When you're in marketing, high-profile is good -- except when it generates national outrage and a speedy skinback. It's been a good news/bad news month at General Motors, as two recent events show:
The GM bipolar marketing roundup: 1 perfect game, 1 perfect mess
Imagine Steve Jobs springing out of bed one morning and vowing: "The word 'Mac' is dead. It's 'Macintosh,' damn it!"
Marketing people around the world surely scratched their heads last week after The New York Times quoted a memo from Chevrolet marketing chief Jim Campbell and sales chief Alan Batey telling employees they should eschew the word "Chevy" in an effort to build the Chevrolet brand.
Never mind that the moniker has been a staple of popular culture for most of the past century -- the kind of exposure that only billions of dollars, decades of success and lots of luck could create.
"We're going to use Chevrolet instead of Chevy going forward," GM spokesman Klaus-Peter Martin told the Times, confirming the memo.
Like many bad ideas, this one had a lifespan measured in nanoseconds.
Soon after the news broke in the Times, Chevy quickly announced that the directive was meant only for internal communications, part of a push to build the Chevrolet brand abroad so global shoppers wouldn't be scratching their heads about the difference between "Chevrolet" and "Chevy." ( Uh-huh. Like the confusion between "IBM" and "International Business Machines, or "GE" and "General Electric"?)
Batey put up a video on YouTube inviting people to keep calling the brand "Chevy" -- as if they wouldn't anyway.
After all, if Don McLean were writing "American Pie" today, would he really use: "I drove my Chevrolet to Sheepshead Bay"?
As oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico and Europe's debt crisis clouded the U.S. economy, Detroit became the unlikely birthplace of a feel-good story that captured the nation's imagination for a couple of news cycles -- and General Motors edged its way into the limelight, at bargain-basement prices.
An umpire missed a call that robbed Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga of a perfect game -- getting all 27 batters out in nine innings. But the young pitcher, the umpire and the fans of Detroit reacted in a way that made it a story about human frailty, forgiveness and graceful acceptance of the bumps and bruises life dishes out.
A day later, GM gave Galarraga a cherry-red Chevy -- er, Chevrolet -- convertible, and got pictures of the pitcher and his new car plastered on sports pages, TV screens and Web sites nationwide. The media exposure was worth about $8.9 million, according to Joyce Julius & Associates Inc., a firm that measures such things.
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., sniffed that the gift, which had a $53,000 sticker, was the height of irresponsibility, given that GM is still in hock to the government. "Until GM has repaid the taxpayers, ... every action that GM takes should advance them in that direction," Kurt Bardella told The New York Times.
Good idea, GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney told the Times. "It was probably some of the best dollars invested in publicity in Chevrolet and Corvette," she said. "The best way we can pay taxpayers back is to increase our revenue, and the only way we can do that is to sell more vehicles. We have to spend money to do that."
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