Oh, how quick we are to judge.
We are very opinionated when it comes to certain points of interest. Automobiles just happen to be one of those "points of interest." The subject can be unifying, as well as polarizing. We could be entrenched in our own brand chauvinism to the point where relationships are solely based on the mutual nameplate you drive. Conversely, we are open minded and not caring what you drive, the condition of your vehicle or anything else other than the fact you have a car.
In the middle is the peanut gallery. Their interests may be wide, but their opinions are distinct. These voices could be a multiplexed version of Statler and Waldorf (from "The Muppet Show") throwing out any criticism deemed worth the 140 characters on Twitter. Others offer snap judgments based on kernels of truth seen by their own retinas – even in a glossy photograph.
This past Friday was a repeat exercise on such reactive social media. The subject came from an earlier spy photo published in a top motoring website. What happened afterwards was pure social media madness.
The actual reveal of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee was supposed to take place during the Media Preview Days at the New York Auto Show. Apparently, no one could wait until March 27th or the 28th to find out what it really looked like. When Gawker Media's Jalopnik promoted the publishing of the spy photos on their Twitter account, Chrysler Group LLC's responded by stating that the "Photos not the vehicle to be revealed in [New York]."
Several hours later, Chrysler released the photos of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, the replacement for the Liberty. With just four front and front-quarter images released on social media outlets, the floodgates opened on snap opinions by the Twitterverse. While some tweets praised the different approach to Jeep design, by melding new Fiat-inspired elements and traditional Jeep signatures onto this very important SUV/crossover; others simply bashed it. Without counting each tweet, the skew would have been positive, with the loudest, most repetitive messages on the negative side of opinion.
If you are familiar with Twitter, this is nothing new. When the first photos of the 2012 Honda Civic broke, a Greek Chorus of automotive media and enthusiast types flocked the photos with such negativity that one would think there was nothing left of the body. Honda decided to revise the Civic for 2013 to bring it in line with upcoming brand design elements. Despite the initial criticism, Civic sales were strong since the launch of the current generation – averaging over 20,000 units a month in the USA.
A year later, American Honda braced themselves for another round of social media vitriol when the first images of the 2013 Honda Accord was released. Though not as negative as the ones of the Civic, the Accord received some harsh criticism for being as "bland" as its compact. Some even questioned the sizing concept where the exterior became a tad smaller for a larger interior. Meanwhile, consumers took to the new Accord since its launch with equally strong numbers as the smaller Civic.
Just a week of so ago, General Motors experienced a mixed bag of feedback over its first images of the Chevrolet SS performance sedan. While it looks the same as Holden's VF Commodore's sports line – the SS and SS-V included – some of GM's fans and detractors questioned where some of the true elements of bowtie's brand design language were on the Australian-built performance sedan. The SS made its debut on the track at the Daytona International Speedway during its Sprint Cup kick-off event prior to the Daytona 500. Needless to say, GM had its critics quiet as an SS won the preview race.
What about the 2014 Cherokee? Will its initial reaction spark consumer success? The key to social media and responding to it is the fact that people are talking about it – positive and negative. From a marketing and public relations standpoint, that is a good thing. While a mixed reaction to Lincoln's "Steer the Script" ad brought some divergent opinions to Twitter and elsewhere, the fact that the brand is being talked about again certainly helps in favor of Ford's efforts to reboot it.
This also works in favor for Chrysler Group LLC and Jeep. The more one praises or "hates" on the initial images of the 2014 Cherokee, the more interest this new vehicle will have leading to its formal debut at the New York Auto Show. Consumers and pundits alike want to see more from the reconceived nose forming traditional Jeep elements with new angles and lighting technology. Hence why the story the Cherokee actually takes flight, even in the face of the court of public opinion.
With social media becoming a standard element of our daily lives – whether we like it or not – it drives the tactile world. Then again, would it prudent to not make a snap opinion until you see the new product "in the flesh?" Or, should we continue to rely on the lightning speed of the online news cycle to gather the masses towards public discourse based on photography – official or otherwise.
March 27th is not too far away to wait for the real thing.