NEW YORK -- If there's one thing known about the work General Motors Co. has ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners working on, it's that the shorthand "Chevy" won't be used in any communications.
The New York Times got its hands on a memo that GM sent to employees Tuesday, which, in the name of consistency for its biggest brand, tells staffers to quit saying "Chevy." GM responded to the resulting “emotional debate” by embracing customers' use of the abbreviated name and saying the memo was poorly worded.
The note wasn't signed by GM's new marketing chief, Joel Ewanick, who hired Goodby when he joined the Detroit automaker from Nissan last month. It was signed by Alan Batey, vice president of Chevrolet sales and service, and Jim Campbell, the division's vice president of marketing.
The memo said:
"We'd ask that, whether you're talking to a dealer, reviewing dealer advertising or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate our brand as Chevrolet moving forward ...
"When you look at the most recognized brands throughout the world, such as Coke or Apple, for instance, one of the things they all focus on is the consistency of their branding ... Why is this consistency so important? The more consistent a brand becomes, the more prominent and recognizable it is with the consumer."
Coke vs. Coca-Cola
The Times story noted that Coke is short for Coca-Cola and cited an expert saying GM's initiative ran counter to a trend towards “more casual” branding, such as KFC for Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Autoblog.com, one of many Web voices taking GM to task for the memo, said: “We feel that the Coke comparison GM uses in the memo is ultimately rather apt, given that the idea of memory-holing "Chevy" as part of some absurd branding exercise seems destined to be a failure on the level of New Coke.”
In its statement, GM said today's fuss showed "how passionately people feel about Chevrolet."
"We love Chevy," GM said. "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."
A GM spokesman told the Times that it the move was influenced by Goodby.
A 'Chevy' worth 25 cents
A postscript to the memo says a plastic can has been placed in the hallway, and "Every time someone uses 'Chevy' rather than Chevrolet," an employee is expected to toss in a quarter.
GM's own Twitter page says "Talking Chevy One Tweet at a Time." It has also sponsored links on Google driving folks to the Web site by calling it "The Official Chevy Site."
In addition, the URL “chevy.com'' redirects Web users to the full brand name.
For Jason Stein's blog about this story, go to:
Dave Versical and Philip Nussel contributed to this report.