Trust, Risk – and the Chevy Tahoe?

One of the biggest reasons sellers and marketers don’t become trustworthy is that they chicken out.

At the last minute, they can’t give up control. They’ve got to tweak the truth just a bit; or whine just a touch to get the sale this quarter; or massage the message just a tad. And poof—self-orientation rears its ugly head, and customer trust plummets.

Enter Campbell-Ewald, ad agency for Chevy’s best-selling SUV, the Tahoe. They decided to accelerate into the fast-lane of consumer-driven, internet-age advertising. They bought an entire episode of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice and made it about how to market the Tahoe. During the episode’s ads, they invited consumers to create their own online ads at

Now, you may be thinking—as I was, reading about this in Wired—OK, the heartbeat of America is about to suffer cardiac arrest as every flamer, Tarantino-wannabe, and enviro-terrorist piles on to Chevy’s website, and Detroit’s beige marketers pull the plug faster than you can say Holy Heartland!

Well, so much for my stereotyped thinking. (Plus, I stopped watching The Apprentice after Season 1). The site did in fact get a large number of creative SUV-bashers. (The text-over of one went, “Global warming…Think about what we’ve destroyed…Enjoy the longer summers!…because you suffer from penis envy…the Earth is now your bitch…FUCK THE EARTH. GET YOURS.”)

But Campbell-Ewald and Chevy hung tight. They had expected it. They knew that was the price of being in a consumer-driven, open medium. Ed Dilworth, a Campbell-Ewald exec, says the era of control is over: “you can either stay in the bunker, or you can try to participate.”

The results proved them right. Participation per se is positive. The campaign had significant positive effects on sales, both during and after the program.

This tale is only nominally about the new economy, web advertising, etc. What it’s really about is basic human nature.
People want to be heard. Sellers who hear them, in the voices they choose to express themselves, are the only sellers who become trusted.

Most sellers and marketers, instead, react from fear. They see buyer expression as something to be controlled, channeled, and steered. Hence we get “closing,” objection-handling, lead screening, metrics, scripting and CRM systems.

And what they breed is mistrust.

There are a million ways to say it. “Before people care what you know, they want to know that you care.” “The best way to get what you want is to help others get what they want.” “If you listen to what people say, they will then listen to you.

That’s how trust works. In Detroit, Mumbai, Shanghai and New York. It’s a people thing.


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