Shakespeare famously wrote that a rose called any other name would still smell as sweet. But some top brass at General Motors apparently don't think "Chevy" has all the fragrance of "Chevrolet," which is why they advised GM personnel in an internal corporate memo to only use "Chevrolet" when referring to the company's top-selling brand.
The memo, obtained by The New York Times and the subject of a story in Thursday's publication, was sent to Chevrolet employees at GM's Detroit headquarters to urge them to stop saying "Chevy," as a way to present a consistent brand message.
"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 moving forward," the Times reported, quoting the memo, which was signed by Alan Batey, vice president for Chevrolet sales and service, and Jim Campbell, the division's vice president for marketing.
"When you look at the most recognized brands throughout the world, such as Coke or Apple for instance, one of the things they all focus on is the consistency of their branding," the memo said. "Why is this consistency so important? The more consistent a brand becomes, the more prominent and recognizable it is with the consumer."
Drove My Chevrolet to the Levee?
But as the Times pointed out, Coke is shorthand for Coca-Cola (KO) and Apple (AAPL) isn't the name users associate with the company's computers and electronic devices, which are called MacBooks, iPhones and iPads, and may have elicited some confusion among the ranks of Chevy, err, Chevrolet employees.
The memo also failed to note that "Chevy" is perhaps one of the best loved and best known pet names of any American brand. A search in Apple's iTunes Store, for example, returned hundreds of songs that have the name "Chevy" associated with them. And few songs are more iconically American than Don McLean's 1971 hit American Pie, which contained the line: "drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry."
The Times also reported that as of Wednesday night, the word Chevy appeared dozens of times on Chevrolet's website, chevrolet.com, including a banner on the home page that said, "Over 1,000 people a day switch to Chevy." One of the dropdown menus was "Experience Chevy," and on Facebook, brand pages include Chevy Camaro, Chevy Silverado and Team Chevy.
"While attempting to strengthen their brand is laudable, this is not the way to go about it," says Elizabeth Purinton-Johnson, associate professor of business at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. "Instead of thinking about the value of the brand to the consumers, they reacted in an unwise manner," she says, adding it's just such an oversight that led Coca-Cola to introduce New Coke in 1985, one of the best-known flops in product marketing in U.S. history.
It seems GM got the message. The story and reader reaction to it caused GM to take a second look at the "ditch Chevy" missive. In a press statement issued just before noon Detroit time, the company said Thursday's debate "over a poorly worded memo on our use of the Chevrolet brand is a good reminder of how passionately people feel about Chevrolet. It is a passion we share and one we do not take for granted."
Further, the statement said: "We love Chevy. In no way are we discouraging customers or fans from using the name. We deeply appreciate the emotional connections that millions of people have for Chevrolet and its products." The company has even posted an explanatory video on YouTube.
Still, Purinton-Johnson says, "It's pretty sad when the company needs to be reminded of their biggest assets, their customers, their brand equity, and their brand identity."
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