lovegrove & repucci design blog
  Chevy Pretends To Be Savvy
Category: Branding
Date:  2006 05 April
Author: Demian Repucci


Recently NPR did a story on the ‘Make Your Own SUV Ad’ that Chevy did as a tie-in with The Apprentice for their Tahoe SUV. This morning’s New York Times also had an article about it. At issue here is the website that Chevy, and the agency Campbell-Ewald of Warren, Mich., has set up to allow brand enthusiasts (and others…) to compile video clips, music and their own text overlays into a ‘commercial’ for the new Chevy Tahoe, an SUV of the ‘extremely large’ variety. What has happened is that people with dim views of low-mileage SUV’s have used the site to make their own commercials critical of the Tahoe and it’s gas-guzzler attitude. These spots soon made it onto blogs such as Autoblog, Church of The Customer Blog as well as the popular video clip site YouTube. All weekend the world has been wondering what Chevy could possibly have been thinking…? Were the GM execs too blind to their own ambitions to be part of the crazy world of ‘virile marketing’ to guess that a lot of the generated ads would dis the Tahoe? Or were they crazy-like-a-fox in the vein of ‘any press is good press’ sort-of-thing?

The Times quoted the blog Adrants as saying “…We think there are some voices inside GM that understand social media very well and knew this would happen.” The next part of the post, not quoted by the Times said, ” We’re not surprised at all and we’re not surprised they’ve left the negative ads up. If all we saw on that site were glowing praises of the vehicle, the promotion would simply be seen as just another lame attempt at capitalizing on a trend and a giant corporation trying to thrust it’s twisted version of reality upon us.”

Obviously Adrants has not dealt with American auto exec zombies before. Our conjecture here is exactly that: “…just another lame attempt at capitalizing on a trend and a giant corporation trying to thrust it’s twisted version of reality upon us.”

The Times article also sites a quote from Chevrolet spokeswoman, Melisa Tezanos, when she said the company did not plan to shut down the anti-S.U.V. ads, “We anticipated that there would be critical submissions,” Ms. Tezanos said. “You do turn over your brand to the public, and we knew that we were going to get some bad with the good. But it’s part of playing in this space.”

Oh really? Would Chevy have said ANYTHING other than that? (“Boy was that a bad idea. No one thought that would happen.” “We really are struggling to find the pulse of the American buying public and didn’t really understand what we were getting into”). Of course Chevy is going to spin it like they knew this would happen all along. And of course they are not going to take down the critical ads. To do so would be to admit that they didn’t see it coming. Also, they have had to deal with the scary proposition of derailing a relationship set up with Donald Trump, who would probably waist no time in suing Chevy for breach of something-or-other.

Just the fact that Chevy thought it would be a good idea to tie the Tahoe in with The Apprentice program is evidence that they weren’t thinking ahead. And the prizes for entering – a Chevy sponsored NASCAR event? A trip to the Country Music Association Awards? They have got to be kidding. Chevy is confusing itself with mixed messages here. Just a crazy guess but the average car buyer that might be interested in the Tahoe, and ALSO want to go see NASCAR in Richmond or to the Country Music Awards would probably NOT be watching The Apprentice. A bunch of snobby busy-bodies running around New York City taking orders from snobby egomaniac Donald Trump most likely puts a bad taste in that car buyer’s Budweiser.

So what happened here? Well, SUV’s give carmakers the biggest profits. GM is struggling. The sales execs wanted to find a way to tap into all that ‘virile marketing’ energy that they have been hearing about. Someone had the idea to tie in with Apprentice, where the contestants come up with lame pitches for stuff, and has a large audience. So they match one of their largest SUV’s, targeted to the ‘luxury’ market, with the show and wait for the praise and profits to roll in. The prizes are a dead give-away that the Chevy execs had no idea who they were selling to and that they were just focused in on trying to make sales numbers and blinded to the reality of the situation. People have made their own commercials for brands such as Sony and VW, why not Chevy Tahoe? Which leads us to the commercial making site itself, which is completely lame. It is so tightly scripted that it feels as if you are almost being forced to tow the brand message and write some blustery majestic verbiage over clips that were aired ad-nauseam during the Winter Olympics. No additions of your own video or audio allowed (of course that would also be brand suicide for Chevy). Push the people to submission and they will revolt.

Having had American auto companies as clients in the past, it seems obvious that this is just more evidence of the American auto industry in deep trouble. Collectively suffering from a complete lack of understanding of how to position their brands to survive into the future. Why not a hybrid tie-in with the Apprentice? Where is the collective push toward great leaps in fuel efficiency? Why do Americas’ cars keep getting bigger when the rest of the world’s cars stay small? Are we that arrogant? No way did Chevy see the negative press coming, these are people in the AUTO INDUSTRY for crying out loud, an old terminally sick man living in a deserted town in the Midwest. These are not the same attitudes that guide shoe companies and electronics companies and media companies into the jungle of internet virile marketing. Yes, Chevy is living in its’ own twisted reality. Just look at the Tahoe and all other SUVs – they ARE a twisted reality.

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