The Ultimate Customer Reference

By Matter

Had a wonderful time reading this in-depth piece on Gawker’s automotive site, Jalopnik.

Not only is this a fantastic story told quite well, its one of those excellent reminders that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In this case, PR guys at one of America’s fastest growing companies are working hard to publicize a dynamite user endorsement. The fact that its 1934 and the endorsement is from the world’s best known criminal shouldn’t really come as much of a shock. Neither should the fact that PR pros still desperately look for that impact user reference whether its coming from a small business owner or a notorious bank robber (though I’m thinking the seal of approval from a modern day bank robber, say Bernie Madoff, wouldn’t move a lot of product right now.)

I love the scenario: Henry Ford receives a note from Dillinger that’s pure gold. Its not a particularly well-written note and its an insult to a huge portion of the Ford customer base, but still…celebrity endorsement! So the PR pros take over, “smooth out” some of the language (or in this case forge an entirely new document) and start spreading the word. Hey – is it really any different than repackaging a really great, but hastily-typed message board post for a press release? Sometimes you need to iron out the rough patches! Besides, nobody likes sounding foolish in print — I’m sure Dillinger appreciated the spelling corrections!

Now that I’ve got my tongue fully entrenched in my cheek, I can say that I do appreciate that we’re not quite so easily sold on the celebrity endorsement in the PR world. Then, as now, companies are presented with opportunities to appropriate the image and attitude of someone they think matches their own. And in the advertising world, this generally works wonders (except of course when it doesn’t — am I right Tiger?)

But in PR, particularly in high-tech, its the average consumer that’s awarded celebrity status. While I certainly wouldn’t mind finding out that Tom Brady is a regular user of a client’s products, it’s often more critical to me that the guy next door, a representative of the REAL consumer base, sing its praises. It may not have sizzle or an air of cool edginess, but its real, its honest and it doesn’t require FBI fingerprinting.