Brilliant or daft? GM kills Chevy to save Chevrolet.

June 10, 2010

If this is a bid to generate some media and viral buzz, it is brilliant. What better way to remind the world that Chevy is woven into the fabric of Americana than by banning the nickname and inspiring a campaign to bring it back? But, if GM is truly on the warpath to strike Chevy from the vernacular, well that’s plain folly. And a bad move for a brand that continues to struggle with relevance.

Chevy Ad

Earlier this week, GM circulated an internal memo that demands “brand consistency” in the use of Chevrolet. In other words, stop saying “Chevy.” Consistency is, of course, fundamental to building and maintaining a strong brand. But consistency is not just about the name and the logo at the end of an ad. From Coke and Bud to FedEx and AmEx, a number of very powerful brands have built connections with the market by encouraging the use of a brand nickname. Chevy, thanks to a slew of pop culture references and the company’s own advertising stretching back decades, is one of a small handful of iconic brands that has engendered a deep emotional connection to its nickname.

Yes, nicknames can be detrimental to a start-up by creating confusion and by diffusing both marketing dollars and key messages. However, some of our strongest brands have developed a relationship with customers over years that simply go deeper than the corporate moniker. For those brands that can legitimately lay claim to a nickname, there are plenty of other tools in the brand toolkit to build and ensure consistency. Voice, visual treatment, colors, imagery, language, messaging, industrial design, overall product experience, etc.: all combine to create the picture of the brand in the mind a customer.

Why would GM reject this emotional connection by renouncing Chevy? GM is either incredibly daft or downright brilliant. Here is a company clawing its way back from a historic bankruptcy — and the path back demands that they jettison a key component of one of their strongest assets? It seems so foolhardy, that it simply must be brilliant.

As I write this, I can guarantee that somewhere a “Save Chevy” campaign is brewing — with Facebook pages, YouTube videos and Tweets galore. Then comes the Heartland concert or the Chevy Day March or, the crème de la crème, The Chevy Coast-to-Coast Rally. GM has taken to some brilliant subterfuge to spark a grassroots movement behind a dormant American icon. Wow! Well played, GM. For if the opposite is true — and this “kill Chevy” doctrine is legit, then GM is even more out of touch than any of us thought.

Update

Within one day of the report in the NY Times that GM was forbidding the use of "Chevy," the company has retracted the internal memo — referring to it in an interview as a "rough draft" and "a bit of fun."

So, at the end of the day, it was all a big ploy. While they did score two days of news about the Chevy brand (including prominent coverage in the New York Times), they also caved a bit too easy, no? GM could have milked this thing for a little while, I’m sure. But, perhaps they feared no one would care once the 24-hour cycle of news passed and GM just jumped at the chance for a quick hit. Well, at least we can all feel comfortable about singing American Pie without worrying about a visit from a trademark attorney.

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