Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Bentley: The New Sound of A Brand Down the Drain

Shell advertisement from the Festival of Britain featuring a Bentley

In 1951, a Shell advert proclaimed that one went “very fast very gently in a Bentley”.

In that same year, Bentley’s own advertising proclaimed that theirs was “The Silent Sports Car”.

David Ogilvy, in his imperious advert for the ’59 Rolls Royce, went so far as to say that the Bentley alternative was for the diffident.

And even when growing up in the decade that taste largely forgot – the 1980s – Bentley remained the choice of the discreet.

Indeed, all the way up until 2003 a Bentley was a luxuriously appointed ride under the radar.

Then Volkswagen came along and buggered it all up.

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Speaking Your Mind in the Automotive Sector

To many of you working outside of the automotive sector, the exchange you see above is probably fairly unremarkable. It’s just two guys discussing their different perspectives on a product.

Within the hallowed halls of automotive design however, what you’ve just witnessed is the equivalent of Lloyd Bentsen saying to Dan Quayle “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy”.

It really is that big a deal.

But you know what, it’s not even Chris Bangle’s damnation by the faintest of praise that really matters here.

It’s simply the fact that we’re seeing Chris -one-time enfant terrible of the automotive design world- go head to head with Jason Castriota who was, before today, the golden child of the sector in many peoples’ eyes in a public forum. They’re having, albeit briefly, a proper debate about Jason’s work.

Open criticism and discourse have always been an underpinning facet of any developed or developing culture (and I’m using the term culture in the broadest possible sense here). It’s the exchanges between peers and between peers and critics, sometimes unpleasant but fundamentally constructive, that give us cause to question our trajectory and properly test our thinking.

But criticism and discourse are the two things that the automotive sector, particularly the design component of it, has always lacked. Sure, there have been small efforts embarked on by individuals, but the industry press has been far too shy to deeply -critically- question how and what car companies are doing.

But today, I hope, this has begun to change. Full credit to Eric and the crew at Car Design News for being on hand to capture this and having the guts to put it live. In a way it’s a shame that Castriota and his new employer Saab should be the first subject of properly public debate. But we had to start a proper conversation somewhere. Long may it continue.

About DownSideUp Design

I'm Drew Smith and I'm an ethnographer and strategist. By day I shape culture and strategy at Westpac. By night I sleep (mostly). And once a month, I help teams host an event called Rising Minds in London, New York, Toronto and Sydney.

DownsideUpDesign is a place for me to collect stuff that I like, often love and sometimes hate for safe keeping. All views represented here are mine and mine alone and do not represent those of anyone else.

Get in touch at drewpasmith (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet me (@drewpasmith) to rant, contribute or collaborate!

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© Andrew Philip Artois Smith and DownsideUpDesign, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew/Drew Smith and DownsideUpDesign with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.