Reuss May Have Saved Chevy Millions in Advertising Dollars by Crashing at Belle Isle

The public eye is a strange and capricious thing, but one school of thought that persists teaches that any press is good press. Madonna, Kanye—hell—even the president have all used this simple motto to remarkable effect. So maybe Chevy shouldn’t feel too bad about the Corvette it lost this weekend in Belle Isle.

The events, I hardly need to tell you, went down like this: the field was getting ready for Indy’s second race the weekend when a Corvette ZR1 pace car came out of the pits, looped it, and went smashing into the barriers.

The driver, GM’s Head of Product Development Mark Reuss, got out unhurt and the internet had a good hearty chuckle at his expense.

But here’s the thing, everyone was paying attention. According to Apex Marketing Group, the exposure that Chevy got during the second Indy race of the weekend, the one in which the ZR1 crashed, was worth more than 70 times more than the exposure it got at the weekend’s first race, on Saturday, during which the ZR1 didn’t even crash a little bit.

They argue that Chevy generated nearly $3.5 million in exposure on that crash alone. And if putting your name on a pace car is anything, it’s a marketing exercise. So the brand should be happy. That is, if you subscribe to the “any press is good press” point of view.

To many, though, the Corvette crash looked familiar, and they brought up the Mustang memes that have dogged Ford.

“Silly Chevy trying to be like a Ford Mustang good thing there was a wall there,” wrote YouTuber, The Big Man, for example. User MoctuzumasRevenge1, meanwhile, wrote “I NEVER WANT TO SEE ANOTHER MUSTANG COMMENT AGAIN CHEVY TROLLS. I WILL NEVER LET YOU LIVE THIS DOWN.”

The meme revolves around a perceived preponderance of Mustangs crashing as their drivers try to hot dog it on their way out of a cars and coffee, or similar car show. The meme came to prevalence in April 2016, when more than a few articles came out highlighting some of the cleverer jokes born of the premise. Similar to last weekend’s Corvette crash, the Ford Mustang suddenly came organically to prevalence and was very much in the public eye.

Ford reports, though, indicate that sales of the Mustang dropped significantly following the peak of the meme’s popularity. Whereas in March sales were hovering around even with their previous year’s totals (down only 0.8% on the previous year’s total), in April they started to slide (down 3%) and by May they were down nearly a quarter as compared to the 2015 May total. While it might be giving the meme too much credit to blame it entirely for the entirety of that decline, the correlation is curious.

It must be said, though, that the Mustang meme was based on a stereotype about all Mustang drivers, whereas the Corvette crash came to light because of how unusual it was. The irony of it being a “safety car” and the bad luck of the driver being a GM executive in Detroit were arguably more to blame for this incident’s prominence than any stereotypes about Corvette drivers.

And whereas the Mustang drivers in the memes were anonymous, Reuss quickly published a press release apologizing for the crash and taking responsibility for it, humanizing him and taking some of the attention away from the car.

So, while it seems like not all press is necessarily good, Chevrolet may have been able to get ahead of this one and turn it into good news.

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