Rant: Bad Jeep Commander Branding or, I Hate the Mudds

I love to hate this site for so many reasons. It’s such a freakin
boondoggle! Whoever signed off on this, either at Organic or
Chrysler/Jeep, needs a loooong vacation. Meet the mudds.  "They’re up
for anything", the site says. Except, clearly, a bath. How much $$ did
they spend on this? God only knows, but it’s got to be over $1mm.

The site is sort of a trifecta of shadenfreude fun for me these days,
as I a) look for a new family grocery-getter to replace the lame
tan-van b) work on an online brand management strategy for work and c)
try to remind myself why I’m bustin my ass to teach some co-workers
about the way the web is changing everything about branding.

It was the right idea, but with bad execution that will backfire. Good ideas:

  • use a multichannel campaign to engage, inform and, hopefully, entertain prospects for a new vehicle.
  • Use long-standing brand attribute (adventurousness, earthiness, durability) to re-inforce the qualities of the new vehicle.
  • Incorporate an adventure/game (geocacheing) as part of a sweepstakes
  • Take advantage of users’ broadband connection to create a rich online experience.

Here’s a short list of "wrongs":

  • Splash screen, like it’s 1995
  • Dorky fake family with awful pig shit on their faces (Oh, I get it, they’re last name is "Mudd". HaHAHAHAH)
  • Cloying pun for a last name (see above)
  • Lame attempt to get on the very last car of the blogging bandwagon with, you guessed it, a character blog!
  • All Flash, all the time.

First,  it’s important to be consistent with your brand messaging. And, be honest. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. I work for a company that has been relying heavily on very traditional mass advertising to roll out its new brand. We’re trying to communicate a specific set of values, a personality, but, unless you’re in the demographic group we’re targeting, our ads seem a little, uh, off. We’re lucky, we’re a new company, so we can keep working on it until we get it right. But, if you’re Jeep, and you try to do something a little different, something that’s pretty far off the brand message, there’s a definite disconnect thats clear to those familiar with the brand (read the comments). And, your most passionate customers will jump all over you. Online. Google-cached forever. So every searcher of "Jeep 7 passenger" will find all the posts.

So, marketers have lost control of the message. consumers with keyboards and an ax to grind are now just as important to the succesas that super expensive timeslot you purchased on Desperate Housewives.

Second, for god’s sake, respect your audience. Fun doesn’t have to mean a fake family on a hokey roadtrip. A site like this is insulting to someone who is considering putting over 35k into a truck.

Third, if you’re the weasel/intern from the ad agency who’s been tasked with monitoring the blogs, don’t respond to criticism like a robot. Be honest. be real. Be engaged and polite, but don’t be obsequious like Miguel on the board at mike’s totally free jeep news now – Forums. Miguel, you sound like diplomat, but not someone who we really believe speaks for Jeep (especially when your email address is from the ad agency, BBDO).

I see this as an experiment gone wrong. But it also demonstrates how much opportunity there really is to get it right. It’s a good lesson for those of us who believe this internet thing is going to be big someday, and there’s plenty of ways to take advantage. But, you have to trust your users and respect them. Otherwise, you’re left to fake with actors and you end up with the Mudds.

Here’s what Jeep should have done:

  • Found a real family who has an active, outdoor life
  • Given them a video camera or two, some digital cameras, a GPS, a laptop and Sprint national wireless account
  • Put ‘em in a new Commander
  • Give ‘em some cash and a map
  • Ask them to check in via a blog
  • Put it all online in realtime

At the same time, Jeep should be running a contest for existing SUV owners who have worn out their current SUVs, to win a new Commander:

  • Users could post a picture of their old SUV
  • Let users tell the story of what adventure  they’d take with their new Commander
  • Allow other users to vote on who gets to win the Commander

Next time. If You’re going to spend some money on an interactive campaign, don’t just put TV on the interweb.