Quick quiz, sports marketers … in the two weeks that have now elapsed since World Series game seven, do you remember Rikk Wilde, aka “Chevy Guy?” For those who’ve moved on to the latest off-field scandal, coaching hot seat rumors or your latest ground-breaking cross-platform activation, Wilde was the big, sweaty and nervous regional Chevrolet zone manager, tasked with presenting the keys to a new Chevrolet Colorado truck to World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner. Reportedly selected for the honor because of his longterm service to GM and loyalty to his Kansas City Royals (sorry, that didn’t work out), Wilde fumbled through his notes, and flubbed his remarks.
In the awkwardness of the moment, the national TV audience could see Bumgarner, Commissioner Bud Selig and sportscaster Erin Andrews cringe, as Wilde painfully referred to the differentiating aspects of the aforementioned truck as including “best in class technology and stuff.” In this world of citizen journalism, where every fan becomes an expert, “Chevy guy” references proliferated in the ensuing 24 hours, as many piled on through the wonders of social media. To Chevrolet’s credit, a quickly thrown together advertisement alluded to “technology and stuff,” effectively turning lemons into lemonade. Wilde became a viral sensation and, totally by accident, Chevrolet may have executed the year’s best sports marketing. Here’s why:
Rikk Wilde broke through the clutter and generated buzz
While you may not remember Wilde’s name two weeks after his MVP presentation, there was ample conversation about his moment in the spotlight. The incident transcended media platforms. If you believe that “any publicity can be good publicity,” Chevy guy had sports fans and the general public talking about the Chevrolet Colorado. “Technology and Stuff” became a part of the popular vernacular. But it also stands as a wake-up call to marketers and advertising professionals who become too immersed in the nuance and detail of our brands’ features and positioning. I’ve often remarked that research can be a reality check demonstrating how the customer doesn’t always think like us.
Conducting qualitative research with client-side R&D people behind the glass, I often see smoke come from the ears of client observers in the back room when skilled golfers can’t articulate the impact of perimeter weighting or the movement of the center of gravity on the latest new equipment. But, I often remind clients that it’s still O.K. when these real customers do express that there’s something innovative and different in the product that’s making them feel better about it. Like Chevy Guy, these potential customers can relate to “best of breed technology and stuff,” even if they can’t explain coefficient of restitution’s impact on how far you hit your driver.
Rikk Wilde was a relatable, authentic and credible endorser
Chevy Guy resonates not only because he speaks our language, but because you could see him driving the Chevrolet Colorado to the ballpark with his buddies. He wasn’t the typical, perfectly coiffed, robotic executive, parroting back the company rhetoric that he had practiced in front of his hotel mirror for four hours before the game. Read along in your best monotone…“On behalf of the thousands of XYZ company employees and their families, who share a longstanding relationship with the great sport of __[Blank]___it is a distinct honor to present the XYZ Company award to you for your historic performance tonight. Just like XYZ’s products, you share a commitment to excellence, hard work and the American way.” Boring! Unmemorable and uncomfortable in its own disingenuous way.
Rikk Wilde was awkward around celebrities and human enough to fight through his nervousness and mistakes to still deliver his message and the keys, to MVP Bumgarner, just as most of Chevy’s customers probably would have been, if thrust into the same situation. Our research consistently shows that fans want authenticity and credibility as opposed to some surreal, over-produced, contrived aspirational vision of perfection that has become common in sports advertising.
Chevy Guy was real, and more poignant, particularly in contrast to those creepy Rob Lowe spots that ran every inning on the World Series telecast. You remember … the spots where it was difficult to ascertain who was more plastic and disturbing, the real Rob Lowe, who reminded me of the old, “I’m a handsome actor” “SNL” sketch, or his unwatchable alter ego. I’ll take Chevy Guy over him, any day … and so, I suspect, will MLB fans and Chevy’s target customers.