MISSION: Introduce an Austin-based car builder to a national audience. And quickly (see story).
INSIGHT: While a local legend, Mercury Charlie lacked awareness on a national level. We needed to share his colorful story with a larger audience.
IDEA: Position Mercury Charlie and his crew as old-school, period-correct car-building badasses executing at an extremely high level.
FOUNDATIONAL THOUGHT: If you want to build a legendary car, hire a legendary builder.
WILL WORK FOR CUSTOM CAR FABRICATION. NO, ReALLY.
I’ve got a pal who knows vintage cars, period customs, and hot rods like nobody’s business. Because it is his business.
Mercury Charlie builds custom cars and hot rods for living. Chops ‘em, lowers ‘em, shaves the door handles off of ‘em. He massages old metal to be good as new. Better than new, in fact. But for all that he knows about custom car building, Charlie knows squat about brand-building.
And that was good news for me.
CHARLIE DIDN’T JUST NEED AN AD. HE NEEDED TO CAPTIVATE AN UNTAPPED AUDIENCE IN THE RODDER’S JOURNAL.
The dilemma started when Charlie innocently signed up for four full-page ads in The Rodder’s Journal, which represents the epitome of hot rod and custom car hobby. Trouble was, my old friend had no idea was what it requires to build an effective ad for such a exclusive publication. For those unfamiliar with TRJ, it’s where the movers and the shakers of the hot rodding hobby source wisdom and inspiration. For those who are familiar with it, I don’t have to tell you that it’s the last place you want to run a half-assed ad.
Which brings me back to Charlie, who for all of his car building prowess had no clue about positioning his brand for the high-end market. Luckily for both of us, he asked me to help.
DON’T YOU JUST LOVE THE SMELL OF SERENDIPITY IN THE MORNING?
Charlie came to the right knucklehead. Not only do I have a deep interest in custom cars and hot rods, I’ve been building brands for the better part of a lifetime.
My willingness to dive in and make sure he made the most of this opportunity came with a big, fat caveat.
I was at a pivotal point on my own personal car build project. I needed help. I proposed a straight up exchange. My hours for Charlie’s, trading creative direction, writing and project management for his fabrication skills. In an unusual arrangement, I offered to work with him on my car if he’d give me back the hours I spent on his ad campaign.
the win for me would be having Charlie show me how to fabricate and help build my car, allowing me to invest sweat equity into my project and learn how a skilled fabricator does things.
Gentleman’s agreement firmly made, Charlie started by describing his vision of his ad to me, and I suddenly realized that one of my favorite hot-rod builder had no business building an ad. With neither a communications brief or an own-able position, Charlie would soon be stepping into the national spotlight.
WE WERE EIGHT DAYS FROM DEADLINE AND WE HAD DICK. SO, I CALLED DAVE.
A wiser man would have cut and run. Not me. I called my art director buddy, David Ayriss, who is every bit the gear head I am.
“David, I have a huge opportunity for us. It’s a crappy budget, an unsophisticated client, and an impossible deadline.”
Silence. Then I broke the good news to my hot-rod loving pal. David leapt at the chance once he heard where the ad would be running.
I subsequently explained to Mercury Charlie that I wouldn’t be short-order cooking up his ads from to order. I needed to do the foundational thinking before creating ads. Charlie realized in that moment that he probably asked the wrong guys to whip him up an omelette.
David Ayriss and I had made a pact. We were going to craft the crap out of Charlie’s ad and make it as beautiful as the cars he builds, or go down in flames trying.
NO BUDGET, NO TIME, NO ARTWORK. NO PROBLEM. JUST ANOTHER DAY OF FREELANCE.
We asked Charlie if he had high-res images of any of his car builds. He pointed to an outdated computer. “There might be something you can use in my computer.” We’ll call that dead-end #1. Not a single image was well-composed or an adequate file size for TRJ’s production specs. Fear being one hell of a motivator, we panic-called Curt Iseli, the managing editor of The Rodder’s Journal and asked if there was any way we could access images of Mercury Charlie’s own custom ‘51 Mercury build, which had been featured in TRJ a few years ago.
Fast forward to two days later, and we were staring at beautiful images of Charlie’s ‘51 Mercury. Exterior shots, engine shots, and interior shots, all courtesy of TRJ’s photo library. David began a layout exploration using the existing images, while I was wrote a brief to present to Charlie and his business partner. With that wealth of riches at our disposal, we took the liberty of creating four ads, rather than just one to four times. We also got Charlie to break with a spread ad after finding out from the publisher Curt Iseli that it was an option.
OUR SELLING PROPOSITION? IF YOU WANT TO BUILD A LEGENDARY CAR, CHOOSE A LEGENDARY PERSON.
I recommended positioning Charlie as an old-school legend, a guy who truly understands the nuances of custom car-building. Charlie initially bumped on calling himself a legend, but the more we talked about it, the more he understood my reasoning. People willing to pay far beyond the cost of a high-end new car to build an old one needed to buy into something bigger than just a car. They needed to buy into a guy they could brag to their friends about. The dome light clicked on in Charlie’s noggin and he and his partner suddenly understood, signing off on the brief so that David and could do our voodoo. We conceived Charlie’s initial print ad, and three others, using the existing images and hired a strong local photographer to create the assets for the ads, as well as for Charlie’s website, which I wrote and creative directed with the assistance of Wet Media Design, a local web dev company.
No sooner than we had approved ads, written , we redirected our attention to Mercury Charlie’s website, which needed a refresh, and I pitched him on having me rewrite his entire site to be in line with his new positioning.
With the help of photographer George Brainard, and local web-dev company, Wet Media Designs, Charlie’s website was redesigned in a similar aesthetic to our print campaign and I went to work using tons of hot rodding and custom car-building terms to take full advantage of for SEO.
Phase one of Mercury Charlie’s website was up before the first print ad ran. Whew.
Enough about Charlie’s brand for one page.
Let’s talk about your brand.
NOTE: Cameron Day and David Ayriss are a freelance team with automotive high-performance in their blood. Together, they are the proprietors of Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! (website forthcoming), a freelance service that provides high-octane thinking to the automotive aftermarket. Until recently, they were also available as a freelance team, David continues to freelance under the moniker of Ayriss worldwide. Cameron recently took the creative helm of an Denver advertising agency named after a French film. Fortunately, their Sundays still belong to them. Hint, hint.