The blogs are clogged with the news of GM issuing a memo to its employees to use the name “Chevrolet” and not “Chevy” when referring to the brand. Songs by the dozens that refer to the car are being dusted off, getting play on YouTube and, despite the painful reminder of how our hair looked, making some nostalgic for an America that they associate with the brand.
Our interest is not to debate the pros and cons of the internal decision at Chevrolet to create continuity with the brand name across countries. We are far more interested when these sorts of “field experiments” happen: when a brand does something that seems like a good idea at the time, only to find that the consumer has an entirely different idea.
To us as researchers of consumer engagement and loyalty to brands, the power of a brand name is no surprise—especially a brand name so steeped in American culture. But it is a critical to remember that the brand scrap-yard is littered with brands that thought they could live off their past. But for the bailout by Americans, GM would be one of the most obvious examples.
A brand is more than name alone, as evidenced by Chevrolet’s weak performance in our predictive metrics, where it trails other brands when it comes to how consumers will buy, because both Chevrolet and consumers know the truth: people will refer to the brand however they like, as they have done with other brands, using “Coke” for Coca Cola, and the mock French pronunciation for Target—Tar Je’—which speaks volumes about its high design offerings.
The danger here is that GM will interpret the passionate response about the name with the success of the brand. Many brands with a strong legacy factor—like Chevy—can misinterpret the fervor of a few for an indicator of the many. And it will take the behavior of many to drive GM out of its past and into the future—a consumer decision far more subtle than any song lyric.
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