Much good discussion has come out of the GM/Apprentice ad campaign for the Chevy Tahoe that generated thousand of remixed video ads. Forrester's Charlene Li has the positive and reasonable spin on the outcome:
While some people point to this campaign as an example of the failure of viral marketing and social computing, I think it points to a great success. Our definition of social computing is when technology results in power shifting from institutions (like Chevy) to communities (like customers). By losing that control over the brand experience, Chevy actually brought more people into it -- witness the debate over the campaign itself. The environmental and SUV fuel economy debate has always existed outside of the Chevy experience, but by bringing it into chevyapprentice.com, Chevy has harnessed it into a promotional benefit.
So final take away and then a question. If you're going to participate as a marketer in the social computing arena, you've got to have thick skin and be ready to engage in the messy world of your customer's opinions. Marketers that have the guts to turn over their brand to the public will in the end win over their customers.
Ross Mayfield keyed in on the Charlene's analysis and also had a positive spin:
Was the risk worth it? Yes. The worst case scenario is people remixed the brand in the way they already related to it. A set of already known truths, and if they weren't known, the brand manager wasn't doing their job. Besides, such remix happens with or without the participation of the vendor. At least this way they are part of the conversation.
The key point, as Ross points out, is being part of a conversation. If there isn't any dialog, then you can't engage in changing perceptions. Given the number of people who would take advantage of the opportunity to bash the gas guzzlers that often never leave the city, the contest has the element of giving matches to the pyrotechnoids. Fanning the flames to get some attention? Why not.
In GM's Fastlane blog, Chevy general manager Ed Peper takes full advantage of the situation (about 22,000 remix videos about the Chevy Tahoe) to put his spin on the subject of the SUV and the planet Earth, reaching far more people than would ever come to the GM blog under non-inflammatory circumstances. He begins his defense of the SUV with the classic line: "Now that the debate has begun, I'd like to remind everyone of some indisputable facts" (ital mine).
Here are some of his further remarks:
The 2007 Tahoe is capable, refined and responsible. In fact, in the area of responsibility Tahoe outperforms all of the competition (Toyota, Ford, etc.) in fuel economy with 22 mpg on the highway thanks to Active Fuel Management technology that turns off 4 of 8 cylinders when you don't need them. The Tahoe is also E85 compatible, which means that it can run on ethanol, a renewable fuel source. Which reduces greenhouse gases and our dependency on foreign oil. The Tahoe has achieved the segment's highest safety ratings and is an excellent vehicle for those with large families.
We, on the other hand, welcome the opportunity to clarify the facts regarding fuel economy, vehicles equipped with E85 capability, and consumer choice. In our opinion, this has been one of the most creative and successful promotions we have done. And we invite you back to see the final “Board Room” as we select the winning entry at www.chevyapprentice.com on April 27.
There you have it. Peper (see photo) "welcomes the opportunity to clarify the facts." Whether this revelation came as an afterthought is beside the point. Some who know more about Chevy's technology can determine if his facts are really facts. I just spent a few hundred words chatting up the Chevy Tahoe, which plays right into his gas guzzling hands...