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Not the Sharpest Knife in the Drawer

Another war has started.

Not in Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, or Somalia. This one is on U.S. soil.

The opening salvo was fired a little over a week ago.

It was… a whiny letter from the legal department of the Ford Motor Company directed at General Motors and the National Broadcasting Company.

Except the letter backfired, as if the lawyer that wrote it had pulled the pin on a PR grenade, threw it at GM and NBC, and then watched it boomerang back to the corporate offices at Ford where it exploded all over their brand.

The incident that prompted the attack? A Super Bowl commercial.

Let me explain.

Chevy produced a $7 million dollar Super Bowl commercial promoting their Silverado brand of pickup trucks. The commercial shows a Silverado pickup, coming to life after the 2012 Mayan predicted Apocalypse and driving through the rubble of the “End of the World.”

The driver of the Silverado winds his way through the devastation with Barry Manilow’s, Looks Like We Made It, playing in the background. He meets up with some other guys with pickups – all Silverados – where our protagonist asks the other guys, “Where’s Dave?”

To which one of the other survivors lowers his eyes and says, “Dave didn’t make it…. Dave drove a Ford.” (Not the exact dialogue, but watch the commercial for yourself – 60 seconds).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxFYYP8040A

Turns out, the people at Ford got a look at the commercial two days before the Super Bowl and on Saturday, 24 hours before game time, an attorney for the Ford Motor Company, who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, wrote a letter to NBC and GM, calling on them to pull the ad.

The attorney’s letter reads in part,

“However, the commercial, from its use of ‘Looks Like We Made It’ to its reference to Dave’s tragic demise, communicates… that the Sliverado is safer and more durable than any Ford pickup. These two messages are entirely unsupported.

….

“…Chevrolet’s commercial also unfairly denigrates Ford’s pickup trucks.”

Awww.

The letter goes on citing a bunch of data about how Ford pickups are more durable, yada, yada, yada.

The letter is full of controversy – the soul food of modern media – and of course is leaked. Now, everyone from Fox to the New York Times is running with the story, while the “dispute” roars across the Internet like a California forest fire in August.

It is hard to believe that executives at Ford are actually that PR dense. I mean… really.

Did they honestly think GM was going to pull the ad? Are they deaf? Dumb? Blind?

Or maybe they thought they were being cagey, knowing the letter would hit the press, they filled the missive with a bunch of research data about how durable Ford trucks are.

Yawn.

But people don’t read that kind of minutia in a letter like this. All they know is that Ford is mad at GM for running the commercial. Food fight! Yeah Baby!

With this stroke of PR brilliance, Ford, which has the #1 selling pickup in the country, just increased the Chevy Silverado brand awareness dramatically.

Whatever number of people that saw the commercial during the Super Bowl, that number is now increasing daily due to the PR flap.

You can just see the GM execs in Detroit high-fiving up and down the halls while the Ford letter helps them rack up branding impressions by the zillions.

GM’s Global Chief Marketing Officer wiped the tears of laughter from his cheeks and responded to the letter saying that they stood by their claim that the Silverado is “the most dependable, longest lasting full size pickup on the road,” and that “…people who are really worried about the Mayan calendar coming true should buy a Silverado right away.”

When contacted for a comment, the lead spokesperson for Ford Trucks, Mike Levine, said in part;

“We’ve made our point and we’ll always defend our products.

“But this type of a request happens from time-to-time, and now we’ll just let our legal team handle it.”

Mike, newsflash, never defend.

News flash #2, your “legal team” is driving you into a PR ditch. This strategy is a no win for you. Don’t let lawyers drive your branding, they’ll muck it up.

Newsflash #3. Instead of “defending” your brand (something the top selling brand should never do), why don’t you go on the attack – produce a clever ad positioning the Ford pick up above the Silverado.

I’m going to let you in on how to do that, Mike by making some comments about the Silverado commercial. No charge, Buddy. Read on, and if you need more positioning consulting call me.

THE COMMERCIAL

My opinion, overall, the commercial was…okay. Seven point nine (7.9) on a scale of 10.

I could expound, but the main point here is this: positioning communicates better, faster and – importantly – lasts longer, if it’s visual. It can be supported by text, or dialogue, but it should, on its face, be visual.

Example: same ad. The guy is driving his Silverado through the end-of-the-world rubble and glances off to the side where someone in a Ford pick up is trying to start the engine, but it just sputters and dies.
Or maybe as he is driving along he sees a Ford pickup that just didn’t make it, and then another – the crumbled Ford brand visible on the tailgates.

You wouldn’t have to say a word; the communication would be instant. It could be reinforced when he arrives at the intersection and meets his friends and finds out (verbally) that Dave was driving a Ford.

He could just nod sadly and… fade to an image of the Silverado brand and a voiceover of their current tag line – Chevy Runs Deep.

End of commercial. No Twinkies, no frogs.

I mean what’s with the black guy and the Twinkies? Did GM buy Hostess? I presume they are trying to make the point that everything is okay, or…? Whatever the purpose, this little vignette does nothing but distort and dilute the message.

And finally, let me make a confession: I had no idea that falling frogs are referenced in the Book of Revelations and are associated with Armageddon (I had to look it up). Maybe everyone in the country knows this but me. But even if that is true, frogs falling on the pickups as the commercial fades to black is off-putting and diminishes the message.

Here’s an alternative ending. The one guy says, “I don’t think Dave made it. He was driving a Ford, you know.”

They all nod knowingly and then it cuts to this beaten down guy staggering toward the group. One of them looks up and sees him…”Hey, it’s Dave!” They all look and shout out as he approaches. “Dave, good to see you, Man!”

Dave reaches them.

“Can I get a ride with one of you guys? My truck…” he looks toward the ground and slowly shakes his head.

The protagonist says, “Sure, Dave! Jump in, Buddy.”

And they all jump in their Silverados and head off into the sunset to start a new world.

Alright. Maybe not James Cameron, but it beats the Twinkies and frogs, drives home the positioning a final time, and ends on an upbeat note.

It may be that, despite my gracious invitation, Ford’s PR guy, Mike Levine, won’t call.

But we can provide marketing and PR counsel to you any time you’d like.

Marketing, advertising, public relations and branding (promoting your brand) should all be based on a “Position”. For a quarter of a century, we have been helping our clients develop positions that cause them to stand out from the crowd.

If you would like a quick explanation of positioning: what it is and how it works, there is a 2+ minute video on our website, www.ontargetresearch.com

It takes a critical and experienced eye.

Modesty aside, I have consulted countless corporate executives and government leaders on the subject of positioning, have written on the subject for publications such as Government Technology and Hotel and Motel Management, have spoken on the use of market research, surveys and positioning around the world, and Al Ries (the “Godfather” of positioning and the co-author of several classic books on the subject www.alries.com) has referred to On Target’s marketing newsletter, Response, as “Brilliant.” Thanks, Al.)

We can help you with your marketing in so many ways:

Market and Competitor research,

Surveys,

Positioning,

Branding,

Tag lines,

Copywriting

We can also refer you to other industry professionals: web designers, SEO specialists, social media pros, and Internet marketing specialists.

We can help you with whatever it takes to drive your sales.