American’s love their slang. I’m not talking about the four-letter words that get bleeped if they are mistakenly uttered on TV (though we do love that as well). I’m talking about things like “Beemer” (BMW), “Mickey D’s” (McDonalds) and, of course, “Chevy” (Chevrolet). In some ways this kind of slang is a badge of honor. It says: “I love this product so much; I feel comfortable enough to be causal and informal with it.”
We don’t use these terms to deride, we use them to celebrate. Unfortunately, Chevrolet no longer feels comfortable with the nickname, “Chevy” any longer. Richard Chang of the New York Times reports that GM has circulated a memo suggesting that Chevrolet employees refrain from saying “Chevy” in order to promote brand “consistency.”
The last time I heard the word “Chevrolet” I was 10 years old living with my parents in a very small apartment. The place was so small that whenever my parents turned on the giant 13″ Black and White TV it was loud and clear in my bed room. I was kept up late into the night by Ed Sullivan claiming they were going have “a really big shooow,” or Dinah Shore singing that I should “See The U.S.A in your Chevrolet.” Years later, hearing “Chevrolet” doesn’t make me want to buy a wonderful new car, it makes me want to buy a Dinah Shore CD.
From the point of view of leadership the issue is not about labeling, but about the creation of intimacy through labeling. When we try to sell a brand the message is important, but the tone, the creation of intimacy, is even more important. Certain things, certain labels, have not simply become icons, but they have become intimate reflections of our culture.
The word “Chevy” bridges the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. It’s a communal expression doesn’t belong to the corporation, but it belongs to the culture at large. There is no reason to throw away such a level of hard earned intimacy. Most companies would pay any amount of money to find their products enmeshed in all parts of the popular culture.
If gas prices ever come down or if we ever find a way to make our cars more fuel efficient, I hope we will still have the chance to see the U.S.A in our Chevys.