Saturday, December 4, 2010

Is GM Completely Repaired?

After General Motors raised $20.1 billion in last month's initial public offering, setting a record as the largest in United States history in the process, GM seems to be is signaling that its tough times are officially behind them.

Not surprisingly, its new corporate marketing campaign is reinforcing the idea that it's back from the brink. The powerful new television spot mixes a variety of visuals to demonstrate strength, perseverance and pride, with an obvious flair for of all-things-American. It's a strong deviation from the cliches of winding roads, lab coat wearing engineers in testing facilities and base-level pricing in front of fully loaded cars. The message is simple and seemingly forthright; adversity has made us better.

Shouldn't this have been their refrain all along? Our struggles will make us stronger. This approach that could resonate with all consumers who share in very similar struggles. It would have been advertising that inspired a great mass of people who were in desperate need of some inspiration. And it could have made a huge difference in actually being perceived to be a real life Rocky who picked himself up off the mat.

Instead, GM chose to be the recessionary punching bag. They looked and behaved just like car company we all knew, but now the sign on the front said Government Motors. They chanted "May The Best Car Win" while Ed Whitacre, its sleepy government appointed Chairman and Chief, walked consumers through the cliche factory and repeated the same empty jargon the world was too preoccupied to care about.

"We know you're hurting. So are we. How 'bout bigger rebates and we will all hurt a little less?"

Worst yet, they behaved like the bad boy marketers consumers have trained themselves to be suspicious of. As Mr. Whitacre boldly claimed that the company has repaid the taxpayers in full, consumers default intuition was we don't believe you. It was just another case of GM acting like GM; leaving the consumers to sort through its claims and determine exactly what's honest, what's half truth and what's a complete fabrication.

Is the buying public just supposed to completely buy in now? Better yet will they?

Of course not. They know what the advertisements don't say. That despite its record public offering, the sign out front will still say Government Motors; the American taxpayer still owns 43 percent of the company. Many today's top officials are were appointed during the Troubled Asset Relief Program days. The United Auto Workers, the union widely blamed for broken behaviors of the company, may have more leverage than ever with its seat at the owners meeting.

Most importantly, they know that buying a GM car today is no different than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Sure, the products have drastically changed. They wouldn't declare "May The Best Car Win" if they didn't think it was good. The problem is its perception has not. The disconnect may lie in the fact that for consumers, the only truth that really matters is how they want to see it. Unfortunately, that's been the problem at GM.

The motto all this time should have been "May The Best Marketing Win." And the best marketing is always honest.

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