Imagine hearing that Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) was pushing its employees to stop using the word "Coke" to refer to its flagship product. Or that McDonald's officially disowned the "Mickey D's" nickname. Sounds nuts, doesn't it?
I mean, what kind of company would waste the time and energy to try to kill an affectionate brand nickname that had been part of the American lexicon for decades?
I'll tell you what kind of company: General Motors. According to a report in this morning's New York Times, executives in GM's Chevrolet division have issued a memo ordering employees to stop using the word "Chevy" -- an iconic, immediately recognized term that has been used in GM advertising for over half a century -- in place of "Chevrolet".
That's the stupidest thing I've heard all week -- and it's been a pretty stupid week.
What are you people thinking?
Why on Earth would they do such a thing? According to the memo, signed by Chevrolet vice presidents Alan Batey and Jim Campbell, the problem is consistency of branding. As they say in the memo: "When you look at the most recognized brands throughout the world, such as Coke or Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) for instance, one of the things they all focus on is the consistency of their branding...The more consistent a brand becomes, the more prominent and recognizable it is with the consumer."
The Times was entertained by Batey and Campbell's mention of "Coke" as an example of a consistent brand, and so am I. The Times also notes, "Apple is not commonly used in reference to its products, which are known simply as iPads, iPhones and MacBooks."
But that misses the real point, which is this: Are you guys serious? These clowns are seriously worried about whether the Chevrolet brand is recognized by the American consumer?
Listen up, Batey and Campbell: If you've got hard data showing that Chevy has some sort of brand recognition problem, I'd love to see it. Because I'm thinking that Chevrolet is, if anything, a little too recognized. Recognized for decades of building cars and trucks with paint that flakes and fades, cheap plastic interiors that squeak and rattle, bizarrely huge wheel-well gaps that scream "loser rental car", moaning power steering pumps, all kinds of leaks... I could go on and on, as could millions of former Chevrolet owners. Emphasis on former.
The real problem with Chevy
Guys, the problem isn't that the American consumer doesn't recognize your brand. I don't need a million-dollar marketing study to know that. The problem is that the associations the American consumer has with your brand aren't what you'd like them to be. It's true that you've gone a long way toward transcending the chronic problems I listed above, but you haven't transcended the perception of those problems. (And you haven't transcended the perception that GM is run by a bunch of idiots, which this isn't helping. But I digress.)
Think about where we are right now, historically speaking. Thanks to its government bailout, post-bankruptcy GM has a second lease on life -- a window of time in which to restore some of its luster and market position and become -- once again -- a sustainable global industrial giant. But it's just a window, because the competition is fierce: Toyota (NYSE: TM ) has struggled recently, but it remains a mighty global competitor. And Ford (NYSE: F ) -- which should be GM CEO Ed Whitacre's model, and probably is -- is executing brilliantly on its daring turnaround plan, thanks to its relentless focus on the things that matter.
GM can't afford to waste time on semantics. It's long past time for the General to follow Ford's footsteps and focus -- relentlessly -- on the things that matter in the brutal global auto marketplace. "Chevy" versus "Chevrolet" isn't one of them.
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