This month’s Wired takes a look at the Chevrolet’s attempt to promote the Tahoe by providing people the tools to make their own video ads for the SUV. Some of the results would drive a traditional marketer mad with fear:
The contest ran for four weeks and drew more than 30,000 entries, the vast majority of which faithfully touted the vehicle’s many selling points its fully retractable seats, its power-lift gates, its relative fuel economy. But then there were the rogue entries, the ones that subverted the Tahoe message with references to global warming, social irresponsibility, war in Iraq, and the psychosexual connotations of extremely large cars.
One contestant, a 27-year-old Web strategist from Washington, DC, posted an offering called “Enjoy the Longer Summers!” which blamed the Tahoe for heat-trapping gasses and melting polar ice caps. An entry called “How Big Is Yours” declared, “Ours is really big! Watch us fuck America with it.” The same contestant (hey, no rules against multiple entries, right?) created an ad that asked the timeless question, “What Would Jesus Drive?” On its own Web site, the Tahoe now stood accused of everything but running down the Pillsbury Doughboy.
The brilliant part? Chevy not only allowed people to create and post the videos, the company left them up on the site. The results? The competition site attracted 629,000 visitors through the course of the contest and funnelled more people to the main Tahoe site than did Yahoo and Google through the same period. The negative videos don’t seem to have done any particular harm and the publicity they generated may have drawn many more people to the site, where they’d be exposed to Chevy’s branding. Tahoe’s sales rose during and after the video contest.
Should political campaigns open themselves up in the same way? Are political communicators capable of surrendering that much control over their messages? I doubt many candidate campaigns will, since they’re selling a human being rather than an abstract brand (making a human candidate look stupid is probably going to have a much worse effect than making a car look stupid), but what about issue campaigns? Some filtration is almost always going to be necessary if you’re worried about people dropping F bombs and such, but should a campaign throw traditional caution to the winds and allow counter-messages to survive? I think it could be a powerful statement. If you do so, though, add a polite response just as Chevy did don’t let a negative message stand unanswered.