The results were not surprising. Some people seized this opportunity to mock SUVs as a cause of global warning, as a danger on the highway, and as a source of social injustice. There are now some 4 dozen Tahoe ads on YouTube. Most are anti-Tahoe.
What is surprising is that Chevy is now being trashed in the marketing press for its failure to see this coming. In a piece called "Chevy’s Crash, Burn," Adweek columnist Catharine Taylor calls this an
… ill-advised experiment with consumer-generated advertising [that] ended up looking like a series of drive-by shootings, with the Tahoe’s image in the cross hairs.
Well, maybe. Here’s what Chevrolet general manager Ed Peper had to say.
Early on we made the decision that if we were to hold this contest, in which we invite anyone to create an ad, in an open forum, that we would be summarily destroyed in the blogosphere if we censored the ads based on their viewpoint. So, we adopted a position of openness and transparency, and decided that we would welcome the debate.
Welcome the debate? I think he just won it.
Is anyone really naive enough to think that consumer creation is a decorative gesture? Does anyone suppose that we invite the consumer in for merely decorative purposes? Does anyone think that consumers wish to participate only then to be patronized?
Here’s what we know, somewhat syllogistically,
1) consumer participation is essential for vibrant messages and brands.
2) more consumer participation means less control.
3) less control means controversy is going to happen.
4) controversy is the price of vibrant messages and brands
Anyone who is surprised by controversy, anyone who resists it, has yet to grasp the revolution in marketing that cocreation represents.
Openness and transparency are essential. Controversy, even anti-brand messages, are the price of admission. If we want the brand to participate in contemporary culture, we must make it porous. We must surrender some of our control, and send the brand out into the world for good and ill.
There is no question that Tahoe took a hit. But I think some of this was good for the brand. It made Tahoe, Chevy and Detroit part of the conversation. From a meaning management point of view, it actually works quite well. It says, "Behold, a brand that survives controversy, a brand that enables controversy. Behold a brand that’s as rugged and mobile and all terrain." Surviving controvery. Enabling controversy. When was the last time Brand America took a risk like this?
There is a fundamental shift in the rules of the game of marketing. We have to change our risk tolerances. We have to understand that the marketer’s work, once so dominated by risk avoidance, is now much more about risk management. If Adweek doesn’t get this, what hope do we have of persuading the client?
Peper, Ed. 2006. Now that we’ve got your attention. GM FastLane Blog. April 6, 2006. here.
Taylor, Catharine P. 2006. Chevy’s Crash and Burn. Adweek. April 17, 2006, p. 14. (not available on line.)
Youtube page for Tahoe ads here.