Chevy Gaffe: GM Tries to Weasel Out

Last Updated Jun 11, 2010 10:06 AM EDT

In response to outrage over GM's idiotic decision to dump the Chevy nickname, GM's management is now trying to distance itself from its ridiculous memo. However, it's clear from their official statement that GM's management, specifically Jim Campbell, simply doesn't understand branding.

In an official statement, they called the original memo "poorly worded" and insisted that they are "not discouraging customers or fans from using the name." However, the statement goes on to say GM intends to force its employees to use the official name internally and in ads and marketing materials. Here's the full text:

Today's emotional debate over a poorly worded memo on our use of the Chevrolet brand is a good reminder of how passionately people feel about Chevrolet. It is a passion we share and one we do not take for granted.
We love Chevy. In no way are we discouraging customers or fans from using the name. We deeply appreciate the emotional connections that millions of people have for Chevrolet and its products.
In global markets, we are establishing a significant presence for Chevrolet, and need to move toward a consistent brand name for advertising and marketing purposes. The memo in question was one step in that process.
We hope people around the world will continue to fall in love with Chevrolets and smile when they call their favorite car, truck or crossover "Chevy."
All that statement does is emphasize the utter stupidity of GM's management. Let me explain why:


First, if GM is discouraging employees from using the nickname, then GM is explicitly stating that GM employees are neither fans nor customers of the Chevrolet product line. That says a lot right there.

Second, when customers give your product an affectionate nickname, they're telling you that want to call your product that -- not the brand name you're trying to push down their throat. The best way -- indeed the only way -- to react to that phenomenon is to change the official name to the nickname.

It's called crowdsourcing. It's how marketing is done in 2010, as opposed to 1960. GM is still treating the world like its the "Mad Men" era and branding is something that a company does, as opposed to something that happens as a result of what the company does.

Third, the idea that you should have a global marketing message -- and even a global brand name -- is fundamentally flawed. Different cultures perceive product names in different ways and the marketing messages, to be effective, must be tailored for the culture.

As a result, global marketing campaigns either end up so bland that they're meaningless, or end up being effective in one region (usually the region where corporate headquarters exists) and fairly dumb elsewhere. The surest sign that a marketing campaign will fail when they start saying it has a "global focus" -- without realizing that it's an oxymoron.

Fourth, there's the entirely crazy idea that GM's management should be wasting their time thinking about this kind of nonsense. Rumor has it they've instituted a "cuss jar" concept where employees must put some money in a can on the conference room table when they use the verboten nickname.

Not only is that incredibly patronizing, it exhibits a kind of micromanaging pettiness that's exactly what a company under great stress does not need. GM barely escaped complete destruction and they're screwing around with cuss jars? WTF is wrong with these people?

And here's the saddest part. Guess who got tapped to clean up the mess? You guessed it -- the poor sales guy. To deal with the controversy, GM trotted out Alan Batey, the vice president for Chevy (oops! Chevrolet) sales on their YouTube channel. Here he is:


Alan is clearly trying to make the best of it and he's far more personable than the stuffed shirts that he works for. He insists that they love the nickname, but even if that's true, and the memo was "poorly worded", what does that say about the intelligence and market savvy of GM marketing? Not much.

If there's a silver lining to this storm cloud, it's that the entire debacle is a reminder that there are still people who like Chevy, despite all the lemons they've laid.

Who woulda thunk it?