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Blogging as Blackmail: citizen journalism gone terribly wrong
My colleague Neville Hobson has an interesting article today entitled Blogger waging war on Land Rover, about an English chap named Adrian Melrose who apparently bought a defective Land Rover Discovery and has been attacking the company ever since.
Indeed, on his own weblog, Adrian, who had been posting anonymously, has articles like Why am I terrorising Land Rover? and Land Rover isn't Listening. By his own admission, his so-called campaign against Land Rover (in which he states that he wants the company to "admit publically that my car was a first build F*** Up - I want them to replace it with a new one") is an attempt to terrorize the company.
For his own part, Neville says "The only thing I'm a bit hesitant about is that nowhere on the blog that I can see does the blogger identify who he (or she) is. That somewhat lessens the credibility of this campaign."
Neville, you're missing the forest for the tree here, I think...
When I read through Adrian's blog, I initially thought "cool idea, nice way to gain some visibility" but then I realized that it's just about impossible for Land Rover to now respond because it's become a parody of itself, somewhat of a "do you still beat your wife?" conundrum with no good way out.
For an individual consumer to seek relief for a faulty product is reasonable - and I do that myself with shoddy products - but where I believe Adrian crossed the line was with "I want Land Rover to admit publicly". He then follows up with what only can be called a public humiliation campaign against the corporation. Why, after all, did he think of contacting Harrison-Cowley, Land Rover's PR agency, rather than a consumer advocacy group or automotive publication?
It's blackmail, pure and simple. And in the public eye.
Land Rover, replace my car or I'll spend my time and effort writing terrible things about you and your cars.
Obviously, Land Rover bears some responsibility for addressing the issue of a faulty product, but there's a world of difference between "I love this car, but the electrical system has been wonky since day one. I continue to work with the dealer, company and local government representatives to remedy it" and "You stink. I'm going to write nasty things about you until you cry "uncle" and give me what I want."
I can only imagine Adrian's frustration with the situation (somehow there's nothing more frustrating than a defective automobile), but I suggest that rather than laud Adrian for an effective online campaign against the company, it's more appropriate to criticize his aggressive tactics. If I were in this situation, I'd be working behind the scenes, not in the limelight. The chance of a positive resolution is far, far higher.
As it is, I can just imagine the customer service team at Land Rover in a meeting with its PR agency, talking about Adrian's problem...
"Well, we know there were some problems with the first run."
"Yes, but we can't replace this chap's car now that it's a public problem"
"Oh? Why not?"
"Because if we say yes to him, we'll be attacked by every Tom, Dick and Harry who has even the slightest flaw in their car. Dirty ashtrays will produce flaming rhetoric and more bad PR than we can ever manage."
"Damn. So what do we do?"
"I dunno, mates, I just don't know..."
What do you think? Can Land Rover just resolve this situation by meeting Adrian's demands, or has he backed himself into a corner, leaving them no viable solution to this visible and embarrassing problem?
Update, 7/16/05: In a surprise post-script, Land Rover worked a deal with Adrian so he could replace his defective Discovery 3 with a new vehicle. He took delivery of the new car and with less than 500 miles on the odometer, it now is exhibiting the same faulty electronics problems. Adrian is giving up on Land Rover and is going to switch to another manufacturer, at great cost. As you read his account, notice how the rhetoric has been tempered by the visibility that Adrian has received for this discussion.
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