Posted by: Chris | February 19, 2008

Toughlove: Arc Audio


In the past, I have alluded to the fact that one of my “youthful” hobbies to which I still cling is that of car audio. I don’t mean that I am one of those obnoxious people who pulls up next to you at a stoplight in a half fiberglassed/half primered car with the distortion volume turned up so loud that you can’t hear your own stereo. I am in what’s known as the “sound quality” camp. Volume is good only in that it delivers precise sound quality. Car audio has been a hobby of mine for years. I am an avid reader of car audio literature-most of which is found in magazines. If I were on a deserted island and could have only one periodical delivered to me in a pop bottle every month, it would not be the Harvard Business Review or Fast Money or WSJ; no, it would be Car Audio and Electronics. I’ve been a subscriber for close to a decade straight now, and every time the latest issue comes in, I get all giddy and I literally flip through every page as soon as I can, just to see what the issue looks like before I begin reading it.

I’ve known for years that one of the weaker areas of car audio journalism is that of its advertising. I’ve joked with my wife that you can always spot the poor quality car audio products by the skanky, scantily clad models in their ads. To coin a rule: car audio equipment quality varies proportionately to the trashiness of the models in the product’s ads.

Recently, I have been seeing an ad that is unaffected by this rule (no ho; ergo, higher quality product), but that is pretty horrible nonetheless. And the sad thing is, the ad combines two “institutions” I respect greatly: Arc Audio and Chip Foose. I’ve followed Arc Audio for some time—an “upper middle” contender, not “crazy good” like Sinfoni, but definitely higher quality than the big-box brands like Rockford and Sony. And Chip Foose-I waited in line for over three hours in the heat and humidity of Oklahoma one day, just to get the man to sign the cover of an issue of Car Audio and Electronics that featured his work. He’s definitely one of my heroes.

But back to my criticism. I suspect I would get in some sort of copyright trouble if I were to scan in the magazine ad and post it, so I’ll simply describe it. It’s on page 29 of the January 2008 issue of Car Audio and Electronics (and has been used in other issues too). At the top of the full page ad (ugh, they had to have spent a lot of money on it) is the Arc Audio logo (good) with Chip Foose’s tiny name inscribed below (an issue I’ll address in a minute). Black background at the top that fades into white/gray at the bottom with large pictures of Arc audio products superimposed in the middle. Fine. But now, it starts to go south. Bottom center: a car with Chip Foose kneeling next to it. Not great. Between the logo and the car/Foose section, the following: ΣΧω σΧΧΩΣΟ, and below that in very small text, “(Greek Translation – “Got Foose?”).” Embarrassing.

So I’ve been picking this ad apart for some time, and I was able to come up with a few marketing/advertising principles transgressed by the good people at Arc Audio that just bothered me:

1. There is no connection between the metaphor and the product– Why are they using Greek to present their primary message? Really, why? Does it tie into the brand? Perhaps it does, but the way in which it does is not readily apparent to this car audio enthusiast of many years. Really Arc Audio, why Greek? I want to know. This questionable transliteration reminds me of my college days when I would see fraternity brothers writing top secret notes to each other using the Greek alphabet but not really knowing and understanding the Greek language. But giving Arc the benefit of the doubt here and assuming that they have actually used the Greek past tense for “get,” correctly, I still ask why? Why the Greek, Arc Audio? I must know why!

2. There is no connection between the allusion and the product– I suppose one could say that the “Got ____?” campaign could apply to any product or service, right? But if the company must allude to someone else’s marketing campaign (an issue addressed next), could it not be something closer to its own industry? Milk and amplifiers? Not even close!

3. The allusion is hackneyed and seriously overused– Let me just take this moment to tell every individual, company, organization, firm, and removable-letter-message-board-using church, if you’re thinking about copying the “Got Milk?” campaign, don’t. Really, just don’t. Please. come up with something original. That is all.

4. It shows a huge waste of resources– Here, you have Overhaulin’s legendary Chip Foose at your disposal. What do you do with him? Sit him next to a car like it’s his senior picture? Brilliant! Come on now Arc Audio, isn’t there something more you could do with this icon? Show him etching his tiny name (more about this below) into the amp itself. Or installing the amp into a sleek, classy car. These ideas, as admittedly simple as they are, do much more to speak about the product than the current picture. Get one of those smart, creative ad guys in there and who knows what one might come up with!

As I researched this further, I found even more that concerned me about Arc Audio’s marketing department. I searched for “Foose amps” online to find Arc Audio’s corporate website. But Arc Audio was not on the first page of results. Not on the second page of results. Not on the third page of results. I gave up. Then, I tried “Arc amps,” thinking that if I used the actual company name, it would surely show up. Not on the first page of results. Not on the second page of results. Not on the third page of results. I gave up. I then tried “Arc audio” and did find the website. There are some serious SEO problems here!

The site itself was also a disappointment. The landing page presented me with a sluggish Flash animation that really did not contribute to the products or page itself. The Products page was slow—seems like perhaps the jpgs were hi-res. They slowly dropped in like a closing window shade. Once they were cached in, I could leave the page and return and the images appeared more quickly, but this is just an amateurish annoyance and something easily remedied with PhotoShop.

To add to the “graphic annoyance,” every picture had an intrusive copyright watermark. Why? I have never seen this on another car audio website, and I don’t understand what it is about these pictures that would warrant such a decision. If my product’s pictures were being widely dispersed, I’d simply say thanks for the free advertising! Going through the trouble to insert this watermark tells the reader, “don’t even think about inviting yourself to what we have to offer!”

A final indirectly related branding issue I touched on previously: Foose’s inscription on the Foose line of Arc Audio amps is tiny.

Sorry Arc Audio. I know you put out great products. But the marketing could use some help.



  1. […] high quality car audio. I’m not going to provide my defense in this post, but you can read it here. One thing that really annoys me when it comes to car audio (and it’s necessary body […]


  3. Hm, interesting thought. Just gotta make sure that the metaphor “translates” (so to speak) and that it actually contributes to the brand on a broad scale. Were that the case, one would have to ask, “How is writing this in the native language of the company’s owner going to drive sales?” In this case, I’m not sure it does. But I do appreciate your presentation of a very credible point.

  4. One thing must be clear..the OWMER of ARC Audio is UBUY Corp…a company out of China that also sells the same designs to Clarion….

  5. I think they watermark there product photos to keep unscrupulous individuals from using those photos to sell non authorized products online. As for their marketing–they definately aren’t Bose, Timex or JL Audio. They do however make a product line that is both extremely well made AND outperforms most all other brands at the same price point. They are building their company through product innovations and quality, not simply marketing. By the way, I don’t work for ARC Audio. I am simply a dealer (with 20 years in the industry) that is glad that I now deal with a company that is doing things a little differently and looking outside of the “automotive electronics” box.

    Kevin Hall
    Outside Sales
    SoundSational Audio & Video Indianapolis

  6. Thanks Kevin-and I do completely agree with you that ARC puts out a high quality product. I’ve watched ARC for years, and I hold the company in high esteem. That’s what’s so discouraging about an ad like this one–the quality of the ad does not accurately reflect the high quality of the product. I wonder if perhaps they should have just saved their money on this one?

  7. Maybe they have an issue with marketing. Your right the Got____ campaign is really played out. You would think a Company like Arc Audio could come up with something more appealing. Someone must have gave this companies marketing division some really bad advise.

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