Dear GM: don’t circle the wagons – sell the product.

In Ad Creative on October 2, 2009 at 1:16 pm

GM, we need you to succeed. So please start making better ad decisions.

You promised product-centric ads that sold differentiating features. (I even defended you in advance for that position in a post months ago.)  But now, as a recent Ad Age article notes,  you are using a family template gm-chevy-100109bigand tag line that locks each model into a corporate shell instead of freeing them to be what they need to be to their own audiences. (Then you even run them back to back in the same magazine, which probably doesn’t make much targeting sense unless it is, in fact, that corporate effect you’re after.)

Here’s what I consider the bottom line: people don’t need constant reminders of the parent company’s battle for its life. They’re buying cars, not making charity donations. I believe that reminders of the GM “situation” are counterproductive, at

But as a copywriter, my big problem is with the tone of the ads themselves. Take the  Malibu ad.  “By definition, an Accord is a compromise.”  Sorry, but NO ONE — not even someone predisposed to buy American — is going to take that one seriously. (And the copy doesn’t even attempt to explain the point.) The Malibu may have plenty to offer. But you don’t “settle” for an Accord — and some junior writer’s oh-so-clever idea of looking up “accord” in the dictionary doesn’t lead to insight –  just word play.

Frankly, it carries the same tone as the pallid beach weakling calling after the bronze bully who has just taken his girl. “Oh yeah, well you’re gonna get skin cancer some day!”  Obviously his girlfriend compromised.

The Cadillac “version” of the ad is only a little better. “Sorry about the apple cart.”  At least the copy tries to pay it 0ff, claiming that bold design and innovative technology “overturn” every convention.  But real details? Nowhere to be found — they must have rolled away when the apple cart overturned. So we’re left with another fairly empty claim of some kind of innovation and superiority, but little reason to believe it. Not like we haven’t heard it before.

Maybe I’d be less annoyed if the same issue of Ad Age didn’t point out the hourly rates top creative officers are billed out at to their clients. Makes space shuttle toilet seats sound like a bargain.

So in closing don’t feel such a need to be defensive about your past, or even that “rallying spirit” about your present. You can’t save the company in every ad; you can sell the car, which will in turn do more to save the company.

It’s about your cars. If they’re as good as you say, let them lead the effort. And do it with those innovations or other proof points you claim are equal to or better than the imports. Get past the cocky or condescending attitudes that no one feels you are entitled to display. Instead, find a feature or two that really does separate your vehicles from their competitors. And use them.

Until you sell your cars in your ads, you’ll never sell them in your dealerships.

  1. To the Author(s): Did you actually read the copy before composing this rant? While you are certainly entitled to your opinion of the quality of these two ads you specifically complain that the ads do not contain any details of innovations or proof points of superiority.

    Quoting from the ad itself “Chevy Malibu, it’s [EPA est.] 33mpg sets it apart”. In reference to the fact that the Malibu achieves a higher level of fuel economy than the Accord (in highway driving at least). Further copy reveals a money back satisfaction guarantee and references the best warranty coverage available.

    Are these not differentiators? Are they not selling points which the Accord cannot offer?

    It’s ok to dislike an ad. If it didn’t strike a chord with you (no pun intended) so be it. But if your whole opinion is based on an assertion – why not take the time to check your facts.

    • To the Commenter: Yes I did read the copy. And my post is not based on an “assertion.” It’s based on exactly that copy.
      Apparently you wrote the ads, or have enough of an axe to grind that you didn’t read the post very carefully. I specifically complained that the Malibu ad didn’t bother to explain the “compromise” thing. A highway mpg rating and warranty claim do differentiate Malibu a bit, but fall far short (to me and to most people, I would wager) of positioning Accord as a compromise. Which is all I said.

      The Cadillac ad throws around words like “bold design and innovative technology.” A guarantee reference in the copy doesn’t support that; nor does the visual – a picture of the vehicle’s rear end. Sorry, be angry if you like. But only you would call it a “rant.”

      It was a reasoned and OBJECTIVE assessment from someone who has done a great deal of automotive advertising. GM, even. And nothing you said addressed my primary objection – the snarky tone that says “business as usual” more strongly than it says “better cars.” Features? Innovations? Technology? Beyond a little warranty upgrade and a mile or two per gallon, still MIA. I’m on your side. I want to see them.

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