Rikk Wilde had just watched his beloved Kansas City Royals lose the World Series. His night was about to get much, much worse.
The next morning, Wilde got a call from his boss, Chevrolet U.S. sales chief Brian Sweeney. Sweeney told Wilde that not only did he still have a job, but that nobody at General Motors headquarters was upset.
Far from it, in fact. Wilde’s stumbling, train wreck of a free-truck presentation to the World Series MVP had made him, literally, an overnight sensation.
Wilde — a “big, sweaty, hyperventilating sales genius,” a columnist for the Chicago Tribune wrote the next day — had inadvertently become the most famous regional zone manager in Chevrolet history. Or more accurately, the only famous regional zone manager in automotive history.
The 47-year-old Kansan had become “Chevy Guy,” the best worst accidental national advertising pitchman a regional zone manager’s salary could buy. Ford Motor Co. may have spoof-worthy ads with Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey and a pickup made of aluminum, but General Motors has an awkward everyman with notecards and the Chevy Colorado, featuring best-in-class “technology and stuff.”
Within 24 hours, GM, a company renowned for its slow-moving bureaucracy, had incorporated Wilde’s bungled phrasing into TV and newspaper ads for the Colorado. “You know you want a truck … and stuff,” GM hastily edited the voiceover for one commercial to say.
“We embraced it and ran with it,” Chevrolet spokesman Mike Albano said. “It wasn’t a long discussion.”
Chevy Guy became a story on “Inside Edition” and a conversation topic on NBC’s “Today” show. USA Today, The Washington Post, Deadspin and Buzzfeed fueled the frenzy. After David Letterman’s monologue, a Wilde impersonator tossed him a set of keys and jogged triumphantly through the Ed Sullivan Theater before falling over a table of food and sheepishly slinking out.
“This little gaffe struck a nerve, and when you can strike a nerve with the American public, that is the best marketing you can do,” said Jim Schroer, a former Ford and Chrysler marketing chief who now runs GlobalBrandLeader.com. “God bless this nervous salesman because that’s what I want in my car — I want cool new technology and stuff. It’s a real guy doing real stuff.”
Albano said GM didn’t plan to turn “Technology and stuff” into an official tag line and probably wouldn’t use it long term; it was merely reacting to the sudden popularity of the phrase on social media. The @ChevyTrucks Twitter account began using the hashtag #Technologyandstuff at 1:29 a.m. Thursday, about two hours after Wilde clumsily dug into his pants pocket for the keys to a red Colorado that Chevy was giving San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner. The phrase was added to the home page of Chevrolet.com later that day.
Albano said Wilde, after a restless first night, was “amazed” by the attention and support he had received, including from product development chief Mark Reuss and other senior executives.
Wilde, a 25-year GM veteran and lifelong Royals fan, was chosen to make the presentation when the World Series returned to Kansas City for games 6 and 7. GM gave him some specific talking points and told him to be ready after either game, Albano said.
After the Royals tied up the series in Game 6, “there was the hope of giving him a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to celebrate with his favorite team, Albano said.
“It didn’t really work out for him.”