April 3, 2006 1:47 PM PDT

GM slow to react to nasty ads

General Motors did little in the way of damage control on Monday after a do-it-yourself ad campaign for a GM SUV was hijacked by critics of the company and thousands of negative ads flooded the Web.

As part of a partnership with the TV show "The Apprentice," GM launched a contest last month to promote the Chevy Tahoe SUV. The contest challenges viewers to create their own digital commercial about the SUV at Chevyapprentice.com. Entrants must choose from a range of video clips and sound tracks and write their own text to create their ad.

Over the weekend, hundreds of people used the Internet to circulate thousands of videos that charged GM with contributing to global warming, protested the war in Iraq or just demeaned the Tahoe's quality. Some videos also contained profanity or sexually explicit messages.

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Video: Viral marketing backfires
Ad busters hijack GM contest

Late Monday, GM announced that it would begin screening the ads for "offensive and inflammatory" content but would not remove material based solely on a "negative tone" toward the company.

The contest is a success as a marketing campaign, according to Melisa Tezanos, a GM spokeswoman. Consumers have submitted more than 21,000 ads and have e-mailed commercials over 40,000 times, she said. Chevyapprentice.com has generated 2.4 million page views, and the average visit to the site lasts more than 9 minutes. The company anticipated before launching the contest that it may see some negative ads, but Tezanos noted that more than 80 percent of the commercials depict the Tahoe in a favorable light.

"There are many different opinions and many different people, and we recognize that," Tezanos said.

The ads apparently began circulating early last week, according to some who saw them. On Saturday, hundreds were posted on a message board at DemocraticUnderground.com, a site created in 2001 and dedicated to "the exchange and dissemination of liberal and progressive ideas."

In one contest entry were the words "Yesterday's technology today," superimposed over a clip of engine pistons pumping. Another featured shots of the Tahoe zooming through snow, mountains and desert. Over the video appeared the words: "Global warming isn't a pretty SUV ad. It's a frightening reality."

"Viral marketing" is the current buzzword used by advertisers to describe the way a message can spread among Internet users.

Much has been written about attempts by corporations to tap into this phenomenon, but the GM contest is an example of how such efforts can backfire.

Contests that appeal to the public to come up with the best slogan or jingle have been around for decades. Companies asking for public opinion have always been aware that their products may not be popular with everyone.

"The issue here is that GM is providing a public display of the feedback versus keeping it in house," said Gordy Abel, vice president of marketing agency Carat Fusion. "An open community can see all responses. In my opinion (GM) needs to do a better job of screening these types of contests in the future to make sure the content complies with the rules before it is posted."

CNET News.com's Elinor Mills contributed to this report.

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General Motors, SUV, contest, global warming, opinion

31 comments

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Failure at viral marketing?
Somehow I don't think this is so much of a failure at viral
marketing... the amount of press reads success in my book?
Posted by overthemoon84 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Even bad news is good publicity
Agreed, this "abuse" of a positive marketing tool is going to ruin Chevy's reputation as much as another private video is going to ruin Paris Hilton's reputation.
Posted by langranch (1 comment )
Link Flag
Do people actually take credit for creating that stuff?
I wonder why anyone should put any sort of value/weight into something created by a fan of "The Apprentice".
Posted by jpickett (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Do people actually take credit for creating that stuff?
I wonder why anyone should put any sort of value/weight into something created by a fan of "The Apprentice".
Posted by jpickett (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I fail to see how this backfired..
By not pulling the negative "commercials" GM can't be attacked for censorship, and may actually gain positive news coverage for that alone.

Secondly despite the fact that much of the material was negative, it has still managed to deliver tens of thousands of commecials for little or no cost.

The point of advertising is not so much its content but rather to get the brand name to stick in the minds of the public. So all these people have done is assist GM by bringing their products to the attention of thousands, if not millions, of people.

Bottom line is if people remember the product even an hour after the advert has gone away, that advert is a success.

I don't know if it was accidental or an act of brilliance to allow the negative commercials to run rampant, because in the end all that people are going to remember is that GM is not afraid to listen to its critics.

I'm not sure that's a particularly good thing..
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Negative Ads Draw Viewers Too
The negative ads draw viewers too.. and people who get to the site and start clicking on random videos are 80% likely to get a positive ad.
Not opening themselves up to charges of censorship is a good thing too.

All in all, I'd say that it's a supportable business decision. Unusual, but supportable.
Posted by darkonc (3 comments )
Link Flag
GM is smart
In common with the other major motor manufacturers, GM has undertaken extensive research into the kinds of people who buy SUVs. They know that the average SUV buyer is:

"insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and communities. SUV drivers generally don't care about anyone else's kids but their own, are very concerned with how other people see them rather than with what's practical, and they tend to want to control or have control over the people around them." - Keith Bradsher, "High and Mighty: The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way".

Such people are unlikely to be dissuaded from buying an SUV simply because such vehicles kill people, polute the environment and consume disproportionate resources. In fact, that's half the reason FOR buying them.

All the 'negative' publicity pointing out how damaging SUVs are is actually positive publicity for the SUV buyer. It's saying "you're big and important and entitled to more than your fair share of the world's resources. Drive one of these and everyone will know what a big deal you are." I wouldn't be surprised it the Tahoe becomes Chevy's best selling brand.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Reply Link Flag
O RLY?
"...and entitled to more than your fair share of the world's resources."

Who are you to tell me what portion is "fair"? What are your arbitrary limits? Like communism? Go live in Cuba.
Posted by PerfectCr (17 comments )
Link Flag
Any publicity is good publicity
The negative ad creators are simply preaching to the converted, and will likely turn more people onto the SUV than off simply to stick it in the eye if those hegative ninnies. Nuke the whales I say. Sealskin bra for Pamela Anderson.
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Heck Yeah!
I drive a super crew pickup truck partly out of the practical consideration of my weekend trips to Home Depot and Lowes my inexhaustable supply of DIY tasks.

Do I care about getting good gas mileage? Hell no! I feel it is my patriotic duty to consume as much petroleum as I can. The more I consume, the sooner we run out, marginalize the middle east and move on to another form of energy. And now that China and India are consuming more, it won't be long now.
Posted by (63 comments )
Link Flag
to them I say
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.chevyapprentice.com/view.php?country=us&#38;uniqueid=f5c3ac16-14c8-1029-98eb-0013724ff5a7" target="_newWindow">http://www.chevyapprentice.com/view.php?country=us&#38;uniqueid=f5c3ac16-14c8-1029-98eb-0013724ff5a7</a>
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Do They not even do any research
Did none of those people do any research on the Tahoe itself?
Of all of the car companies in the world today, General Motors is
making the most strides towards alternative fuel sources to
combat that BS thing we call global warming. I agree Hydrogen
cars won't be here for a few years, but ALL new GM cars are
compatible with E85 Ethanol made from corn. Toyota and it's
Hybrids still primarily use Gasoline, and I'd like to see a
Hydrogen powered Landcruiser compete against an E85 powered
Tahoe. Also GM has pioneered the Active Fuel Management
system, You're only using all 8 cylinders when you need it. And
why pick on a car from America? I mean here in California alone
we have some really outrageous smog laws, but over in Europe,
they are so lax on their emmissions standards. Why do you
think we don't see many imported European Sports Cars? It's
not only because they cost too much, but they're almost
impossible to get smogged in some states. The people who
have attacked GM with these commercials are just Left Wing
Liberal Democrats who will use any ploy to get the Uninformed
American Public on their side, and sadly it is working. They just
used this fun contest sponsored by GM to create more Political
Drama. So now I'm turning my comment into political drama. I
believe that they have their right to say what they have to say,
but at least do it in a dignified way. You don't have to tarnish
the good name of Chevrolet and General Motors just to say that
you don't support the War in Iraq. I remember how a few years
ago commercials aired talking about how by fueling up our
SUV's we were supporting the Terrorists. That whole commercial
was so hypocritical because all cars use gas. The people who
did these commercials are people who claim to love America,
but clearly Hate Americans. I also suspect that these are the
people who support the legalization of all illegal immigrants.
They want this to happen so that it will shift the balance of
Power in America

IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN!!!
Posted by jsnowbordr47 (147 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Isn't it obvious?
People ARE poking fun and why not? It only gets 15mpg in the city. That means it uses as much gas as two regular cars or three hybrid cars to go the same distance. And lets take a look at who's buying them. I would expect someone with a large family who owns a trailer or something on a trailer and actually spends time off-road where 4 wheel drive is needed, but that's not the case. These monsters are being bought by people who live in cities (where 4 wheel drive isn't needed), who don't have large families (where seating for 6 or more isn't needed), who drive them to and from work or the grocery store and have never or never will drive off-road up the sides of snow peaked mountains as shown in the commercials. Do you know how many gas guzzling SUV's I pass on the road each day on the way to work with a single person in them?

You just don't get it. Today's SUV is nothing more than a BIG GAS GUZZLING LUXURY CAR designed more as a "status symbol" for rich people that has been given 4 wheel drive so it will fit in a different automobile catagory just to make it legitimate under the government's fuel efficiency requirements.

I do have a right to complain. Every summer, I spend many a weekend going to lakes or beaches in off-road areas pulling a trailer with a sailboat on it, doing all those things you see SUV's doing in the commercials. My small vehicle isn't 4 wheel drive and has just enough horsepower to pull the trailer with its 2 liter 4 cylinder engine. I could have purchased something with more power or with 4 wheel drive but I atleast care about the environment and conserving oil and bought something that gets 27 mpg and puts out alot less smog.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
You said it!
These people cant take politics off their mind for a minute. They spend all day reading their lefty blogs and deluding each other with ever more rediculous moonbat nonsense. And then they need to go out and find an outlet for their righteous indignation, so they basically vandalize GM's site for kicks. Pretty sad.

Plus, you're right, Global Warming is BS. So the notion that we should 'care' about SUV's causing it doesnt hold weight if one doesnt chug the Global Warming fairy-tale kool aid.
Posted by (402 comments )
Link Flag
Whats really sad...
Whats really sad is the vandals posting their 'commercials' on the GM website actually think they're helping their cause. Do they actually think someone's going to see one of those ads and say, "whoah, you mean Tahoe's cause global warming? maybe we better not buy one!". Get real, and grow up. If anything they'll cause a backlash among SUV owners, and make those pushing the Global Warming scenario look like jobless teenage losers with nothing better to do with their time. Why would anyone take them seriously? I know I dont.
Posted by (402 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Upset SUV owners? Oh No!!
Perhaps the SUV owners should be enlightened as to what everyone else thinks about their gas guzzling monsters.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.chevyapprentice.com/view.php?country=us&#38;uniqueid=150da9a2-1549-1029-98eb-0013724ff5a7" target="_newWindow">http://www.chevyapprentice.com/view.php?country=us&#38;uniqueid=150da9a2-1549-1029-98eb-0013724ff5a7</a>
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
Global Warming
Is global warming really happening or is it just fiction? There is no real CONCLUSIVE evidence that this is in fact true. I suggest that everyone read Michael Crichton's book State of Fear. Although this book is a work of fiction the author spent some time doing his homework and you come away with doubts. I think the environmentalists are a bit misguided and the scientific proof is weak at best.
Posted by tcluke (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Don't believe...
...what Crichton writes. He is first and foremost a novellist, and his plots bend fact to make the story more exciting.

I remember when State of Fear was first published, there was a lot of controversy because the theories that underpin the book are those of largely discredited "climate change deniers", much of whose work was oil company funded.

Like with his earlier inflammitory book Rising Sun, Crichton loves spinning conspiracist yarns. In Rising Sun, it was how the technological superiority of the Japanese was walking all over the US (yeah, right; how long has their recession been going on now? 10 years? 15?).

Most of Crichton's research comes from the front page of USA Today. Just read his addlebrained account of the quantum underpinnings of time travel in Timeline and you'll see that research isn't the man's strong point.

The consensus view in the scientific community is that global warming is indeed happening, and that mankind's activities are contributing to it. When even big oil fanboys like Dubyah start getting nervous about the environment, you know the situation is pretty dire.

Its interesting that the global warming "debate" is still really only going on in the US. The rest of the world has accepted that the preponderance of evidence supports the fact that global warming is occuring, that man has helped to bring it about and that climate change is already underway. Yet we still hear largely American voices crying that it's all some big conspiracy to undermine America's God given right to drive 12mpg SUVs and consume every natural resource in sight.

Time to wake up.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Link Flag
Oh well!
Oh well, it does show how far divorced and alienated both the Senior managememnt and the PR Dept at GM!, are from it's real customers!

Further, it goes a long way to explain, why so much of the current line up in cars and light trucks available from the company, is so last century in design and lacking in adequate quality control, it is not funny!

If the management team at GM, prefer to live in the stone age, you can't really expect much advancement in any technology or innovation!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just another wake-up call
I like the general concept of the campaign. But if you have a product that has obviously soooo many enemies you should step back and think a little harder. Sure there are till plenty of SUV lovers out there who consider everyone else treehuggers. But the signs at the wall (i.e 5 digit discounts for Luxury SUVs) are too big too ignore. Beautifully done ;-)
I wonder how much the Apprentice team was involved in that lapse...
Posted by KlausinLA (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Message has been deleted.
Posted by gmrules1 (1 comment )
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Who is God?
Do you think that you are cool? I can tell that you are. That would make the definition of cool being someone who is unable to spell, or use proper sentences. Next time you type a message to get your point accrossed (if that's what you condsider yourself "trying" to do) try purchasing a dictionary first, or perhaps you are low on money seeing as you get a wonderful 12 miles per gallon. I'm surprised they allow inmates to use the internet? That should be illegal. I pitty smal incompetent people like yourself. You be sure to take care now.
Posted by Joeandsara1234 (1 comment )
Link Flag
Advertising opens you up to all kinds of feedback and one kind that I have observed over time is the resentment alot of people have (car buying people) towards gm. The rise and the fall of a business is a fact of life.
Posted by dodoworks (1 comment )
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