Category Archives: Chevy

Chevy vs. pollution in the stream

Very few people who work in the ad industry have the balls to question the ethics of a campaign — ethics, in advertising? — because doing so could burn a bridge from a potential client. But what the hell — we’re not here to play nice, we’re here to advise our clients about what works, and that includes not making mistakes that damage their future reputation.

So let’s take a look at, oh, perhaps Chevy’s current SXSW campaign. Say hypothetically you’re a car company trying to boost sales among a younger demographic, and the MRI data shows these people are avoiding TV and spending more time in social media listening to peers. It’s really hard to buy advertising against that demo. And then your agency guru walks in wearing a black T-shirt talking about SIM scores suggesting there’s a way to “earn media” — and NOT pay for it — by letting a handful of young people borrow cars and drive to an uberhip conference, say SXSW Interactive in Texas, and broadcast their Chevy adventures along the way. And they’ll use a “hashtag,” something like #chevysxsw, that appears at the end of every tweet. A handful of cars, a dozen people times their few thousand followers, and suddenly you have an organic loudspeaker spraying Chevy messages to hundreds of thousands of people inside Twitter every day … for almost no marketing budget.

Is this a good idea? Does it help the Chevy brand? Do the thousands of people exposed to non sequitur messaging and strange #chevyreadthis symbols like the promotions creeping into their communication stream, and then think, heck, it’s high time to test drive a Chevy? And what about the broader ecosystem issues of what happens if such campaigns take off, and one day every other tweet from your own personal online community has a #brandmention attached because someone is getting a little free gift from a car or stereo or condom company? What happens to the value of the network then?

Is anyone thinking about the adverse impact of the people annoyed by messaging vs. the people who respond?

We’ve seen this before in the 1990s with telemarketing. For you young readers out there, telesales actually used to be a part of most business operations and worked well … until the aggregate calls got to be too much. Do Not Call lists were created, most Americans signed up, the government imposed heavy fines for any marketer who didn’t avoid calling DNC homes, and suddenly shilling via phone did not work anymore. You’ll still get calls from politicians or nonprofits who are exempt from DNC (love that, don’t you?), but even they have challenges making telemarketing work, because the only people who respond tend to be the less educated, less wealthy, less desirable consumers who haven’t figured out how to sign up for DNC.

The Scobleizer’s take on ethics

About a year ago we had the fortune to interview Robert Scoble for a BusinessWeek column, and he said something very smart. We paraphrase: Rules in business about conflicts of interest or partitioning advertising, he said, were not invented because businesses are run by altruists. The rules evolved because businesses screwed up, overstepped their bounds, lost customers, and realized they needed rules to keep operations in order. Advertising works best when it is kept in its box and labeled as such, because people know where it is coming from. Letting it creep into the stream makes the source hazy, adds a layer of confusion, and diminishes the value of the network.

So, dear #chevytweeters on Twitter and the ad agencies who promote such hoopla. We hope your campaign is a rousing success. We’re sure your social-media sentiment score will click up this week, and the metrics will look great in PowerPoint. But are you really thinking about the direction your car is headed?

Chevy campaign details here.

Corporations in swimsuits: Are you faking social media?

Digital strategist Jordan Julien got us thinking about “synthetic authenticity,” the risk large corporations face as they try to engage customers in social media. The problem, Jordan says, is social media tools were built for individual people to interact with each other, but suddenly faceless entities — big brands with big names — are entering the space.

This creates a cognitive dissonance that can erode trust. Say you lob a question at Nike Plus on Twitter and get a response. Who wrote it? Do you trust their opinion? Is it a real person’s thought, or a brand spinning its own future sales?

Jordan suggests one solution is to add real faces to your corporate persona. Instead of trying to make a brand act human, put real humans in charge. Earlier this year Mashable listed its favorite 40 companies on Twitter; the list is worth reviewing to see how “human” they act. Here is Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas responding to a guest:

OK, that’s a start. Luxor gives us an attractive woman in a swimsuit chatting about hot dogs. But the most authentic brands online are the ones that give us real people’s names. Surprisingly, the auto industry has been leading this charge. Scott Monty at Ford gets press, but here’s Adam Denison, PR guy for Chevy, offering a human connection:

What? A Chevy marketing executive is asking for help building PowerPoint? Exactly. Suddenly the big auto brand seems like a potential colleague, a guy looking for advice. While Adam uses Twitter to answer questions about Camaros and promote his brand, he also chats about Mormon missionaries, crows about BYU football, hints he is an avid golfer, and wades into debates about Swine Flu. You know. A quirky, opinionated, helpful real human being. If we ever considered a Chevy, we’d reach out to him instantly.

Yes, it’s a risk to let real people become the touchpoints between the brand you’ve carefully crafted for decades and the consumers who use it. But the bigger risk is you blow it, eroding trust from an audience that will tune you out. If even giant IBM can have Twitter streams authored by real people, so can you.

Graphic: The Jordan Rules

Chevy’s curious new bait-and-switch campaign

The new Chevy Volt is not available for sale, it doesn’t exist yet except in theory, and it may or may not be headed for production by 2010. But Chevy is advertising it in magazines such as The New Yorker reaching the educated, affluent and environmentally enlightened. What gives?

The campaign is very curious. If the target is potential GM investors, the ads fail, since the GM name is missing from the copy and appears only in the legal fine print. If the target is consumers, the ads are tripped up with subtlety, since the curious will want to go to the web for more information. The fine print directs you to, where the Volt can’t be found, even under upcoming vehicles. You have to type “Volt” into the site’s search engine to find it.

The main promo at is a button talking about “gas friendly to gas free,” which two clicks later takes you to … a lovely selection of big-ass trucks that can run on an 85% blend of ethanol, with nothing electric in sight. GM actually has a decent web site for the Volt here, but you need Google to find it.

The car is certainly sexy, with an electric-petroleum engine combo that is nothing new, but sheet metal and glass that make grown men drool. Perhaps the goal is to build buzz by teasing us. Chevy, we’ve seen the future and we want it. Too bad it’s not available for sale.