GM invited people to make their own Chevy Tahoe TV ads over on chevyapprentice.com. Lots of the ads are anti-Chevy, anti-SUV. Really, this raises a number of questions like "does GM understand viral marketing?" and "just because it's viral, does it mean it's good?" and "how much should you know about your customers before you go viral?"
I get why companies blog to create customer connections, to share, to improve their brand, to gain customer insight. But when you decide to do something viral and you hype it, like GM did, doesn't it escalate the risk? Especially when you are not just asking the audience to interpret and share your marketing but asking them to create your marketing. When you have an extremely loyal following and a not particularly controversial product, you can pull this off. Apple could have done this with the iPod. Chevy with the Tahoe? Hmm, not so much in my opinion.
I don't buy into the concept that all attention is good attention. That's a bunch of fooey (or is it hooey...whatever) in my opinion. Frankly, you can put something out there and allow the market to do with it what it wants. But that doesn't necessarily make it good. The question isn't whether people are talking about it, it's what they are saying about it. Really, since the negative ads are the ones getting the attention. For all it's viral buzziness, do these ads change your perception of GM positively and/or make you want to buy a Tahoe? What really is GM trying to get across? That they are transparent? Then show me your people and let me have real conversations with them. That they are innovative? Do I care whether they are innovative with marketing? Wouldn't I rather see innovation in their products?
It's not just the question of whether to do viral marketing, but how you do it and how much you know your audience. I just see this is an opportunity for people outside GMs target audience (look at the prizes for the contest and tell me who you think their target audience is) to have a little fun at the expense of their brand. That may be all fine and good online when you aren't pouring huge marketing dollars into an effort to drive traffic to the people making fun of your brand, but it looks like GM is. I'm not saying you always have to have control of your message (you know me better than that), just to mitigate your risks by understanding the audience of your marketing efforts and when you don't know (did I just say that? why would you do marketing without knowing?) maybe consider a viral opportunity where the company creates the core message. And when the market is critical of what you are doing as a company, get out there and talk about it and what you could have done better.
I'm still a little lost as to what GM expected this initiative to do for their brand. Some of you may see this differently, so please share because this is all just my opinion. I'm all for viral marketing when there's a point and it's done well. I'm just not seeing that here.
Of course, this is all from someone who still insists they don't need 4-wheel drive (and that is why I don't have it).