Rich Little does Pablo Picasso: The dangers of giving the "wrong impression"

"Sorry, folks. We gotta take this back. We gave you the wrong one." This is kind of peculiar. Twenty-four hours after a senior executive at Ford acknowledges—with a good deal of specificity—that the company is tracking our movements via our onboard GPS systems, he does a high-speed bootleg turn and apologizes for giving us “the wrong impression.”

On Wednesday Ford’s marketing chief Jim Farley told the audience at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, “We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing.” On Thursday, he was on CNBC trying to convince us that his vague wording may have given us the wrong impression.

Jim, old friend, when you tell us, “We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing,” you’re not giving us an impression. You’re stating a fact.

But what is striking about this messaging hit-and-run is that GM did exactly the same thing three years ago.

Here is the write up I did of GM’s amazing disappearing act back then.

OMG-M

For a brief moment, I was able to stare into the eyes of Big Brother. Then GM took down her video.

In a bizarre attempt to calm their former OnStar customers' justifiable rage that GM spied on them and sold the resulting data, the gov't-funded car maker posted a three-minute video of Subscriber Services VP Joanne Finnorn gamely trying to convince us that tracking our moves was good for GM and good for America(ns).

Her "Ignorance Is Strength" clip was utterly fascinating. You could almost hear her whispering above the canned text, "It's my job! I have no choice. And my oss-bay is standing right behind the amera-kay."

Fortunately for her, as of this morning that video never existed. It was disappeared the moment GM announced Operation OffStar.

It's a shame, really, because you will miss some of the greatest failures in corporate spin in recent memory. For instance:

"When it comes to location and speed, uh ... we're very careful to tell our customers that we do not continuously or routinely ... um ... monitor the location or speed of their vehicle."

I'll let the true meaning of that one sink in. Next clip.

"We've not sold personalized information about our customers in the past and we really don't have any plans to do anything like that in the future."

Really? No plans yet? Keep us posted if you change your mind, hmm-k?

"When it comes to sensitive information such as location information, for example, we want to make sure that we handle that information with the utmost care and that we use the information only as required to provide the safety, security, and convenient services that our customers value."

So, you're required to "use" the location data if my airgbag deploys, or if I'm heading toward a war zone, or if one of your clients wants the info to develop a convenient service that I would value? Hmm.

Lesson: It's a brave new world. You can't fight a 21st-century communications crisis with 20th-century paternalism. It will backfire. Communication is no longer a monolithic monologue. You want to communicate, you need to connect. Everything else is just noise.