How in the world a company the size of Chevrolet could have thought it a good use of taxpayer dollars to sponsor the mobile version of Grooveshark is beyond me (Chevrolet is a division of GM–you know, Government Motors). I don’t know what rock these people live under, but apparently they missed stories like this one in The Guardian which are legion.
The tone deaf moves by Chevrolet or its ad agency are rather stunning. Who would do this? According to the New York Times (in 2010):
After decades of stability, remaining at one agency for almost a century, the creative assignment for the mainstay Chevrolet division of General Motors is on the move again.
G.M. is shifting the lead creative duties for Chevrolet to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, part of the Omnicom Group, from the Dallas and Seattle offices of Publicis USA, part of the Publicis Worldwide division of the Publicis Groupe.
Chevrolet spends an estimated $600 million to $700 million each year on advertising; some estimates for last year were even higher, at more than $900 million.
This Omnicom connection is interesting for a couple of reasons: Omnicom also owns…wait for it…TBWA\Chiat\Day from whose creative loins sprang the recent wedge campaign “Artists vs. Artists” or as the agency described it in their own press release “PIRACY IS PROGRESS”. (This is the campaign sponsored by American Eagle Outfitters in Times Square–that would be the sweat shop kingpins–sorry, the human rights do gooders American Eagle Outfitters, who frequently want to be taken seriously by the US government when pursuing counterfeit imports of their own intellectual property using taxpayer money. Because if the government should do anything, it should protect its citizens, right? Right….)
But…good news! Digital Music News reports that:
Chevrolet has now severed all ties with Grooveshark, and discontinued a lucrative advertising campaign with the company. In an email received by Digital Music News on Tuesday afternoon, an executive at parent group General Motors declined to offer any specific reasons for the discontinuation, but was absolutely clear on the pullout. “Chevrolet is no longer affiliated with Grooveshark in any manner,” the terse email confirmed.
This is particularly interesting because when we were at Canadian Music Week, Chevrolet became the butt of many jokes. You see, the American taxpayers were not the only ones to write a check to bail out Government Motors, particularly Chevrolet–the Canadian taxpayers wrote their own check to keep the GM plants humming in Canada.
And DMN also reports:
Shortly after [the first report of the sponsorship] was filed, the campaign appeared to be yanked. Chevrolet initially pointed Digital Music News to a Canadian-only campaign (the report was first filed in Toronto), with broader North American (or even global) plans unclear. That suggests some IP-related, location-specific confusion, though the latest correspondence confirms a broad, global pullout.
What it actually suggests is some extraordinarily tone deaf arrogance by some know-nothing, probably at Chevrolet’s ad agency, who thought that saying the campaign was targeted at Canada somehow helped the PR disaster in the making. Because it was “cool” or “edgy” to spend the Canadian taxpayer’s money on Grooveshark and not the American taxpayer’s? Or that they’d launch it in Canada and let it leak down to the US kind of like…oh let me guess…Isohunt? Like no one would notice?
Where do they find these people?
Thankfully, this absurdity was apprehended by smart people at GM who did the right thing and shut it down. This is actually a teachable moment for all concerned–for the brand, just because you hire a big ad agency doesn’t mean that you won’t find yourself in situations like this if you leave them to their own devices. For the artists–there is hope, because when the decisionmakers at these brands find out what is going on, they almost always take action that respects your rights.
And for the ad agencies–someone is going to lose some business, maybe a big account or two or five. Want it to be you? Do you want to be explaining to your partners how you screwed up their relationships on their accounts when the blowback hits your agency? If you do, keep doing what you’re doing, and all that can be arranged. And have your peripheral vision checked, because you’re going to need it.