It used to be selling cars involved nothing more than selling cars. You talk up the engine, the paint job, and the tires. You toss in some chrome tailfins and fuzzy dice, and you have a deal.
Now, it seems the car-sales business is going straight to hell in a hand basket, and I, for one, blame the French. Specifically French automaker and two-cylinder engine juggernaut Citroen.
The company, knowing that it has to be edgy in these crazy days and times, ran newspaper ads in Spain inexplicably featuring huge pictures of Mao Zedong.
The message being... our cars will erase your bourgeois consciousness? They will redistribute your wealth to the upper echelons of the Communist party? Who knows?
What is for sure is that Citroen forgot one key fact: It has to do business in China, too. And as Reuters put it, "Many Chinese retain a God-like admiration for Mao." The company was forced to humble itself in further explanations and public apologies in China, assuring everyone that it did not actually think Mao would like their crappy cars.
A bit of forward-thinking could have scotched the whole idea. The two competing visions of Mao are, essentially, "Ronald Reagan, but generous," or "Joseph Stalin, without the mustache." Neither man seems a proper spokesmodel for a line of French cars.
Citroen should think about approaching Mr. Bean for an endorsement deal. He's weak, his communications are muddled, and he tends to fall down.
PR Play rating:
3. On the right track