Someone at Toyota, Saatchi thought cyber-stalking was a good marketing idea

In order to market its then-new Matrix model, Saatchi & Saatchi proposed and Toyota OK’d a campaign whereby people who “opted-in” would get “e-mails for five days from a fictitious man called Sebastian Bowler, from England, who said he was on the run from the law, knew [the person] and where [he/she lived] and was coming to [his/her] home to hide from the police.” And oh, by the way, the participants were entered into the event by people who wanted to set up friends to be "punked."

What could possibly go wrong with that?

Plenty. So much that Amber Duick of LA has filed suit against the carmaker over emotional distress caused by being on the receiving end of the stunt.

Although Bowler did not have Duick’s current address, he sent her links to his My Space page as well as links to video clips of him causing trouble all over the country on his way to her former house in Los Angeles, according to the lawsuit.  "Amber mate! Coming 2 Los Angeles. Gonna lay low at your place for a bit till it all blows over," the man wrote in one e-mail.

You may not have thought it possible, but it gets even stupider.

Duick’s attorney said the marketing company went so far as to send Duick a bill for damages the fictitious man supposedly made to a hotel room. "Amber, ran into a little problem at the hotel," a note with the invoice stated. "After I’m done visiting you, I’m going to go back and sort out that front desk Muppet."

The company’s defense? “Well, she did agree to the opt-in.” Said opt-in was buried in an emailed “personality test” which contained a link to a web page allegedly explaining what was going to happen. Duick’s lawyer characterizes the explanatory note as “indecipherable.” This point seems reasonable as you could hardly expect to punk someone who knows what’s coming.

The entire thing begs two questions:

  • WTF was someone smoking when he/she OK’d this?
  • What the hell was the campaign supposed to accomplish?

Saatchi & Saatchi told the marketing magazine OMMA last year that it had developed the campaign to target men under 35 who hate advertising. The prank campaign, Saatchi creative director Alex Flint told the magazine, should gain the appreciation from "even the most cynical, anti-advertising guy.

HUH? How the hell does this actually sell the product? It sure as hell isn’t going to make anyone less cynical or anti-advertising. I want to ask did it ever once occur to anyone that even “men under 35” have been known to have problematic people in their lives – but we already know the answer.

Sadly this campaign is excluded for this year’s list of Top 10 (or so) marketing blunders as it took place in 2008. However, I suspect it may receive a special citation from a certain special interest group.

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Toyota reports first loss in 70 years — They made money in 1946?

Toyota — which is the best-run company in the world that isn’t P&G — yesterday announced it will have an operating loss for 2008 of $1.66 billion (or about what GM loses every week). They also announced this was the first time in 70 years it  lost money.

Toyota, which started in business as a loom maker, began making trucks and passenger cars in 1937. Its first and only operating loss came the following year, before it started reporting formal results in 1941.

Other people immediately asked the same question I did: How did they manage to report a profit (or break even) in 1945-47?

GM argument against bankruptcy is a car wreck

The astoundingly badly run car maker says it won’t declare chapter 11 because “people won’t buy cars from a bankrupt company.” Given that GM’s sales have dropped 45 percent over the last year, how would this be any different from the current situation?

Not surprisingly the “it’s not our fault” argument is echoed by UAW President Ron Gettelfinger: “We’re here not because of what the auto industry has done. We’re here because of what has happened to the economy.”

This would be more believable if GM had been doing well before the credit markets went to hell. Let’s remember that we’re talking about GM here and what it’s track record is like. This is a company that even when it gets a good idea goes out of its way to kill it.

Quoth this great article from the WSJ:

This situation doesn’t stem from the recent meltdown in banking and the markets. GM, Ford and Chrysler have been losing billions since 2005, when the U.S. economy was still healthy. The financial crisis does, however, greatly exacerbate Detroit’s woes. As car sales plunge — both in the U.S. and in Detroit’s once-booming overseas markets — it’s becoming nearly impossible for the companies to cut costs fast enough to keep pace with the evaporation of their revenue.

In all this lies a tale of hubris, missed opportunities, disastrous decisions and flawed leadership of almost biblical proportions. In fact, for the last 30 years Detroit has gone astray, repented, gone astray and repented again in a cycle not unlike the Israelites in the Book of Exodus.

Remember Saturn? GM started an authentically different company that attained a beloved cult-like status and then all but killed it by not letting it put out new models. Don’t even get me started about the electric car and where the company would be today if they’d kept developing that program they killed after putting $1 billion into it. And then there’s the decades of lobbying against improving mileage standards that — had they been in effect — would have also saved their asses.

GM is also arguing that it’s basically under new management and that the guys who made all those stupid decisions have been replaced. Even if this is true, then let’s hold them accountable for the stupidity just since Rick Waggoner became CEO. For the last seven years their strategy has been, “we’re going to bet it all on the short-term profits to be made from SUVs.” Thus they launched Hummer et al. I’m supposed to trust a bunch of guys who couldn’t figure out that the price of gas fluctuates? Who couldn’t figure out that there was a difference between short-term profits and long-term viability?

Let’s make one thing clear — the term “US automakers” is a misnomer. When someone says they want to “bailout the US automakers” they really mean GM. Ford has said repeatedly that they have enough credit to get through and Chrysler is no more or less a US company than Honda or Toyota. The Big Three is in fact the Incompetent One.

Wait, I will bow to the Journal on this one: they’re going with “The Detroit Three” and that works for me.