advertising and other stuff. no, really.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What’s up with GM and Chrysler.

The spot above is from a few months ago depicting GM on the other side of bankruptcy. Having just purchased a fine quality GM product right before they filed, I asked our salesman if we’d have a dealer to come back to the following week. Rest easy people, we did, and we still do. Yea America!

(At this point, the National Blogging Disclosure Act of 1976 requires that I mention Ford’s sponsorship of the Plaid Nation Tour as well as Plaid’s work with Segway on their GM P.U.M.A. project.)*

So, along the way to New Carville, I heard all the pitches and read all the brochures, and there’s no way GM all of a sudden found their way three months later. Not really sure that changing the message is the answer as GM’s new marketing head Bob Lutz seems to think it is. Neither is counting on Toyota to falter much of a strategy either.

Was Chapter 11 supposed to be the wake-up call the industry needed though? Because if it was, I’m not seeing it in a series of new regional spots, which all seem to be more of the same with dealers throwing thousands in rebates at consumers. When I see this, none of it addresses the things that convinced me to buy a GM in the first place.

The same Chrysler warranties that I wouldn’t bite on before the bankruptcy are supposed to convince me now?** The quality is better? Couldn’t have changed that much since test drove almost everything out there three months ago.

There’s a tangential point to all of this: When does the general role of the advertising industry start to share in some of the blame?

I know BBDO was on the hook for $58 million when Chrysler filed, but the agency billed 1.2 billion in 2007. Say it with me again, with verve please: 1.2 billion. A lot of agencies made a lot of money off Detroit for a lot of years, so excuse me while I don’t shed too many tears there.

I don’t mean blame agencies for lagging sales either, because again, you need to put it back on the automaker to develop a better product that people want. But when it comes to the cost of exotic spots and epic CGI in ridiculous spots? Only thing that seems to show people is how much money automakers and agencies know how to blow.

Call me hero of the working man and grunts everywhere, but there’s something wrong about an agency collecting an award for a spot while the autoworkers on that same brand are out of a job. Yes, we live in a free market, so charge whatever it will bear and profit off it when things are good. But when have the networks ever cut brands and agencies a significant, long-term break in their rates during significant, long-term hard times?

It’s not enough to argue that the cost of marketing is a necessary evil and is still a small percentage of an automaker’s overall revenue stream. Not when a few brands felt this point was valid enough to keep them out of this year’s Super Bowl.

If good advertising can’t save a bad product, and most everyone agrees a lot of the problems lie with the auto industry and how it’s run, maybe it’s time agencies toned down the spend on the message so Detroit can focus on those products.

How does the spot up top do even come close to doing that though, because I sure don’t know.

Before this recent mess started, GM had actually tried to address some of those negative perceptions with, but maybe the baggage of the entire industry was too much for one company to take on.

While the warranties have gotten better, the rebates bigger, I still don’t see an appreciable difference in quality from either Chrysler or GM. With Ford though, I did, and was this close to deciding on them for that reason alone. (What’s also missing is any mention of how messed up and archaic the sales process is, because short of Saturn’s no-haggle policy, nothing’s changed with salespeople in general.)

The biggest thing working against GM and Chrysler that no ads have addressed? Taking federal bailout money. They allude to bankruptcy but never mention the other component of that. This did more to hurt their attempt at bouncing back than anything else, and will take some time for people to start believing in the two companies again.

It’s for this reason that Ford seems better positioned to me. They’ve had over half a year to focus on the things the other two are just now trying to get around to relative to better product and social media efforts—and, well, they didn’t take the money.

Right or wrong, that message will resonate for some more than a nice warranty does. Least it did in my informal focus group where the majority gave Ford props on this point alone. The indirect good will generated from that move is invaluable.

But hey, maybe I’m wrong and Chrysler will come out with a 300,000 mile warranty and turn this thing around.

*The GM work might be considered indirectly related to Plaid, but, bloggers get bitchy about that stuff doncha know, so I’m disclaiming with extreme prejudice.
Besides, I bought a new fucking Saturn. That pretty much qualifies me to speak my mind, no?

**Hyundai’s warranties were probably the most attractive of all, but no way I would buy one based on the overall performance and quality of the vehicle.

(Images via, via.)

1 comment:

phillybikeboy said...

I've already gone on at length about what a wank the GM spots are, but you raise an interesting point. GM learned nothing from their 25 year partnership with Toyota. The corporate culture at Chrysler took nothing from their time as part of Daimler AG. Just yesterday I was talking to foreign motors guy who said that Ford had really embraced Vovlvo, and the Volvo way of doing things. That's a huge step forward for any US car company.

Funny you mention Saturn. Years ago, GM had a good vision for what their future should be. Remember back when Saturn was "a different kind of company"? Back before GM decided the way things have always been done was good enough, did away with the management team and started slapping the Saturn badge on existing GM platforms? Oh well....their dealership network did survive largely intact--that's a start. Let's see how Penske can "rethink American."