G.M.'s Idiocy: Dump the Chevy Nickname

Last Updated Jun 10, 2010 7:25 PM EDT

It's not as if the world needed another example of how stupid brand marketing can get. Now, suddenly we have incontrovertible evidence that GM's branding guru, Marketing VP Jim Campbell, spends much of his typical work week examining his own polyps.

Get this: Campbell just sent out a memo to G.M. employees demanding that they stop using the term "Chevy" and instead use the official brand name "Chevrolet." Apparently Campbell believes that his brand will become more recognizable if everyone stops using the nickname. As his memo explained:

"When you look at the most recognized brands through the world, such as Coke or Apple, for instance, one of the things they focus on is the consistency of their brand... Why is this consistency so important? The more consistent a brand becomes, the more prominent and recognizable it is with the consumer."
This is a perfect example of the utter stupidity of the brand-centric school of marketing. Let me explain why this name change, and the philosophy behind it, are entirely ludicrous.


Campbell (and similar devotees of the brand marketing cult) thinks that a brand is something that a company foists on the world. But that's not true. Every brand is an emotional attachment that the customer has to a particular product or set of products.

Coke is not a popular brand because of advertising, but because people like the way the product tastes -- as evidenced widespread protest when "New Coke" had a different flavor. If the branding voodoo were true, New Coke would be everywhere today.

Similarly, the Apple brand has luster not because its marketing team is particularly adept (see "Apple Marketing's Top 10 Dumb Mistakes") but because Apple regularly releases products that are one to five years ahead of the competition in a technology area where innovation rules.

In any case, neither Coke nor Apple is particularly consistent in its branding. Coke toggles between Coke and Coca-cola regularly. And Apple's branding is haphazard: from a branding perspective "Apple TV" is very different from the "iP..." concept, which is very different from the Mac family.

However, consistency (or the lack of it) is fairly irrelevant, because people truly love Coke and Apple products. The reason the brands (and sub-brands) remain successful isn't because of "branding" but because the love the products spills over into love of the brand.

Chevy used to inspire that kind of love, but this idiot Campbell is so hypnotized by marketing dogma that he's ready to trash what little brand equity remains. He doesn't understand that dumping "Chevy" is stupid because it ignores the reason why the nickname exists in the first place.

People give nicknames to other people (and things) that they love, but whose have real names are difficult or inconvenient to pronounce, or whose real names seem unrepresentative of their personality.

My daughter, for example, is named "Cordelia", a rather formal-sounding, four syllable name that I quickly scrapped in favor of the two syllable "Doodles" which far better expresses her happy-go-lucky personality.

GM's customers and employees created the "Chevy" nickname because "Chevrolet" is difficult to pronounce and, frankly, sounds like it ought to belong to some poncy hairdresser with a French accent.

More importantly, GM's customer and employees created the "Chevy" nickname because they loved the product, and the nickname is an expression of that love. Telling them not to use the Chevy nickname is like if my daughter suddenly told me not to call her "Doodles" any longer.

Rejecting a nickname is rejecting the love that's behind it.

This kind of egregious idiocy is par for the course, though, in the world of the brand marketing. The devotees of this cult are so convinced that brand can be crammed down customer's throats that they end up alienating the very people who created the brand in the first place -- the customers.

Here's the truth: no marketing group in the world ever created a successful brand. Successful brands are always created by the customers who come to love the product. Anyone who believes otherwise is a big a fool as Jim Campbell.

READERS: Here's a timeline of GM's branding blunders: Why GM Failed, as Told by GM's TV Ads