If you've worked in radio for any length of time, chances are you've been involved in a start-up – the launch of a new brand. It's exciting, a little scary at times, but highly rewarding especially if you capture the moment with a sound, a format, or an idea your market embraces.
I wish I knew how many I've been involved in over the years, because they never get old. Between firing up all those Classic Rock stations in the '80s, Edge stations in the '90s, and countless others during the last 20 years, I've experienced that thrill of victory, and yes, at times, the agony of defeat.
It's one thing to bring something brand new to a market – it's another to jumpstart a station that's been neglected or mismanaged. The degree of difficulty goes up much more when you're trying to resurrect a brand. I've had fewer of these “thrill rides” because they are much more rare and exponentially harder to pull off.
I was on the team when the Rich family brought 97Rock in Buffalo back from the dead more than three decades ago. That was a fun one, and the station is among the market leaders today, thanks in no small part to John Hager, who's been in the PD chair all these years.
Our company was involved with the turnaround at The End in Seattle a few years back. A heritage alternative station, KNDD floundered through many different iterations before righting itself under the guidance and vision of Leslie Scott and Dave Richards, bolstered by their now-famous “Two Minute Promise.”
Suffice it to say, these are heavy lifts, because when a radio station has gone astray and lost its compass, you can't just wave a wand to bring it back.
The same is true with car brands. As a native Detroiter and someone who's had more than my share of involvement with cars and the radio broadcasting industry, I love to be a student of the automotive marketing game. What kind of ads do brands run, what are their strategies, and what can those of us in radio learn from players such as Ford, Toyota, and Subaru, as well as newcomers like Tesla?
And I believe I've discovered the key, particularly when it involves a makeover of a once-great car brand.
That's right – licensing a hard-driving, classic anthem from a band formed more than half a century ago may, in fact, be the secret sauce.
The first automaker that used a Zep song – “Rock And Roll,” to be precise – was Cadillac as the soundtrack to their “Break Through” campaign in 2002. Originally, their agency had sought to license the aptly titled Doors song, “Break On Through,” but couldn't get that deal done.
Plan B was Led Zeppelin, and it turned out to be a great fallback position. The “Break Through” spots jumped out of your TV, made noise, and helped relaunch a automobile line that was mostly popular among aging fat cats. Zeppelin signified that something very important and even earth-shaking was happening to a venerable, but stuffy line of cars. Led Zep's driving guitars, drums, and vocals signified that things were changing at Cadillac:
But as you can see from watching the spot, this looks (and actually was) a long time ago. The “Break Through” campaign reversed years of bad sales and low interest in a brand that was once one of the most prestigious in the world. It was a hands-down success.
Now, it may be happening again – to another car brand that was left for dead. It was once white hot, but eventually became a joke, a symbol of American excess.
Of course, I'm talking about the Hummer.
This unique military-inspired vehicle was introduced right after the Persian Gulf War in the early '90s – a civilian version of the Humvee we watched American war heroes drive around the Middle East. The unique Hummer brand was bought by General Motors a few years later, and several different models were marketed, initially very successfully.
But then came the Great Recession, and a decreasing demand for SUVs, especially epic gas guzzlers like the Hummer. In fact, the vehicle's brand image rapidly devolved, becoming a symbol of inefficiency and waste. After attempts to sell it off, GM finally shut down Hummer in 2010.
And now it's coming back
This time around, the Hummer has been fully electrified – somewhat ironic, but very intriguing. The new Hummer EV was officially relaunched a few days ago by GMC.
This version of Hummer is an electric truck featuring 1,000 horsepower, and the ability to hit 60 mph in just 3 seconds. It has a range of 350 miles, and a price tag that's just north of $112,000.
The agency has selected none other than LeBron James to voice some of the new commercials.
But perhaps even more revealing was the choice of Led Zeppelin's “Immigrant Song” as the Hummer EV's blistering soundtrack. But the twist is that it's the Nine Inch Nails-inspired version (from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) sung by Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs). And while the commercial is loud – the new Hummer EV is dead quiet.
This new Hummer has some amazing features (yes, it even “crab walks”), and one of the selling points is that it's powerful…but quiet because of its electric innards.
Can Led Zeppelin once again help GM revive and resuscitate another luxury brand? And in the middle of a global pandemic?
That's where this blog post should end. But in researching Led Zeppelin and cars, I came across an even older model that was – in its day – much cooler than Cadillac or Hummer.
Never heard of it?
That's because the Indiana-built vehicle was only made during the Great Depression, which as you might imagine, was part of the reason it didn't make it.
The Cord was way ahead of it time – front-wheel drive, hidden headlamps, and other innovations.
Unlike the Hummer, there are no plans to revive the Cord. But I ran across this custom version that looks like it came right out of a ZZ Top video. Yup, a Led Zeppelin-inspired Cord.
Could some hard-driving rock n' roll heavy metal relaunch this classic car?
I'm thinking the opening strains of “Communication Breakdown.”