Sometimes a Nice Thank-you is The Wrong Way To Go

What was one of the first things you mother taught you about getting along with people? You say “thank you” when you receive something. It’s nice and polite and it will get you through that pesky post-gift-giving moment with almost preternatural smoothness. A nice “thank you” is both expected and appreciated. Or so thought the folks at Chrysler.

Not All Gifts Require a Thank You

I am sure you recall the auto bailout, where each of the Big Three received billions of dollars to bridge the gap between their business practices and reality (and as we’ve seen from subsequent requests for money, reality is still rearing its ugly head). Chrysler, having received its billions, decided to follow Mom’s advice and thank the American people for the money. For many—enough to remove the entire matter from the Chrysler Blog—it as akin to paying at a toll booth and having the attendant, who would have cheerfully sent the State Police after you for non-payment of your 80 cents, smile at you and say “Thank you.” What are you thanking me for? I am on that road because I have to be and I gave you the money on pain of law, not out of any generosity toward the state or the Toll Authority.

The reaction to Chrysler’s thank you note was like that—only many orders of magnitude more intense:

You are not welcome! Shame on you, Mr. Nardelli! Shame on all the morally bankrupt greedy, overpaid deadbeats at Cerberus! I feel sorry for the employees at Chrysler, but the fact is they do not build products that the public wants to buy. It is certainly not the fault of most of these employees, that most of the public does not want to buy these products, but life is not fair. Chrysler should be put out of its misery and Chrysler employees will have to find other jobs, just like other hardworking Americans do. It isn't easy. But hey, life sucks. Just like Chrysler products.

And:

Way to blow hundreds of thousands of dollars on a useless ad campaign that will surely only worsen your public image. We weren't buying your cars before because they are all gas guzzling, unreliable, uninteresting cars that look like they were styled by the coleman plastic cooler division, inside and out. So then you steal our money through the government so you can waste more of it on useless ads, and you have the audacity to remind us all about it. Go to hell Chrysler. I was not going to buy one of your vehicles before, and I certainly am never going to do so after this.

And, of course:

I'm rolling over, but I've had to do that a lot lately. Posted Jan 2, 2009, 9:54 AM by Thomas Jefferson

Given these and many other similar responses, both on the Chrysler blog and on Digg, Chrysler pulled all of it down from their site. Of course gone is not the same thing as forgotten.

Wooing Customers by Rubbing Salt in the Wounds

The problem, of course, is the fact that the thank you, which I am sure was as mindlessly well-intentioned as the use of corporate jets when the Big Three CEOs first went to beg for bailout money, is that it reminded people of something that most of them were violently opposed to—the bailouts—yet were forced to live with anyway. The American people do not support TARP or the auto bailouts or really much of anything that the Congress is pushing. By thanking the American people for money they were coerced to give to companies they did not wish to bail out, Chrysler is, in effect, rubbing the collective nose of the American people in the economic mess created by Congress and Wall Street as well as the Big Three’s own failures in terms of management, product and labor. In other words, the thank you ads reminded Americans of the worst aspects of the company and the situation.

You are NOT WELCOME! What an insult upon injury. Chrysler is morally bankrupt, proven by this ad thanking the very people they've stolen from. There is nothing that could ever tempt me to buy your product and it appears much of America feels the same.

The Bottom Line

The lesson here is really simple: Your marketing and advertising should focus on what is positive about your business. By the same token, highlighting what people hate about your business or industry is not going to win you converts. Jeers and insults, yes; converts, no. Learn from Chrysler’s example. After all, the company has to be good for something. Oh yeah, for this nice lesson in marketing and PR: Thank you, Chrysler!

Mom would be so proud.