Thursday, October 30, 2014

Social Media Likes Technology and Stuff

Social media may have saved this guy's job.

We all joke about how goofy or improper social media is, or how it makes its users.  But last night, in what would otherwise have been a widely ignored commercial pitch for a new Chevy by a sales guy nobody knew, sports fans around the country are giving a lot of free publicity to a brand desperately trying to look cool again.

The heretofore unknown sales guy is Rikk Wilde, an anonymous manager for Chevrolet in Missouri, and his otherwise simple, non-memorable task was to present the keys of a brand-new, 2015 Chevrolet Colorado to the most valuable player of this year's World Series, which wrapped up in Kansas City after seven games.

The MVP was Madison Bumgarner, of the victorious San Francisco Giants.  Tall, handsome, and suddenly the most celebrated pitcher in baseball.  What did he need with a midsized pickup truck, as if he couldn't go out and purchase whatever he wanted?  It's a goofy schtick, every year, when MVPs of most games, leagues, and championships are "awarded" gimmicks as prizes.  Crass commercialization is what it is, and everybody knows it.  Even the baseball commissioner himself, Bud Selig, who was at the podium with Bumgarner, knew it was a presentation to be endured for the car maker's cash, not the prestige.

Still, Wilde was expected to make an otherwise perfunctory presentation seem somewhat auspicious.  Hopes were high in Kansas City that their hometown team would win the series, and Wilde was chosen by the bigwigs at Chevrolet to make their own marketing pitch because he's known in the division as a die-hard Royals fan.  He wasn't chosen for his charisma in front of the television cameras, or his suave spontaneity while speaking in front of a live national audience.  By all accounts, Wilde is a sports-crazy car guy, not a professional spokesman.

Still - what could go wrong?  Just give a blurb about the truck, congratulate the player, and make it all sound a little classy, befitting the occasion.  You're standing in front of the iconic World Series trophy with a rock-star athlete and the commissioner of baseball, so nobody's gonna even notice you.

Yeah... right...

Wilde started off looking distinctly uncomfortable, but since he's not a celebrity, most baseball fans paying any attention to the moment on television were probably giving him a lot of grace.  Hey, he's a car guy talking to brand-new baseball royalty.  Who wouldn't flub their lines a little?

Yet Wilde seemed to know he was in over his head.  Nervously, he flashed a notecard to check on what he was supposed to be saying, but none of it seemed to be coming out well.

Then came the one little line that, suddenly, lit up social media like Times Square at midnight.

Trying to rave about Chevy's Colorado truck, Wilde innocently stammered, "it combines class-winning - and leading - you know, technology and stuff..."

That was all it took.

"Technology and 'stuff'?"

At first, fans hooted on social media about Wilde's gaffe.  His wasn't exactly a definitive description of a vehicle's advanced features, was it?  You could almost hear Chevrolet executives watching from their luxurious homes in suburban Detroit rising in unison across southeastern Michigan, yelling at their TV sets, "NO, you IDIOT!"

The suits at corporate likely had scripted what they considered to be the most compelling features offered in their new product.  They'd e-mailed the list to Wilde, and told him to be sure and enunciate everything so the truck sounds really impressive.

Instead, the guy spits out "technology and stuff" on live television.

Turns out, the derision on social media didn't last long.  After a while, people began sobering up, and realizing that if they were still talking about it, Wilde's mistake wasn't so bad after all.  Hey - he'd marketed the truck, hadn't he?  He'd gone unscripted - which is usually when memorable things happen - and managed to make his cameo appearance after the World Series an event all of its own.

Chevrolet... truck... what was it?  By the time people began wondering what that truck was again, folks in Chevy's real, full-time, professional marketing department had caught the wave from social media, and were running with it themselves.  This wasn't just making lemonade out of lemons; this was selling trucks thanks to an accidental major league commercial.

And nobody came out losing in this.  It's amazing, actually.  The folks early-posting about how laughable Wilde's gaffe was set the stage for eventually realizing how the whole thing had become its own story.  While some people are making fun about Wilde's looks, it's an indignity that fades rapidly when you consider how beloved Chris Farley - the most common look-alike referenced - was within American pop culture.  And Chevrolet itself, instead of looking like a stodgy, heavy-handed corporate albatross by trying to obfuscate the whole thing, took the entirely different tack of exploiting social media - the same venue making light of "technology and stuff," to say, "well, yeah, it actually does have technology and stuff - cool stuff!"

After all, that's how most truck guys talk, right?

Then, to top it all off, thanks to the 24-7 nature of social media, by the time the rest of us had gotten up this morning, all we had to do was Google "technology and stuff" to learn all we wanted to know about the all-new Chevy Colorado.

It's a credit to Chevrolet - and a shot in the arm for everyone everywhere fearing they might innocently botch a really important opportunity for their company -  that the brand's executives are being such good sports about the whole thing.  They apparently were very quick to realize a good marketing angle when they saw one, even if they were building on a mistake.  Chevy has managed to come out of this not looking like they're trying to salvage something, or struggling to get back on-message, but as a hip and agile outfit that can laugh along with everybody else - except Chevy hopes to laugh all the way to the bank.

After all, it remains to be seen how many people will actually go out and purchase one of those trucks, since the market for mid-sized pickups isn't exactly robust right now.  That was one of the reasons all of the Big Three dropped out of the segment several years ago. 

But if Colorado sales fare poorly, it won't be Wilde's fault.

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