A few weeks ago, a wealthy South African businessman paid about R 22,000 to take out a half page advert in a local Cape Town newspaper. His intention was to highlight the bad service he had received from Landrover as they tried to fix his car which had gone into a Landrover dealer for a service. Hyundai responded the following day with a cheeky advert of their own, and Landrover followed suit a day or so later. Who were the winners and losers? Who really connected?

On March 10, 2005, Andy Gray placed an advert in the Cape Times entitled “Open letter to the managing director of Land Rover South Africa�. In the half page ad printed in bright crimson ink, he chronicled his battle with Land Rover South Africa, trying to get them to repair his Range Rover TD6, beginning when he bought it in April 2003 with a “major steering defect�, and listing complaints including a recent break down while the vehicle was under full warranty. His primary complaint is one of poor service.
In his own words: “I am amazed by the disinclination of Land Rover South Africa to communicate in any way… The indifference and lack of communication shown by Land Rover SA was appalling… I have had two years of Land Rover SA now. Every step is an effort rather like wading through deep molasses. Nobody seems to care. Nobody seems ready to take any responsibility. Nobody seems to really know what they are doing. Nobody keeps you informed. Nobody follows up. Junior staff seem left to carry the can. Nobody EVER phones you back. All I want to know is: Does Land Rover have necessary spares in stock to repair this unreliable and very expensive vehicle of mine? If not what are they doing about it?… Why does nobody follow-up and phone you back? Why is it too difficult to answer these simple questions?â€?
It’s signed simply: “Andy Gray, Cape Town.” See the full text here.
He was clearly upset. R 22,000 instead of a few rands on phoning the MD directly. The collective marketing world fell silent in anticipation of the response(s). Marketing Web’s Kim Penstone (a brilliant columnist and commentator) responded that very day: see here. They were not disappointed. But they were probably surprised.
The first to respond was not Land Rover. It was one of their competitors. Hyundai replied the very next day, using the same bright red ink and font type, so that there would be no mistaking the fact that it was indeed a response. The ad that Hyundai placed reads: “While you’re waiting for your car company to get your vehicle back to you, may we offer you the use of a Hyundai Terracan for one month?â€? It goes on to describe the car, the money that went into its development, and the full maintenance plan on offer. It also celebrates the Hyundai’s dealer network, and includes the name and contact number of one of its dealers in the Cape. Nowhere does it mention Land Rover. See a picture of Hyundai’s reply here (110Kb).
Later that afternoon (11 March), Land Rover also replied, basically admitting in a press brieifing that “nothing in Gray’s letter was untrue”. Read Land Rover’s written response to Andy here. “We admit we have had some serious problems with our customer care department and after-sales services”. The letter is signed by both MD and Director, Customer Service.
So, who are the winners and losers?
In this case, we want to suggest that there are no losers.
Hyundai was cheeky and clever, but not arrogant and gloating. It was a fine line, and with only about 12 hours or so to respond, good for them for getting the tone just right. It could have backfired so easily had they taken a “holier than thou” type approach.
Land Rover was honest and correct – they didn’t try and defend themselves. Clearly a man who just spent R 22,000 making a point has got a point to make. It would have been useless to try and say otherwise. What a lesson for other companies (and especially for most governments) – just admitting the mistake takes a lot of wind out of the sails of your assailants. But Land Rover fall way short of what the public is looking for. They need to do a follow up. Could they do such a great job in recovering that Andy Gray agrees to “star” in their next ad campaign? Interesting that the one weakness in their letter was that they did not indicate that they were “listening”. They could have invited other Land Rover drivers to express any concerns directly to them (the MD and Director, Customer Services). They could have asked publicly for Andy Gray to let them know what crietria he would use to become a happy customer again. They didn’t. But they still can. Right now, they’re even. Gutsy to say sorry, and admit the failure. But they probably need to go further to really connect.
Its better to connect than be cute or clever.

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