Today might be the day the car industry loses its unconditional infatuation with social media. Like congressmen (especially half clothed congressmen), the auto industry could soon avoid social media like we avoid social diseases.
“This is all very annoying,” complains an exasperated Mark Carbery from London. “This Twitter matter turned into a real problem, for us and for other companies in the industry.”
Eterniti spokesman Carbery is a seasoned industry veteran. He started as the PR Manager for Toyota UK and worked for Daewoo and Michelin before hanging out the shingle for his own consultancy shop in bucolic Barnwell, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire PE8 5PS, UK.
Today he may be rethinking his career choice.
The Twitterverse wasn’t concerned with who is behind the company, and how in the world will they make that G.D. car. Who cares, right? The 140 character limit starts to constrain the reasoning capacity of some: Twitterati alleged that Eterniti has something to do with Infiniti because they kind of sound the same, and – highly suspiciously – have their press conference at the Frankfurt Auto Show exactly at the same time. (Reaction at Infiniti: “Do we? I thought ours is at the same time as Lexus.”)
The story hit the blogs (we did not swallow it, we check sources the old-fashioned way), and being in the silly season with little news overall, the story went blog-ballistic.
Finally, an official @EternitiMotors appeared on the Twitter scene.
This account soon became a source of juicy information. Pictures allegedly “Copyright Eterniti Motors and F1 technology Partners 2011” were distributed from the account. They hinted that Eterniti had something to do with The Formula 1 team, Red Bull.
On hearing “Read Bull”, the synapses in any child or budding car blogger will pop like this: “champion (plop)”,”Vettel (plop)”, “Nissan (plop!)” And bingo, the rumor was born.
If the depicted technologies had indeed been claimed by Eterniti, a battalion of patent lawyers would have been dropped on them to defend existing patents, for instance this one, from 2001, by Daewoo: “Device for controlling vehicle speed adaptive spoiler.”
The original Eterniti announcement was a bit short on information. The new @EternitiMotors served announcements. A 2 seater named “Hedone” was announced at around lunchtime.
Pouring even more gasoline in the fire, @EternitiMotors told James Hind, owner of the UK site Carbuzz, in private: “In Frankfurt, we will confirm details of the Asian Eterniti brand launch, to be known as ‘Eterniti Hóngniú’. Even with my rudimentary Chinese, I don’t need Google to see that this is Red Bull. Hong as in “Dong Fang Hong” (The East is Red). “Niu” as in “niu shi” (bull shit).
However, it started to smell like niu shi: Whenever you see a civilian write Chinese words with diacritics (these are the little specs above the letters), assume that this was pulled from an on-line dictionary. The specs indicate the tone of the word. Us Westerners are tone-deaf and don’t know crap about the difference between shǐ (shit) and shī (poetry).
While all this happened, a seriously disconcerted Mark Carbery became “very angry at people who have lots of time on their hands.” He does not. He answers his own phone. He emphatically denies that Eterniti has “anything to do with Formula 1, with Red Bull, or any other car company.”
Asked whether he sees the company as a customizer or as an automaker, he chooses his words carefully:
“We see ourselves as an auto manufacturer, while working towards becoming a full scale car producer.”
Manufacturing in the true sense the word:
From Middle French manufacture, from Old French, from Medieval Latin manūfactūra (“a making by hand”), from manufactus, a compound of manu factus, manū being ablative of manus (“hand”), and factus past participle of faciō (“I do, make”).
The car will be based on a production car, the rest is semantics. Carbery confirmed that the donor car will be announced at the Frankfurt Auto Show, where all remaining questions will be answered, and bid a hasty adieu to tend to the blazing flames in the Twitterverse which already had filled the blogosphere with deadly smoke.
Later in the afternoon, the Twitter account @RealEternitiMot appeared, claiming to be the “OFFICIAL Eterniti Motors account, manned by Eterniti. I’m Mark Carbery (MC).”
At some point, there were accusations flying around that there are three fake accounts for Eterniti, when a hapless Twitter member who had @Eterniti as a user name since 2009, found herself drawn into the fray. The lady, a silk merchant in Bangalore, is probably still wondering what freight train hit her account. If she still checks it.
Finally, an exasperated Mark Carberry put a link to the RealEternitiMot Twitter account on the Eterniti website, thereby creating instant credibility. That was just in time, because some Twitterati already threatened they would register as “#HerMajestyTheQueen and declare an imposter’s head removal.”
By tea time in London, @EternitiMotors threw in the towel and published his password wEEt4b1x, making the account available for anyone who was fastest on the keyboard. Another Twitterer grabbed it, and two hours later, @EternitiMotors was in the hands of Mark Carbery. Or so they say. If not, we will hear more tomorrow.
Bloggers and editors of car sites who had swallowed the hong niu shi, said “ooops,” quietly removed the wildest claims from their stories, and inserted an “or maybe, it’s all just a hoax” at strategic points
So what’s the takeaway?
Lem Bingley, who carries the sharp title of Director of Content for Professional Services Division at Incisive Media, opines: “Object lesson is securing social media accounts before revealing a new brand.”
Maybe one should start with checking a domain name. “Eterniti.com” is taken, since 1998. It belongs to one Shawn Hogan of Rancho Santa Fe, CA. The site is not doing much, actually, it does nothing. But it could turn into a goldmine if Eterniti turns into a goldmine, someday. I wouldn’t even think of registering a brand if it already is registered as an URL – anywhere in the world.
My takeaway is that episodes like these could seriously dampen the enthusiasm in the auto industry for social media. They like to play it safe, and the waters are becoming treacherous.
As long as I can set up a phony account, say “Daimler_CEO” (I just tried it, it worked, don’t worry, it’s deleted), and most of all, as long as tweets are taken as gospel, there are bigger trainwrecks waiting to happen.
Unnerved from a day of fighting the demons of the twitterverse, Mark Carbery sighed:” We are simply trying to launch a small car company.”
Wait until someone gets the same idea for a big car company.