May 5, 2006


- Grant McCracken on Chevy Tahoe controversy
- Tommy DeFrantz communicates music in new way
- Companies embrace RSS despite low adoption
- Microsoft acquires in-game ad network

--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------

Chevy Co-Creation
by Grant McCracken

In March, Chevy invited people to make ads for the 2007 Tahoe. The Chevy website supplied videoclips, sound tracks, and a copy field. Hey, presto, consumer created content.

The results were not surprising. Some people seized this opportunity to mock SUVs as a cause of global warning, as a danger on the highway, and as a source of social injustice. There are now some 4 dozen Tahoe ads on YouTube. Most are anti-Tahoe.

What is surprising is that Chevy is now being trashed in the marketing press for its failure to see this coming. In a piece called "Chevy's Crash, Burn," Adweek columnist Catharine Taylor calls this an "...ill-advised experiment with consumer-generated advertising [that] ended up looking like a series of drive-by shootings, with the Tahoe's image in the cross hairs."

Well, maybe. Here's what Chevrolet general manager Ed Peper had to say:

"Early on we made the decision that if we were to hold this contest, in which we invite anyone to create an ad, in an open forum, that we would be summarily destroyed in the blogosphere if we censored the ads based on their viewpoint. So, we adopted a position of openness and transparency, and decided that we would welcome the debate."

Welcome the debate? I think he just won it.

Is anyone really naive enough to think that consumer creation is a decorative gesture? Does anyone suppose that we invite the consumer in for merely decorative purposes? Does anyone think that consumers wish to participate only then to be patronized?

Here's what we know, somewhat syllogistically,

1) consumer participation is essential for vibrant messages and brands.
2) more consumer participation means less control.
3) less control means controversy is going to happen.
4) controversy is the price of vibrant messages and brands

Anyone who is surprised by controversy, anyone who resists it, has yet to grasp the revolution in marketing that cocreation represents.

Openness and transparency are essential. Controversy, even anti-brand messages, are the price of admission. If we want the brand to participate in contemporary culture, we must make it porous. We must surrender some of our control, and send the brand out into the world for good and ill.

There is no question that Tahoe took a hit. But I think some of this was good for the brand. It made Tahoe, Chevy and Detroit part of the conversation. From a meaning management point of view, it actually works quite well. It says, "Behold, a brand that survives controversy, a brand that enables controversy. Behold a brand that's as rugged and mobile and all terrain." Surviving controvery. Enabling controversy. When was the last time Brand America took a risk like this?

There is a fundamental shift in the rules of the game of marketing. We have to change our risk tolerances. We have to understand that the marketer's work, once so dominated by risk avoidance, is now much more about risk management. If Adweek doesn't get this, what hope do we have of persuading the client?

-- Peper, Ed. 2006. Now that we've got your attention. GM FastLane Blog. April 6, 2006. here.
-- Taylor, Catharine P. 2006. Chevy's Crash and Burn. Adweek. April 17, 2006, p. 14. (not available on line.)
-- You can find plenty of Tahoe ads on YouTube:

Grant McCracken has been the director of the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School, a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge and he is now an adjunct professor at McGill University. He has consulted widely in the corporate world, including the Coca-Cola Company, IKEA, Chrysler, Kraft, Kodak, and Kimberly Clark. He is a member of the IBM ThinkPad marketing advisory counsel. Grant blogs at

--------------- TRANSMEDIA ---------------

-- Tommy DeFrantz came across an ingenious way to communicate e-music. Software customized for the piece by MIT graduates Eto Oro and James Tolbert allows the professor to take center stage as a club dancer, controlling and cross-fading music samples and tracks via his body movement. Sensors on each wrist and ankle, along with two on his back, help send wireless signals to a computer that contains electronic music tracks. "Through the piece I can adjust volume, tempo, forward or backward play, frequency, highs, lows," says DeFrantz, an expert in African American dance history. "I'm like a human equalizer."

-- Ford is pitching a reality show where aspiring car designers would compete to design the next hot Ford vehicle.

-- Hasbro has bottled that fresh, just-out-of-the-can, "eau de PLAY-DOH" aroma into a limited-edition fragrance.

-- Bandai America is calling on kid filmmakers and Power Rangers fans to create short movies for a chance to win a $5,000 scholarship.

-- New Line will put a create-your-own-adventure game on the DVD release of Final Destination 3, featuring additional scenes short specifically for the game.

--------------- STATS ---------------

-- Almost half of households in the United States have three or more remote controls, according to a Web-based study conducted by JupiterResearch.

-- Seventy-one percent of site operators are planning to spend $50,000 or more on RSS during 2006, despite low perceived adoption rates and lack of definitive measurement standards.

-- More than a quarter of cellphones now in use can play such videos. But only 1 percent of wireless subscribers are using their phones to watch them, according to a recent survey by the NPD Group, a market research firm.

-- An estimated 62% of marketers surveyed by the Association of National Advertisers said they are funding branded-entertainment ideas by shifting dollars from TV advertising budgets.
Source: Madison+Vine

--------------- ADVERTISING ---------------

-- Microsoft has acquired Massive Incorporated, a company that inserts ads in computer games via Internet. Microsoft plans to use Massive's technology for other products as well, including IMs and Windows Live.

-- The new alternative-reality game for Lost will have puzzle clues imbedded in the commercials.,0,4516636.story?coll=sfla-features-headlines

-- JetBlue set up a booth at the Rockefeller Center in NYC to record people's experiences and thoughts about the company.

-- What happens when adverts sign up to be friends with each other? Adverlab posts a round-up of articles on MySpace advertising.

-- Exent Technologies claims its technology can put ads in the games that are already on the market through either legitimate or pirate channels.

Compiled by Ilya, Geoff, Sam and Parmesh
Edited and signed off by Ilya (

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