Just when you’re hoping GM might be able to pull a brash, new, vigorous rabbit out of its marketing hat, the illusion dissipates in a puff of tailpipe smoke with a new GM commercial featuring GM Chairman Ed Whitacre. Rather than let Creative show us how fast and fun and splendid a product GM produces, Mr. Whitacre holds a walking meeting with us, during which he reminds us of our doubts about GM products; tells us he has shared those doubts; and then, at a time in which any promise from a corporate leader is apt to generate a universe of eye-rolling, assures us that GM will take the car back, if it turns out to be the same old crap we’re afraid it is (though he doesn’t quite put it that way). It’s really stunning: a commercial which, in its final moments, prompts potential purchasers to recall why they’ve been avoiding buying the product.
Remember how bad our cars were? Me, too! But now that I run the company, I don’t think they’re so bad. Actually, they’re pretty good. And if they are awful, we’ll take them back. This is great advertising strategy for GM? I bet they think so, over at Ford.
The message GM should be conveying — by showing us, not telling us — is that GM makes hot, gorgeous cars that are safe, reliable, and fun. And while having ads that are unique can be a good thing, right now GM needs to produce ads that are as similar as possible in style and format to their competitors’ ads, so that their ads subliminally convey that GM cars are the competitive equals of other companies’ products. You don’t see the head of Ford or Hyundai taking a meeting with the audience to assure them the product isn’t bad. The problem isn’t Mr. Whitacre’s fault, but the concept of the commercial, which almost inevitably had to result in a backward-looking, defensive message.
On the plus side — at least GM isn’t guilty of making that deeply creepy Prius commercial, in which human beings are reduced to anonymous plants in the landscape.