Chevy Tahoe Plays with Fire

April 27, 2006

User generated advertising is all the rage. Trying to leverage the passions behind blogging, texting, MySpace-ing and YouTube-ing, marketers are buying into the notion that, hey, our customers can come up with some great ideas, too. For the right brands, this is a goldmine of building and feeding loyalty among your biggest fans. For the rest, it can be a disaster from the word go.

Brands like Apple and Scion and Converse spur the creative juices of their loyalists ñ and have sparked some interesting user-generated initiatives, sanctioned or otherwise. And, for brands like these that get people excited, there will always be some underground movement of fans creating and posting their latest musings. It is the brands that directly invite such activity that best beware. Case in point: Chevrolet.

A couple of cringe-worthy taglines from a recent series of user-generated ads for the Chevy Tahoe:

"$70 to fill up the tank, which will last less than 400 miles. Chevy Tahoe."
"Our planet's oil is almost gone. You don't need G.P.S. to see where this road leads."

So why does Chevy do this? Well, first of all, the commercial itself these days is kind of beside the point. Weíve seen the ìcar in wildernessî or ìcar in sweeping, glorious settingî or ìcar in impossible locationî things ad nauseum. So, even with a good measure of wisecracks ñ and some nice ones at that: "Like this snowy wilderness? Better get your fill of it now. Then say hello to global warming." ñ Chevy did get people to pay attention. (According to Chevy 5.7 million people were ìinvolvedî and over 30,000 people actually submitted entries.)

And, at the end of the day, if they can handle the jibes of the websphere, they get their brand into the dialogue and come out the other end with a handful of appropriately respectful user-generated ads that they can hold up to say ìLook, people really do love Chevy!î

But, really, thatís all just spin. User-generated is a philosophy, not a campaign. If you have to tell people youíre cool, youíre probably not.

By the way, one of my favorite user-generated initiatives: Emerald Nuts. A recently completed contest invited consumers to create their own Emerald Nuts line ñ the brandís quirky and clever campaign to use the letters e-m-e-r-a-l-d-n-u-t-s as an acronym for some wacky phrase ñ was the source of some witty wordsmithing here at CoreBrand. I should note that none of our fine and exceedingly clever efforts won any notice. Check out the winners at and click on Grand Prize Winner.

- Jonathan Paisner

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