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GM: "We Don't Need No Stinking Badges"

Posted by: David Kiley on August 26, 2009


There isn’t much left of the GM brand, and one wonders what will be there a year from now when GM, the new GM, will be in the midst of an expected initial public offering.

The automaker, fresh from Chapter 11, has decided, as was first reported in The Wall Street Journal, that it will phase out attaching a small GM badge in the front bumper of each vehicle. There will be no such badge on 2011 models.

As the bandit in The Treasure of Sierra Madre famously said, “We don’t need no badges…I don’t have to show you any stinking badges.”

I can recall in old GM cars, specifically the Oldsmobiles my family had, the GM logo was the button on the seatbelt. You had to push the GM logo every time you were getting out of the car. I have also seen it on the dashboard at various times over the decades. And there was a time when GM was the logo on the key no matter what brand of car it was—Chevy, Buick, Olds, Caddy….The GM brand was literally a touch-point that was supposed to, and did for many, engender trust, safety and confidence.

How and whether to push the GM brand at all has been a game that comes around each year at GM like deer season. Usually, the ad agency that has the assignment of GM corporate advertising has a meeting with the GM exec in charge of advertising, and shows him or her some whiz-bang research that shows how important the GM brand is. Of course, there are whiz-bang storyboards and ripo-matics that go with the research. And whiz-bang sponsorships, like Ken Burns documentaries on PBS that GM long sponsored before pulling the plug this year.

But cooler, smarter and grayer (GM marketing chief Bob Lutz is 77)heads are prevailing.

There was ad work from Deutsch/LA talking about GM just as the company was emerging from Chapter 11. That, to me, seemed necessary and correct to communicate, at least transitionally, what was happening to GM.

But that was then. GM for too many consumers is like AIG. And officials acknowledge that it wants to distance its main brands from the company, and brand that people associate with an unpopular tax-payer funded bailout.

That said, a poll of CMOs at The CMO Club a few weeks ago showed a substantial majority of members would not dump the GM name all together. They said they would take the familiarity over spending to launch a new name. And Bob Lutz told me in a recent interview that he did not think GM would opt for a different ticker symbol when it launches its IPO next year for the same reason.

The “General”, of course, is private now, with the government, the UAW and debt holders owning stakes in GM. The stock trading today, for less than $1.00, is for “old GM,” and despite warnings that the stock is essentially worthless, it continues to trade. The shares seem to keep changing hands under some weird “phantom” energy—like when an amputee says he can still feel pain in the leg that is no longer there. It just keeps going—or like a chicken after it’s head has been cut off.

I’m not sure why the company would brand itself again on The New York Stock Exchange as GM if it is too ashamed to put the letters even in small letters on the bumper of the cars, or on the seatbelts that keep its occupants safe.

Cadillac and Chevrolet are the brands that are going to drive this company’s sales and future. Sure, Buick and GMC are part of the mix too in the U.S. And Holden remains the brand in Australia. It could be that Opel stays in GM hands in Europe now, even after months of trying to sell it. And if Opel is staying, it seems likely that GM’s U.K. brand, Vauxhaul, would stay in tact too.

All of a sudden, especially if GM keeps Opel, the stream-lined brand line-up of GM doesn’t look so streamlined any more. Under the re-emergence plan, GM was going from an insane 11 global car brands to a barely sensible five. If it keeps Opel, it could be back up to seven with Vauxhaul sticking around. Going from 11 to 7 is still shatteringly inefficient, and does not inspire confidence in would-be investors for shares in the new GM.

Though, I wonder how enthusiastic they will be anyway if GM doesn’t back off the idea of keeping GM as the new ticker symbol.

“New” GM. “Old” GM. You say potato…I say pot-aw-to.

Reader Comments

GM Daughter

August 26, 2009 11:06 AM

The name may stay the same, but let's dump the logo. No blue ovals, no diamond stars, let's rethink the badge. Maybe we should stop abbreviating the name for now. I like tbe "they say" campaign, but let's tackle the quality issue directly. It's the elephant in the room.

Ajay Jain

August 26, 2009 1:43 PM

People that support the GM bailout should view the movie "Who KILLED the ELECTRIC car" on and then answer the conspiracy questions towards the end of the movie. Why was the EV1 recalled from its lease status? Why were all the EV1s destroyed? If the expensive ($40,000.00) Chevy Volt is not on the near horizon like in 2010, can the EV1 be brought to life in a hurry? Current GM CEO Henderson has to answer that?


August 26, 2009 2:43 PM

The The Treasure of Sierra Madre clip didn't say the title's quote. Which leads me to believe you quoted it from Blazing Saddles.


August 26, 2009 5:26 PM

We don't need no stinkin 'New' GM...It's the same 'old' GM, less the shareholders and bondholders whom they screwed, and they expect to do an IPO?

Margaret B.

August 26, 2009 5:32 PM

They want to do an IPO next year to look for new money after they hosed the shareholders and bondholders?
Old GM, New GM...They're joking right?


August 26, 2009 5:35 PM

They expect to raise money thru an IPO next year after hosing the shareholders and bondholders?...Old GM, new GM?.. a rose is a rose is a rose.

bob long

August 26, 2009 7:54 PM

A new logo might help. The GM logo looks too modern, in the sense of that ideal of the early 20th century that cropped up in modern art and modern architecture, but which didn't get fully mainstreamed into popular culture until the late 50s and 60s, when the run-of-the-mill, common urban building was austere and geometric, when the art world was trying so hard to distance itself from the modern that it came up with the intellectual hoax it dubbed "post"-modernism.
That said, there's much to be said for GM's going with a "post"-modern logo, that is, one that retains some of the clean simplicity of the modern, while adding some more traditional ornamentation. GM is not in the business of leading new artistic movements, and needs an image that projects a break with the recent past, while playing on its long history as one of the major players in American industrial history.
Unfortunately, much postmodern design adds ornamentation in a way that looks like contrived irony, while more traditional ornamentation proceeds along a continuum, so that the main lines of a form are relatively clean, bordering on relatively insignificant flourishes that expand toward more forceful embellishments, which then taper off in impact again or terminate in some manner of climax.
Fractal designs exhibit another kind of ordered progression of articulation.
At any rate, GM's logo could benefit with some elaboration at the edges of the letters and the whole logo, and perhaps some reshaping. Something non-trendy, a bit atemporal, so as to convey that it's concerned with the big picture and the long haul

Brian Rushton Phillips

August 27, 2009 2:13 PM

Out of sight, out of mind?

This is an obvious marketing tactic meant to hide the already tarnished dinosaur brand from potential customers/exploited taxpayers.

In the public sphere, the GM brand is long dead.


August 27, 2009 2:40 PM

watch what happen's when the electric car's start selling good our electric bill's will start going up and up


August 27, 2009 5:19 PM

The director and creator of Who Killed the Electric Car is a big proponent of the Volt and has dialogued quite a bit with GM execs. and technology staff and has become quite supportive of GM's efforts. Much of the technology information gained from the EV1 is now in the volt plus new technology. The EV1 was a car that never had a chance to be a commercial success as the volt does -- if not in gen1 at least in gen2 and gen3 which is already under development. That was then, this is now, you need to move past the movie and get into the present. If GM is not delivering the volt in 2010 then they sure have wasted a lot of money testing it and building the pre-production models (close to 80 of them now) and opening a battery lab and building a battery manufacturing plant. Honestly, if it was just a hoax they didn't need half that stuff.


August 31, 2009 9:48 PM

New logo huh? Three big re-logoing trends this year include using the colour green or lighter blue, including something that looks like a smile (kraft(and good old amazon)), and using lower case letters (walmart, pepsi, kraft again, etc).

So here's the prediction: Switch the GM to lower case, change the backgound to green (without the fade) and change the line under GM (combined with the existing curve) into a smile, and Tah-Dah! 21st century logo!


September 3, 2009 5:21 AM

The current GM Logo is recognizable worldwide, it doesn't need to be changed. As a former stockholder of GM I am not angry over their bankruptcy, nor am I angry that they were assisted financially by our government. What all of this did for the Automotive Industry was weaken the cause of most of their problems, the UAW. If these unions survive the next five years I will be surprised. They, as Chrysler, are able to weed out their poor performing dealers as well that will help in healing their image. GM has some very nice, well built vehicles in their current stable and I wouldn't hesitate for one minute to buy one.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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