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GM's "Best Car Wins" Ads Need to Move On Fast from Chairman

Posted by: David Kiley on September 14, 2009

Okay. That was interesting. Use a guy in his 60s who has been at the company for fifteen minutes to tell the public that General Motors is back and relevant?

If GM’s aim was to get people talking with its first big ad push since coming out of Chapter 11, it succeeded. But despite GM CMO Bob Lutz’s opinion that this was a great idea, the decision to use new GM chairman Ed Whitacre as a walking pitch-man is only about a half-step better than the decision to use an actor to portray the late GM design chief Harley Earle in Buick ads a few years ago.

I’m being subjective, I know. I haven’t seen all the ad testing data. But as Bob Lutz told me once not long ago…”Every terrible ad that ever got on their air tested well, or they wouldn’t have put it on the air.”

Bob, by his own explanation, is out to use more instinct and taste when it comes to choosing ad messages. He is relying less on ad testing, he says.

Yet, when explaining the ad to reporters on Friday, he was quick to point out…”it tested through the roof.”

I have seldom heard so many people…in Michigan mind you, where I live!! go out of their way to ask me…”What are they thinking?” “Who is that guy?”

Lutz explained that the Whitacre ad is probably a one-shot. If that is the case, though, why do it at all?

The overall idea of the campaign, “May The Best Car Win,” is a good, confident message. I admit that it does come off a bit like a company selling distressed merchandise. But that’s because it is. GM’s hardware is mostly just fine. I would rather have a Malibu than a Camry or Accord. I would rather have a Tahoe than a Toyota Sequoia. I would rather have a Chevy Silverado than a Toyota Tundra. And I would rather have a Caddy CTS than a Lexus ES350. The hardware is just great. It’s the software of the GM brand that is distressed…and by extension, the Chevy, Cadillac, Buick and GMC brands.

Again, I recall when GM was first challenged to extend its warranty to the current five-year/100,000 miles, Bob Lutz told me there was ample evidence that consumers smell a problem when you advertise a longer warranty. In this case, though, GM has had the warranty out there for years and few knew about it, because GM never advertised it.

The pieces of GM’s message are coming together. Confidence is a good start. Lots of messages about its 60-day test drive program. It’s being searched out on The Google. GM is calculating that when people do more searching, they will find more recommendations for GM cars and trucks than the searchers expect.

But the sooner we can get beyond using Mr. Whitacre, the former head of AT&T, the better off GM will be. Perhaps they can use him in a more targted way…like advertising GM’s OnStar telematics system. At least he knows about that business.

On a side note: I still think it was awfully stupid for GM to walk away from its relationship with Tiger Woods. He had been a Buick pitch-man for years. When the company was paring expenses, they let the contract with the golf star lapse.

I was thinking who would have been more effective at pitching the opening ad for GM’s “May The Best Car Win” message—-Ed Whitacre or Tiger Woods? Hmmm. That’s not a tough choice.

Reader Comments


September 15, 2009 10:44 AM

David, GM's greatest need at this point is to convince the public that they have desirable products. They're using their top guy to say "Try us, and if you don't like us, we'll take it back." What better evidence of desirable products could they offer?


September 15, 2009 11:59 AM

David, Tiger Woods would be hired only as a paid spokesman for GM and would have no more responsibility than that. Ed Whitacre is the top guy at GM and has as much responsibility for the products as it's possible to have. Whitacre has his butt on the line and Woods does not. Therefore Whitacre is the logical one to convince the public that GM is serious.

From Kiley: What? Whitacre is not being paid?

Living in the Real World

September 15, 2009 12:04 PM

GM is no longer any kind of leader. They will have to see where the market is going and then try to present their vehicles to those consumers.

They have offended so many potential customers, they will have a hard time holding on to 15% of the US market. The offense came from poor quality, poor engineering, bad managment and bad unions, and their combined inability to see the trainwreck coming for the past ten to twenty years.

They are exactly where they should be, circling the drain.


September 15, 2009 1:21 PM

Perhaps GM saw the angle potential customer's may see on paying Tiger to advertise their merchandise at an undoubtedly hefty price.

Or going with somebody that may require less investment by the company which is coming out of Chapter 11 where the country owns a majority stake in the company was a better option for GM?!?!?!


September 15, 2009 2:23 PM

Good point on Tiger but c' and I both know that had GM kept the Tiger contract at a time when they were cutting jobs, plants and preparing for bankruptcy they would have been crucified...if not by you then by your colleagues in the auto press for sure. To Tiger's credit he has only said good things about GM in parting ways and I believe he still has a Buick Enclave in his stable of vehicles -- afterall it is a classy and stylish family vehicle. You are right about the message however and your litany of GM vehicles you would prefer over the japanese is dead on right. You could throw the new equinox and lacrosse in there too....

Robert Winsor

September 16, 2009 12:20 AM

David Kiley makes excellent points. GM does need to grab their viewers with a better known face. But David, think about this: The campaign is "may the best CAR win." Tiger is certainly a winner, but why not have the entire Chevrolet NASCAR team do the ad together (saying the tag line in chorus)? These guys are already on GM payroll. This approach places more focus on the cars, and there is already a lot of love for GM from that corner.

From Kiley: That will work for car race fans..yes. Good Idea.


September 17, 2009 5:22 PM

This is for "Living in the real world" concerning how GM is no kind of leader - you mean like how GM is implementing Volt technology and is single-handedly driving the quantum leap in Lithium Ion battery technology and mass battery pack mfg. techniques that will transform this industry? Comments about quality & engineering are 20-30 years dated, you should do your homework,read a paper some time and you'd be embarassed by how out of step with reality your comments are. McFly, just admit you hate GM and you don't know why. But don't give in to hate, that leads to the dark side - Yoda

Boris Murchant

September 25, 2009 5:30 AM

Come on! A Caddy over a Lexus? A Silverado over a Tundra? You must be joking or have a bit of the swine flu. GM has been sucking every dime out of their products for 20 years without any comprehension of what is going on in the industry. Their plants look like slum yards, the innovation is nothing more than a few basic chassis and then put a few various coverings on them call them all something different, and run the price tag from low to high. The idiotic thinking that "consumers smell a problem when you give them a longer warranty" is one of the stupidest things he could come up with. So big Bob thinks that people think it's an issue when you back up and guarantee your product? This guy and the entire leadership needs to take a hike. They will continue on their deep dive until they can actually step back and stop the madness from within.


September 29, 2009 10:43 PM

GM needs to stop marketing the same old lies and build a better car. comparing the MPG of a toyota vs. a chevy without mentioning the toyota hybrids that are "IN the SAME CLASS". they just can't ignore the hybrids and put them in a seperate class for their stupid marketing campaign. fire all the marketing people. fire all the exec's from the financing arm and start build affordable, good looking vehicles with great MPG. 50 or better or don't come back to us.

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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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