “so much for ‘Volvo safety’” at the edit meeting.
My timing, disasters notwithstanding, has been pretty good. The automotive business is pretty flat in August. Production tends to go into idle for a few weeks, and the clutch is depressed on marketing, too, as the spring/summer campaigns transition to fall, with its new opportunities for marketers to activate dance partnerships around fall football, new TV seasons, fall model launches and whatnot. I always know I'm heading into the Valley of the Shadow of Editorial Death when the big news is the Woodward Dream Cruise, which, thankfully, happened while I was gone.
The only time car stuff came up was in Warsaw, where I saw a most interesting experiential marketing program from Mercedes-Benz Polska. They did something you would never see in the U.S. because of how uptight we are about booze. But if you go into a Burger King in Eastern Europe, you can get a beer with that Whopper. Mercedes had a pop-up lounge on a park, a stylized wood-paneled pavilion with full bar, Barcalounges, Mercedes-Benz toys for kids, outdoor seating, and really good drinks, including a range of vodkas.
But visiting Warsaw is revisiting World War II, so it felt a little odd to have a beer on Mercedes at Ogrod Krasinski after having just visited the Polin Museum. However, as travelers to Poland quickly understand, time and nature render the past silent, and turn history to memorials, monuments, and plaques, of which Warsaw is packed. One of them commemorates Willy Brandt’s spontaneous act of contrition 45 years ago at the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto. The memorial of him kneeling is 100 yards or so from the Polin Museum, dedicated to the 1,000-year history of Jews in Poland, a history that pretty much ended in 1943.
Back in the world, it’s slow; probably will be until September, so I'll now step out to the bar next door (It’s Korean, so they definitely don’t have Zubrowka vodka) and raise one to the quick, the dead, and maybe even to Willy, may he kneel in peace.