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MARK RECHTIN

GM’s tone-deaf jargon

LAS VEGAS -- General Motors needs to put its marketing jargon in the 1990s parking lot where it belongs.

I refer to the descriptive used by GM execs in discussing how the automaker’s brands need to stay in their respective “swim lanes.”

The phrase was first used by newly installed chief marketing officer Joel Ewanick last fall. I thought it was a one-off, but it became a hook in his interviews. Soon, it spread like a virus. Kevin Mayer, Chevy’s director of advertising and sales promotion, used it at ThinkLA’s Motor City West seminar. Then yesterday, Alan Batey, vice president of Chevrolet sales and service, used it at the J.D. Power International Automotive Roundtable.

Here’s the problem: That phrase is hopelessly out of date. It was used by the self-important dot-com crowd before the last bubble burst more than a decade ago, along with terms like “parking lot,” “pushback,” and “ideating.”

The dot-com kids back then needed new jargon to differentiate how they were so innovative compared to stuffy traditional businesses, what with their paradigm shifts and reinventions. Turns out you needed an actual business plan to back up your catchy vocabulary. That dot-com terminology is today used ironically as a way to mock a group that is outdated and out of touch.

So now that “swim lanes” has taken root inside GM, every time I hear it, it seems remarkably tone-deaf.

Then again, I’d be just as bothered if GM marketers used current jargon to try to impress listeners. Just talk straight, guys. It’s what you do if you respect your co-workers, dealers, shareholders and the American taxpayers who bailed you out.

Otherwise, we’ll just have to repurpose GM’s short- and long-tail hypotheses into the future-think modularity of the game space.

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