This is going to have to be another “quick hit” because I’m struggling with Premiere Pro’s shakiness on the Mac platform – and yeah, I know, I should be using Final Cut Pro, but I’m trying to once again use myself as a guinea pig to see what problems crop up when you try to migrate footage from one platform to another. Which is not without its little surprises.

Anyway, I like to keep an eye on what advertisers are saying, and this little article in AdAge caught my eye: it’s ostensibly about what the auto industry can learn from how Apple has revitalized its brand with the iPhone and other portable gadgets in recent years. Check out these grafs:

Functionality: Auto execs pondering how to replicate the iPhone’s commercial and cultural success would be wise to note that the iPhone is not simply a marketing phenomenon. The iPhone is a breakthrough product. It revolutionized the mobile phone business through design, features and functionality.

One way for auto companies to create breakthrough products may be to begin thinking like a consumer-electronics brand. Technology brands are the new car. Throughout the last century, the automobile stood for freedom, mobility and joy. Cars represented modern life at its best. Today that role is served by each new smart phone, gaming system, wafer-thin laptop or home theater that joyfully proclaims that the present is better than the past. An automaker should commit to creating a truly modern car, a car that democratizes the latest technologies; a car that liberates us from tired compromises by proving that design and performance go hand in hand with safety and environmental responsibility; a car that is an extension of the personal technologies we use to make our lives more efficient, organized and entertaining. Create a car that joyfully proclaims that today is better than yesterday.

I think you see where I’m going with this already. Both the auto industry and the newspaper industry are in dire straits these days because they stubbornly cling to the products and business models that made them so much money for so long. And instead of really re-tooling to confront the threats that they’ve long been warned were coming, both industries still seem mired in pointing fingers at the competition – the Big 3 automakers and their fans once again bitching about competition from Japan, and newspapers having hissy fits about Google and blaming Craigslist for the imminent collapse of Western Civilization As We Know It.

The article goes on to tout Apple’s limiting supply and thus creating demand – the way that the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii did – which really doesn’t apply to newspapers. But the bit on coming up with new distribution models … now THAT is a fat pitch right down the strike zone.

And I especially like the recognition that the iPhone is a product that looks towards the future; that rejects “tired compromises.” I think that a lot of the pessimism and anger in the newsrooms has leaked over and tainted the news coverage. One of the places where this might be happening is in the news about the economy. I’m not saying that everything is wine & roses out there – I’ll leave that to Phil Gramm – but perhaps when you look around the newsroom and see nothing but empty desks and sad, echoing offices full of junked-out computer equipment, it becomes easier to believe that the entire economy is in in rock-bottom shitsville.

Apple was in similar straits about 10 years ago. They had to take money from Microsoft (i.e. The Evil Empire) just to survive. They were irrelevant, except to a hard core of graphic designers and photographers, and their notebooks kept catching on fire. They came up with the iPod and the entire music business was changed forever.

There are proposals out there for what newspapers could do. What they could become.

The U.S. is not yet ready to adopt some of the things that I’ve seen working elsewhere. Things that could cause the kind of “buzz” and speculation here about what newspapers are doing. That would bring back that “give ’em hell” sense of daring that is sadly missing from Big Corporate America.

In about a year, after the election-year ad spike really bottoms out, newspapers may just be desperate enough to try these radical re-thinkings of their core products and business methods. I just hope by that time, it is still possible to turn this industry around.

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