And here's comes the predictable backlash about the GM ad, which essentially empowers consumers to create a full spectrum of ad campaigns (positive or negative). We're seeing plenty of righteous pontification from various pundits asking, incredulously, how could a major brand like GM be so silly to allow consumers to do "anything they want" with advertising? If you listen to "Part Two" of the Joe Jaffe Across the Sound podcast in which Jackie Huba and I debate the depth of "authenticity" of this ad campaign, this is the heart of our issue. Jackie argues it's insincere, and still marketer controlled, while I insist that it's pretty remarkable that a major brand would be open to any form of consumer expression that might deviate from the brand strategy. Now, with a small flood of "negative ads" across the blogophere, in retrospect, I think Jackie really missed the mark: indeed, the ensuing buzz and creative expression has demonstrated beyond question that GM -- not unlike how they allowed negative blog comments on their Fastlane blog -- gave plenty of control to consumers...to much, some would argue. How many marketers would give this much control to consumers? What's key for brands here is to understand, with reasonably high confidence, is how creative conversation will play out when you liberate "creative control" to consumers, as well as to critical marketing pundits and B2B bloggers like myself. Where Jackie Huba was right, I think, was questioning whether this was the right brand to embark upon such an open-expression experiment. B2B bloggers, in particular, tend to put any media and advertising campaign to the "torture test" before mainstream consumers even see the campaign, occasionally subverting the originale intent of the compaign in order to demonstrate their depth of analysis. Consumers, meanwhile, simply pour existing attitudes and biases into "open" platforms of brand expression. GM launched a "make your own" advertising campaign at a time when frustration with gas prices and SUV over-dominance is unmistakably evident in the blogophere and across auto-centered message boards and forums. Put another way, the backdrop was ripe for parody, satire, and some level of backlash...even from the True Huggers.
Relevance to Blogosphere: There's a key insight here related to corporate blogging. Whenever brands ask me "should I blog" -- and exercise which also carries with a level of commitment to open feedback loops and "consumer control" -- I always come back with the same retort: "First call you 800 number, and then look into the mirror." Most brands, in reality, are horrible at listening to the consumer, and carry the equivalent of "don't talk to me" signs around their necks, especially in the "contact us" portion of their websites. As I noted toward the end of the Jaffe podcast interview, what brands really need to do -- either before or in tandem with liberating consumers to say anything they want in open wild-west of the Internet (e.g. GM campaign) -- is to give their existing feedback mechanisms a massive makeover. Yes, this is a very hard sell, because marketers generally keep a distance from the "operational" folks who manage customer service, contact us, and other forms of "external relations." But if the consumer's in control, and the only advertising that seems to work is that which leverages all or part of that organic propensity to speak out, we might just want to revisit how we listen to and leverage that feedback. Finally, there really has been some outstanding commentary on this topic, including by Steve Hall of Ad Rants, who I think really sees the bigger picture on this issue.