The term “captains of industry” rings pretty hollow these days. Not seeing much leadership from any industry sector, particularly oil. Beyond BP’s ineptitude and functioning as a piñata for the President and Congress, no other oil industry leaders are stepping up to address the mess in the Gulf and the mess created by decades of unbalanced US energy and environmental policies.
Lack of Leadership Honors, Chief Marketing Officer Division, this week go to two separate auto makers for incredibly bad decisions. Each is very different. Both are stupefying in their own right.
First is all the press garnered by General Motors for pushing purity of the Chevrolet brand to an absurd level. According to a memo by several GM vice presidents sent to Chevrolet employees, the importance of brand consistency means stopping use of the nickname “Chevy” for dealer ads, for official communications, for talking with your friends and family. They’ve even instituted “cuss jars” for those guilty of non-compliance, with funds going toward team building.
Such idiocy starts to explain why GM got itself into such an economic trench that it required a Federal bailout and partial takeover. As the Pop Crush web site rightly notes, the Chevy name is heavily embedded in pop culture, from a long list of rock songs, to the vernacular of several million pick-up truck owners. Chevrolet may be the brand’s proper name, but even the Federal government can’t issue a recall for its nickname now.
Branding consistency is important, but not when it creates brand bureaucrats. Isn’t the purpose of Chevrolet’s branding and marketing team to focus on convincing consumers to buy Chevy cars and Chevy trucks? When did allegiance to a corporate identity manual take precedence over ideas to attract more Chevy buyers?
As dumb as this venture sounds, it is not as stupid as what Hyundai recently approved in the name of commerce. It happened in Argentina and it began as a clever statement about World Cup soccer mania. Unfortunately, it ended very literally in an exercise that insulted the faith of millions of potential Hyundai customers.
Details about the controversial TV commercial appear on Greg Burke’s LiveShots blog, although the spot itself has evidently already been taken down. It is intended to depict fan worship of the “religion” of soccer by creating a “new” church that uses, but in doing so makes light of, the symbols, doctrine, and faith-based rituals of Catholicism and Christianity. Communion is replaced with pizza slices. A soccer ball is shown with a crown of thorns.
This is not a creative freedom/freedom of speech issue. No one prevented Hyundai from creating and airing these ads in front of a huge audience. However, were no grownups present at any point in the creative, production, and placement process? Managers who spoke up and noted that this spot might be deeply offensive to a large segment of the buying public and what did any of this have to do with the product merits of the latest Hyundai models?
I am sympathetic to the agency based on intentions and their overall concept, because a few years ago, we presented a print ad concept that was well received but never ran to help a local bank build its brand and push its central message to customers — Expect the Star Treatment. The difference is that we left it at the general metaphor that customer service is a religion to us. As soon as Hyundai started getting literal and trivializing the symbols and rituals that Christians consider holy, they were over the top.
Religion and politics used to be the twin topics that were off-limits at the water cooler. Friends, neighbors, and co-workers used to be quietly respectful of each other’s beliefs. That quaint concept is still worth remembering when your main goal is selling cars.