Chevy Careens Out Of Control (Or Do They?): A Roundup Of The Tahoe / Apprentice Ad Flap

PeakoilThe writing has been fast-and-furious over the weekend, with opinions flying on whether Chevy royally screwed the pooch with their current ad campaign for the Chevy Tahoe, a tie-in (somehow) with the TV show The Apprentice. To summarize: Chevy has set up a site where anyone can create his or her own commercial, splicing together a number of video clips and background music supplied by Chevy. More importantly, these user-generated commercials can have text floating over the images of the creator’s choosing. Therein lies the rub. It’s no surprise (to anyone with an IQ above room temperature) that this has unleashed the creative juices of a number of folks who have found the perfect platform for their messages.

A couple of examples that C|Net has archived can be found here. (Go ahead, check them out if you haven’t seen them. We’ll be here when you get back.)

Thoughts on the situation so far:

Tara Hunt: “[Chevy] should taking advantage of the valuable (even if it is vitriolic) feedback that they are getting and use this as an opportunity to change direction and survive into the future of this community-driven market.”

Doc: “Watch.”

B. L. Ochman: “Proving that execs at big companies, and their agencies, don’t monitor what’s being said online over the weekend, Chevy left thousands of anti-Chevy consumer-made ads on the Chevy Apprentice make-your-own-commercial site this weekend.”

Seth Godin: “Chevy is learning this the hard way with their Tahoe campaign… in which the best commercials are the ones that say, ‘Don’t buy me!'”

TechDirt: “It seems like perhaps GM understood what would happen a lot more than the so-called ‘experts’ give them credit for. In this day, anyone opening up such a contest has to know that it’ll be used for ‘anti’ ads. It’s happened so often that they must have expected it. In fact, by then being open about it, GM is getting even more mileage from this campaign, and making it appear that they are more open to listening to those who disagree with them…So, it’s questionable as to whether or not GM was ‘slow to react’ or if they are simply doing everything according to plan.”

AdRants: “Negative things will always be said about a brand. Understanding and accepting opposing views does far more for a brand’s mojo than killing off divergent opinion. Let’s hope this is what’s happening at Chevy and not that the ads are still up because it’s the weekend and big companies don’t work weekends.”

Carl: “I don’t understand how otherwise rational people look at this campaign as a positive. It would be like letting people create print ads for McDonalds, and publishing all of the ads that talk about cholesterol, fat, calories, carbohydrates and fat kids. And then patting themselves on the back for letting people ‘speak their mind’ and for ‘understanding social networking.’ This campaign can only damage the brand by reinforcing the negatives. Isn’t this marketing 101? The best GM can hope for is to convince all of the people who already hate the product that GM is a cool company with products they hate.”

And a whole bunch more.

I think there are a few things to think about here. One perspective that that this is, in some ways, akin to the LA Times wikitorial fiasco. If that’s the case…the GM didn’t consider the possibility that people would create ads that were not in line with GM’s vision of what should be done…then shame on GM. Any opportunity for “user-generated” media in any topic where there are strong feelings will generate the same spectrum of responses. If that’s the case, GM was simply Not Thinking. Any subject that evokes passionate responses will naturally have this outcome.

A thought: Perhaps a worthwhile tactic to take in these types of situations is to proactively set up areas/categories for the primary viewpoints that are likely to emerge. In the LA Times case, setting up two wikitorials (one “pro-war” and one “anti-war”) may have radically changed the outcome of their experiment. In Chevy’s case, allowing the “directors” of the videos to classify them as “pro-SUV” and “anti-SUV” would have been one way to proactively address the problem. It’s what Scoble did here (“Let The Venom Flow!“), and it’s a very effective tactic in cases where this type of activity is likely to occur. It’s going to happen. Might as well embrace it.

So, it seems from my vantage point that there are three “standard” things that Chevy could do. The options…

  • Option 1: Pull the negative ads

  • Option 2: Leave the negative ads, do nothing (It’s the Marc Canter approach: “I don’t give a damn about what anyone says about me, just spell my name right.”)
  • Option 3: Leave the negative ads, engage

Option 1 is the Bad option. If they go down that road, they’ll get crucified.

Option 2 is an OK option. They may be called “clueless,” but they’ll still be getting some buzz out of the campaign. (And, pragmatically, the folks who are creating the negative ads — as well as the individuals who find that the negative ads resonate with them — probably aren’t going to be buying an SUV anytime soon, anyway.)

Option 3 is a Pretty Good option. In addition to leaving the ads up, trying to understand what the negative-ad-creators are attempting to communicate and putting some plans in place to ACTUALLY address the concerns could rocket GM forward in this regard, if they are able to make some commitments and meet them. There’s some upside here, if they get their act together.

What do you think GM should do, if anything?

UPDATE:

Chevy responds in the NYTimes (registration or bugmenot req’d). The money quote, from Chevy representative Melisa Tezanos:

“We anticipated that there would be critical submissions. 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.” (via Adrants)

So, it’s at least Option 2. Wanna trade that and go for door #3, Melisa?

As a footnote, it’s worth noting that not all the ads are anti-Chevy or anti-SUV. Some are chuckleworthy. Examples:

Snakes On An SUV! (not advised for those with an aversion to profanity)
Badgerbadgerbadger (disclosure: we did this one, inspired by this)
Way too Emo (for Kathy Sierra, apparently)

The Social Customer Manifesto Podcast 3FEB2006

click here to subscribe

Summary: Leif Chastaine and Christopher Carfi discuss Yahoo’s strategy, Google’s censorship, the remix culture and customer “co-creation” of products, the American Marketing Association’s “Ahead of the Curve” session in Scottsdale, and this week’s RIM/BlackBerry update. (33:06)

Show notes for February 3, 2006

The audio file is available here (MP3, 32MB), or subscribe to our RSS feed to automatically have future shows downloaded to your MP3 player.

00:00 : Intro

01:04 : Yahoo “quits” the search race? Or do they?

09:08 : Google image censorship and strategy

16:30 : The importance of customer “co-creation” of products

27:30 : RIM: “Non-final” judgement regarding BlackBerry is just that

31:45 : Social Networking: Ahead of the Curve (Scottsdale)

32:23 : Wrapup

Links:
Dave Taylor (“What do Yahoo, Apple and Ferrari have in common?”), Yahoo quits, Yahoo gives up, Yahoo content to be Google’s footstool, Yahoo gives up race with Google, Steve Rubel, Google image censorship, Paul Greenberg, BPT Partners, customer co-creation, NTP=”No Tenable Patents?”, RIM patent dispute, AMA High Tech Trends in Marketing

The Customer Remix Culture

“Think back to a book I did in the late 80’s on UUCP – I did it originally as an 80-page pamphlet and I did 10 editions over the next five years, about every 6 months there was a new edition and they were almost entirely driven by user-submitted content. People would say ‘Oh you didn’t cover this-and-this device, and here’s how it works’ and they’d give me 3-4 paragraphs which I’d just drop right into the book. And I think we have a lot more of that ‘book as output of connected conversations’ now, where people are engaged in dialogue…”Tim O’Reilly

Is it just me, or are we getting to the point where a motivated customer has the ability to dive right in and put his or her own mark on nearly any aspect of nearly any product? Is that what “participating in the conversation” really means? Examples abound from nearly every traditional corporate “department.” (And let’s be clear…this is not just limited to digital goods.)

For someone in marketing, the view may be that customers are beginning to control “the message.” Examples abound.

But it’s not just “the message” where this occurs. Customization, from cars to code, is becoming part of the norm. And smart projects, like SpreadFirefox, take advantage of this trend. In addition to the core application, there are now hundreds of extensions (ranging from RSS aggregators to weather forecasts), all user-created and user-submitted. Anything can be tinkered with.

What’s amazing to me is the number of areas where customers are doing things on their own time, that enable organizations to fill in the gaps of the whole product. Again, examples abound.

Technorati’s tags needed better explanation? A customer who calls herself “Improbulus” comes up with some contributed documentation.

Think that SocialText needs a better demo of its wiki environment? Customer Raymond Kristiansen has created a fifteen minute customer-generated demo.

Want to create a customized training curriculum? Folks are doing that, too.

Support lacking? We’ve entered a place where customers help each other.

The old model is thus (although the paragraph below is focused on digital media, the thought can be generalized to pretty much anything):

“One image of the copyright consumer is as a passive consumer of copyrighted works as entertainment commodities. Call this the “couch potato” view. Under this view, the copyright consumer is really no different from the consumer of any other good. The consumer is primarily interested in getting access to a wide variety of copyrighted works at reasonable cost. The consumer then consumes these works in a largely passive manner. That is, the consumer reads the book, watches the movie, listens to the CD, and does little more. Consuming books or movies is thus little different from consuming potato chips, bottled water, athletic shoes, or any other consumer product.” – Joseph P. Liu

But that view is slipping away, rapidly, thankfully.

The more open a product (or for that matter, an organization) is, the more customer remixes can occur. And this, as Martha says, is a “good thing.”

Update:
Bonus link: Open-source marketing