I know it started long ago, but I first began to notice the truly global nature of the automotive plastics industry in the mid 1980s. Suddenly U.S.-based executives companies such as GE Plastics' Detroit-base automotive unit had names that were more difficult for me to spell and pronounce. Some has hyphenated names -- even the men.
I remember being at the Frankfurt auto show and an engineer from one of Dupont Co.'s Europe offices (please don't ask me to spell his name) pointed out to me the plastic front air dam on what was then a new version of a Porsche 911. Dupont technical centers in Europe, the U.S. and Japan all had played major roles in bringing the part to market.
But it really hit me in the early '90s when suddenly everybody in Detroit -- even folks that weren't in the auto industry -- started pronouncing Hoechst ("Hirkst"), as in Hoechst Celanese Corp., U.S. subsidiary of Hoechst AG, German chemical and materials giant, perfectly. Yes, we've been butchering foreign street names like Goethe ("Go-thee" and Cadieux ("CAD-JOO") for 100 years, but we pronounce Hoechst like we're all here on temporary German work visas.
It all dates back to a corny but highly effective media blitz four or five years ago where the company announced "Hoechst is firkst" in magazines, on the radio and with billboards on major thoroughfares.
Suddenly Hoechst was as much a part of the Detroit landscape as Gratiot Ave. (That's "Grass-Shut" to you out-of-towners). The guy who thought up that campaign certainly was no Dumas, or "Dum ass," as we say here in Detroit.
Now another low-profile European chemical and plastics giant is aiming to raise its visibility and make Detroit automotive engineers aware of its global capabilities with a corporate ad campaign, only its job seems infinitely easier in comparison: The company's name -- DSM -- is probably impossible for even us Detroiters to screw up.
Headquartered in the Netherlands, DSM is a $6-billion materials and chemical giant, as well-known in Europe as Dupont is here in North America. It sells $1 billion worth of automotive-related materials throughout the world annually. DSM Copolymer, DSM Engineering Plastics and DSM Thermoplastic Elastomers, the three North American-based units that sell EPDM (Ethylene propylene diene monomer, a rubber known for its durability and weather-ability), engineering plastics, and thermoplastic elastomers to the automotive market here, have been doing very well.
But now, as DSM moves to win more of the bread-and-butter business of well-established big boys such as Bayer AG, Arco Chemical Co., Uniroyal and Advanced Elastomer Systems, (a limited partnership between Monsanto Co. and Exxon Corp. -- and others -- it doesn't want engineers scratching their heads and wondering "who the heck is this DSM, anyway?"
"We want to raise the awareness levels of the DSM name and an understanding of the size and scope and capabilities of DSM to the North American automotive community," says Jonathan T. Sappey, account executive at Miller Business Communications Inc., DSM's advertising agency.
The campaign also is aimed at focusing customers on DSM as being more than just a sum of its individual units. DSM folks like to point out that they can supply materials for the tires and work right up through the suspension and drivetrain to the deepest recesses of the engine compartment, including constant-velocity-joint boots, rack-and-pinion boots, strut boots, mechanical-control cable covers, and thermoplastic valve-lifter guides buried deep within the engine block.
Like the Hoechst advertising campaign, DSM's probably will be impossible to miss for most automotive engineers. Even so, it's unlikely the ads will answer the most-asked question about DSM: What's it stand for?
It used to stand for Dutch State Mines, Mr. Sappey says, but in the 75 years since the company was founded, the nature of its business has changed so much that the acronym really doesn't stand for anything anymore.
Considering most U.S. engineers probably don't know or care whatstands for, either, (Bayerische Motoren Werke) it's probably not a critical issue. However, don't be surprised if some bored souls start calling newly famous DSM employees "Deemers" or some such. If we can't mess up their name, we've got to do something.