Friday Rant: Chevy Speak – What's In a Name?

As GM attempts to recover from bankruptcy, the execs at Chevrolet seem to be agonizing over the cost of brand equity -- and the cost / benefit of throwing it out. In a bizarre sequence of events this past week, The New York Times reported that on Tuesday, an internal memo was sent out from "Alan Batey, vice president for Chevrolet sales and service, and Jim Campbell, the G.M. division's vice president for marketing [saying]: 'We'd ask that whether you're talking to a dealer, reviewing dealer advertising, or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate our brand as Chevrolet [not Chevy] moving forward'..."

And today, the NYT reports "G.M. issued a statement on Thursday that said the memorandum had been 'poorly worded.'" Poor strategy to be sure, but rather clearly worded nonetheless. If the original message wasn't puzzling enough, The Times also states that "Mr. Batey uses Chevy no fewer than six times in less than two minutes ... in a video interview ... posted on Chevrolet's YouTube channel" while attempting to defend the memo. And to wit, "In an interview by phone, Mr. Batey called the memo 'a rough draft' and 'a bit of fun.' He also explained that there would be no 'massive change of direction.'" Tell that to Chevy staffers who also received "A postscript to the memo say[ing] a sort of cuss jar -- a plastic "Chevy" can -- has been placed in the hallway. Every time someone uses 'Chevy' rather than Chevrolet, the note said, the employee is expected to put a quarter in the can ... The proceeds are to be spent on 'a team building activity.'" And not a moment too soon.

It's hard to imagine precisely what Messrs. Batey and Campbell are thinking, but one thing is certain -- they sure haven't studied their Shakespeare lately: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)...Or not. They can only hope that the recipients of their memos haven't read them as a branding tragedy in process.

Now let's discuss throwing the baby out with the bathwater. On second thought, it's Friday -- let's not.

William Busch

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