I'm one of those people who's fascinated by bad. Especially bad that doesn't know it's bad. Take the absurd language hauled out by square corporate types -- you know, the ones who are always providing solutions, who use architect and impact as verbs. These people are amusing precisely because they have no idea just how out of touch they are with reality.
But yesterday, I got a sample of corporate bad that's so bad, I'm not even sure I can laugh.
It's something called myFord Owner Magazine, sent to my house by, you guessed it, Ford (NYSE: F ) . It's one of those faux lifestyle magazines. You know the ones. They try putting together human-interest articles that relate to their products or services, mix in a few product plugs, and positivelyimpact the brand.
Let me be blunt. Ford's publication is the worst of its kind I've ever seen. This "magazine" is so awful, I wouldn't put it in my guest bathroom. (Sorry, folks, you'll have to read the toothpaste tube like everyone else.) Seriously, it's such a misery to behold, they ought to make it the only publication allowed in Moussaoui's new Colorado supermax cell.
Since not everyone is lucky enough to receive this publication, I'll try to describe it to you. To begin with, the cover photo makes a cash-back attempt to hawk the Ford Escape, precisely at the time when Americans are being walloped by $3.30-per-gallon gas, with suck-V drivers experiencing the greatest pain. Next up, we get a full-page, blurrily photographed mug of Chairman and CEO Bill Ford, who, for reasons unknown to humanity, seems to believe his face can help sell cars. (It makes me want to buy eyedrops.)
Inside are other one-page tidbits disguised as human-interest content, glam photos of Ford designers, or full-page blowups of the Cobra logo. But the unholiest of unholies is the writing, which is so thick with absurd adspeak, you'd think it was written by the crew at The Onion or The Simpsons -- especially that episode where Krusty starts shilling for the Canyonero.
Cherry-picked letters to the editor exclaim: "I love my 2003 Expedition. It takes me everywhere, and the amount of stuff you can put in the back continues to amaze me. ... Thanks for creating such a great and incredibly versatile vehicle."
In the center, the "Spirit of Route 66" feature contains exciting, hard-hitting, narrative nuggets such as "The perfect vehicle for the trip, I knew, would be the Ford Explorer -- a rugged, stylish performer from a company that has roots as deep in American motoring as Route 66 itself ..."
If you can suppress your gag, it might still be possible to enjoy this on the irony level -- if it weren't such a serious symptom of the problem with American carmakers in general.
Here we've got Ford in the middle of major operational problems, losing money hand over fist, and they're wasting money on four-color glossy magalogs delivered to people who already own Ford vehicles?
It just looks desperate -- like managers tossing the proverbial plate of noodles at a wall to see whether anything will stick. It reminds me of GM's (NYSE: GM ) continued, misguided denial and its attempts to use asset fire sales and nifty accounting maneuvers to climb its way back toward "profits." Meanwhile, pesky foreigners like Toyota (NYSE: TM ) and Honda (NYSE: HMC ) keep building market share, and half-foreigners like DaimlerChrysler (NYSE: DCX ) hold their own.
Yes, myFord is just a tiny bit of a vast company, but I also believe that sometimes we can diagnose the body's disease by examining a single digit. If this plug-per-paragraph magazine is any indication of the sophistication of Ford's marketing people, they need to take a break from laying off assembly-line workers and start hunting bigger game.
Some free, unsolicited advice to Ford: Say goodbye to everyone involved in creating, writing, and approving this (unintentional) joke. But before you do, hire someone who's willing to explain to you exactly why you shouldn't be pasting photos of googly-eyed Bill Ford on every ad, and why it offends the ears of normal people everywhere when suits like you say things like Ford has "got your back."
If that reads to you like so much "blah blah blah," Let me put it into words you might understand: You need to architect a solution that will impact consumers in a way that makes them laugh with you, not at you.
Seth Jaysonthinks Ford should architect some ads as interesting as VW's. The reader who sends him the best description of just how bad myFord magazine is will receive Seth's copy. At the time of publication, he had no positions in any company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profilehere. Fool rules arehere.