In the annals of corporate history, I doubt any company has ever flipped their shit more completely than Lotus just did in this Facebook post. Meant to be a response to media reports about the automaker's financial problems, management instability, and one mostly harmless joke, it quickly became the ultimate example of how not to engage in public relations on social media.
Come and enter the delusion with us.
Lotus is an automaker that has historically been a money-loser for whatever larger company has owned the tiny niche brand. The current owners — Malaysia's Proton — were just purchased by Malaysian mega corporation DRB-Hicom. That's leading to all sorts of questions about the future of Lotus and its CEO Dany Bahar, who once freaked out when talking to us.
The general impression is that Lotus has down-played the constant drumbeat of bad news. That impression led brilliant parody auto news site SniffPetrol to create an image showing Bahar dressed up as "Baghdad Bob" — Iraq's notoriously cheery ex-information minister — trying to assure people Lotus was in good shape.
There are supposed to be three ways to respond to a joke made at your expense: Ignore it, play along, or get mad.
Lotus managed to find a fourth way — acting like they're playing along while actually going into an obvious and demented paranoid spiral. First, the automaker — without asking permission — used that image and sent it out along with what can only be described as a bitch-fest of a press release in an email to owners. While the responses to that will be likely kept between Lotus PR and the owners — thereby hiding their shame from public view — their next move wasn't private. The PR team next posted the entire press release and the image to Facebook.
At first glance, it almost seems like Lotus is taking things in stride and is in on the joke.
Take a little look at what we found online. Don't you think it's funny? We do. We had a good old giggle. After all, we love a bit of self irony, just as well really. Although it's funny, this one's not accurate but then again, why let the facts get in the way of a good story? The inconvenient truth is – surprise, surprise – we have never said that there are no problems at Lotus.
It's only when you dive beyond the first paragraph that you see just how wide they've had to open their mouth in order to fit in that Lotus-branded carbon fiber loafer:
So whilst lots of people obviously feel the need to comment on Lotus' current situation in the absence of proper facts or evidence, we can't ignore these particular mistruths any longer even if we would like to, so we have decided to turn a negative into a positive and use this hilarious piece of ‘art' to set the record straight regarding the status quo at Group Lotus and try to return a little stability to a fast changing situation.
False rumour #1: Dany Bahar is no longer CEO of Group Lotus.
Fact: Rubbish – Dany Bahar still is.
False rumour #2: Dato' Sri Syed is no longer Managing Director of Proton.
Fact: Again rubbish. He still is.
You can thank good old Tony Fernandes for these two. Don't take everything he tweets too seriously – perhaps he's still frustrated about owning Caterham instead of Lotus and the fact that he fights HRT and Marussia instead of Mercedes and Ferrari in F1.
And whilst we're on the subject of jokes - do you know the latest F1 joke? Mike Gascoyne, Caterham Group's Chief Technical Officer, has gone missing. Why? He's looking for the 30 to 40 points he predicted for the last F1 season. Funny.
Speaking of F1: It seems that one special so called ‘independent' source is at the root of the lion's share of damaging rumours and misleading stories. The delightful Joe Saward which leads us nicely to….
False rumour #3: Joe Saward is JUST an independent journalist.
Fact: He is an active Director on the Caterham Group Board.
And unlike some, we don't want to get too personal, so we'll leave it to you to judge how ‘independent' his stories about Lotus are.
False rumour #4: Group Lotus is no longer involved in F1.
Fact: Lotus F1 Team and Group Lotus have reshaped their commercial relationship earlier this year. The new governance agreement signifies the continued commitment of Group Lotus to the team and the sport.
Group Lotus' branding and marketing rights and subsequent activities remain unaffected by the new agreement until at least 2017. Alongside continued branding and title partnership status, Group Lotus is also the exclusive master licensee for all Lotus F1 Team merchandise.
The new agreement was reached following Group Lotus owners Proton providing team owners Genii with a £30m loan which is repayable within three years. In order to secure the loan Genii used 100% of the F1 team's assets as collateral meaning that under the conditions of the loan agreement Proton have been given full title guarantee to all plant, machinery, show cars, computers, office and the Lotus F1 Team headquarters.
In addition Proton retains the rights to purchase 10% of the F1 team. Another 10% share option will be activated if the team default on their loan obligations with Proton.
Again we leave it to your judgement how ‘bad' Lotus' current situation in F1 is. And speaking of bad situations…..
False rumour #5: Group Lotus is going into administration.
Fact: Rubbish. The takeover of our parent company Proton by DRB-HICOM couldn't have come at a worse time, but up until that point Proton was (and still remains) fully committed to our five year business plan to create jobs and to expand the factory and business. With the takeover process the funding has been restricted and DRB-HICOM is taking time to understand what to do with the business. DRB-HICOM is currently in the middle of due diligence of Group Lotus and there have been and continue to be positive discussions between Group Lotus senior management and senior management at DRB-HICOM both here in Hethel and in Malaysia. At no point has DRB-HICOM indicated to Group Lotus that it intends to put the company into administration. The over-active rumour mill is seriously damaging our business reputation, image and credibility but it is what it is.
The simple fact is, and we haven't denied this - Lotus is going through a very difficult phase at the moment but we are showing true fighting spirit every day in trying to keep this vision alive. This is also a fact – no matter what people outside of Lotus may say or tweet or blog.
It reads like a manifesto — and the sort of notes people post to Facebook before going insane and shooting up their office.
See, the worst way to respond to a joke is to pretend like you get it and then turn around and basically completely grant the premise. It's like saying:
"No, no. We get it. We're not in denial. NOW LET ME GO AND DENY EVERY SINGLE POINT ANYONE HAS EVER MADE ABOUT US!"
Judging by the responses on Facebook and Twitter, we're not the only ones who feel this way.
The response on Twitter has been even harsher, with journalists gleefully enjoying the breakdown. Automotive.com's Blake Z. Rong summed it up nicely when he said "I love auto journalism. No matter what our differences or opinions, we can all come together one day and bash the hell out of Lotus."
Historically, Lotus is known for building things that are small. CEO Bahar has made it clear he wants to do big things.
Congrats, Dany, you did it. You've failed at PR and social media in a big way.