Auto dealers ad with Y2k joke upsets : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


Auto dealer's ad with Y2K joke upsets public

Courtesy Ford runs a tongue-in-cheek advertisement that warns about vehicle problems on Jan. 1

Thursday, November 18, 1999

By Jacqueline Love of The Oregonian staff

When officials at Courtesy Ford ran an advertisement asking consumers if their car is infected with the millennium bug, they got answers they didn't expect.

Phone calls and e-mails got the message across loud and clear: Consumers were not amused. So the dealership and the firm that produced the ad bought another one to apologize for scaring the public.

Friday's original advertisement, which ran in The Oregonian and in The Columbian of Vancouver, Wash., reminded readers that "computer analysts predict computer-based mechanisms will suffer wide-spread power failures on Jan. 1, 2000." And it went on to ask a series of questions, including, "Will your sport-utility vehicle stop when you step on the brake?"

The ad's conclusion: "No one knows for sure."

But experts think they do know for sure that the Year 2000 computer problem won't affect automobiles in any critical way.

The Year 2000 problem, also known as Y2K, results from the inability of some computers to recognize the year 2000. Computers recognize 1980 as only 80. On Jan. 1, some computers may interpret 00 as 1900 and cause systemwide failures.

The original Courtesy Ford ad played on the widespread coverage of the problem, asking: "On Jan. 1, 2000, as you go in search of the cure for the hangover of the century, will your truck start? Will your key turn over in the ignition or unlock the doors?"

A survey of companies representing 90 percent of cars and light trucks sold in the United States found that Y2K issues will not affect the safety or performance of their motor vehicles, according to the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion's final report.

"It was meant to be tongue in cheek," said Jim Walen, Courtesy Ford general manager. "Sometimes you try to be innovative. Sometimes you hit, and sometimes you miss."

But about a half-dozen people called or e-mailed the dealership to express their displeasure with a sales pitch predicated on the suggestion that their brakes might fail after Jan. 1, Walen said.

"We felt strongly enough about the reaction to run a retraction," Walen said. The follow-up advertisement in The Oregonian on Wednesday said, in part, "It was never our intention to mislead or scare anyone. Obviously, we did, and for that we apologize."

Mickie Lance, owner of Plan B Advertising in Nashville, Tenn., apologized for stepping over the line with the Y2K-based advertisement she wrote. The ad, which has run in several other markets, hadn't generated an overflow of negative responses. The ad is no longer in print.

"People were saying that it was a humorous parody of the Y2K problem," she said. "Nobody meant for it to turn into this."

In hindsight, Lance said it was obviously not responsible to run the advertisement. If she could do it again, she said she'd make it clearer that the goal was to get the attention of readers, not to upset them.

"I don't agree with scaring people to get business," said Michele O'Hara, president of Nerve Inc., the agency behind Thomason Motors advertising. "It's not something we'd ever do for Thomason. We're not the type of people to try and please everyone, but you have to trust common sense."

-- Homer Beanfang (, November 19, 1999


I think their biggest problem (and miscalculation) was that they probably assumed that everyone was more-or-less on the same page regarding Y2k. To the people around here, some of these "problems" rank just below "The Heartbreak of Psoriasis" on the WorryMeter -- while to someone blissfully ignorant of what we deal with every day (or just blissfully ignorant, PERIOD), telling them that their brakes are going to fail at midnight may well have the ring of absolute truth to it.

Which may lead to an observation that they overestimated the intelligence of their market -- but I don't think I'll go there.

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), November 19, 1999.

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