THE BLOG

A Spectacular Avalanche of Distraction

09/17/2013 06:31 pm 18:31:49 | Updated Nov 17, 2013

I was watching the CBS Sports Spectacular when a network newsbreak came on telling of three snowboarders killed by an avalanche. They died while off-trail in backwoods Colorado. This blurb was followed by an ad for the Chevy Avalanche. Initially I felt bad for whoever had done the media buy (as well as, obviously, for the snowboarders). It was an uncomfortable coincidence. Or was it? Assuming it was an unhappy accidental coupling, I envisioned what would be happening behind the scenes. The Avalanche brand manager at Chevy would be torqued up, on the phone to GM's ad agency which would in turn flame CBS about the content of the newsbreak. They might even call the head of CBS News. Maybe get Leslie Moonves involved. By now the dead snowboarders would be completely forgotten. There would be threats, pushback, the integrity of CBS News versus the revenue targets of CBS Sports versus GM truck sales.

But this sequence of callbacks was all in my head. It's what happens when it's not football season: you find yourself on a Saturday afternoon watching CBS Sports Spectacular, mystery touring sports like snocross, jai alai and horses tripping over fences. The Spectacular seems to have always been on TV, yet there's not a single thing I remember from it. In this last regard it's similar to the presidency of Gerald Ford.

CBS Sports Spectacular airs randomly, its composition a pastiche. I'm sure its producers assemble it like a Mr. Potato Head doll. At some point I swear I saw a gelding on skis toss a rock down a curling rink.

CBS Sports Spectacular has an unspectacular 198 Facebook 'Likes'. I hope to garner more than that just in response to this blog post (not begging here, but people, please). By comparison, Monday Night Football has more than 1.3 million Likes. Justin Bieber has 56 million, and even Yoko Ono has 164,000.

When the bull-riding came back on, I found myself still distracted, wondering what creative genius had named the Chevy Avalanche. It's an odd name: a natural phenomenon that kills 150 people worldwide a year, 25-35 a year in the U.S. alone. It's also very direct and real-world. Why not copy Acura and Activia and make something up? The Chevrolet Chalöma, for example.

This was not GM's first branding curiosity. Pontiac used to manufacture a car named for a female from Paris. That puzzled me -- a bulky suburban sedan with rock-salt practically factory-installed on its quarter panels -- what was the connection to Audrey Tautou? In this case though, I believe there was a brave whistleblower within GM's marketing department, a hero whose name we may never know, who was sending a subliminal warning message to potential buyers that the Parisienne, like its namesake, would be high-maintenance, often in the shops, and along with her compatriots, no match for the Germans.

The idea of driving a car named for a phenomenon where you are buried alive and slowly suffocate got me thinking about other disaster-inspired car names that you could still sell, if you had upbeat enough voiceover and standard images of scaling boulders, doing hairpins in the Andes, and still cleaning up nice enough for a stiletto-heeled model to step out of and onto a red carpet at some premiere. Here are a few: The Dodge Tsunami. The Cadillac HIV. Ford Taliban. Infiniti CO2. Subaru Sarin. Audi al-Assad. The Porsche 9/11 -- actually, that's already a car. The Chevy Holocaust.

Thankfully, I won't be distracted any more from my CBS Sports Spectacular. In April, 2012 GM announced (or should I say Wikipedia reported) that it was ending production of the Chevy Avalanche after the 2013 model year. Officially, this was due to declining sales, rather than because of any negative word-association. But I think things might have been different if from the start the vehicle had been called "The Chevy St. Bernard".

I moved on, re-focused my attention on the quarter-final heats of the Dubai camel races, cognizant that this is what happens when you are watching CBS Sports Spectacular and it's not yet football season. Your mind wanders.

Mass-Transportation-Inspired Deaths -- a Regional Overview

The Chevrolet Avalanche can comfortably seat up to six undersized Americans/average sized people from everywhere else. Interestingly, a passing glance at 'big data' derived from media reports shows that where people live plays a major part in how they die, when death occurs while traveling. Also, there are after-effects particular to each country or region where the accidents occur.

Region (country): Russia
Mode of death: Airliner crashes in woods
Cause: Poor aircraft design
After-effects: Blame apportioned equally among foreign powers, Pussy Riot, gay propaganda

Europe
• High-speed trains collide
• Switching/signalling error; driver depressed
• Minister resigns/EU enquiry; bureaucrats draft several new volumes of regulations

Latin America
• Bus plunges off cliff into ravine
• Brakes not maintained (possibly never installed)
• Guardrail built

Middle East
• Bus - suicide bomber
• Hatred - sectarian, ideological, towards political leaders, unemployment, foreign tourists, parents, just everything
• Security forces over-react, kill additional people on bus as well as randomly-chosen sample of curious bystanders

Africa
• Ferry capsizes - lake or river
• Over-crowding
• Crocodiles

Asia• Ferry capsizes - ocean
• Over-crowding
• Sharks

USA
• Bus flips over on interstate
• Driver fatigue
• Lawyers