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)