Would You Buy a New Car from This Man?

September 14, 2009 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment

General Motors has unveiled its new ads with new CEO Ed Whitacre. Using the theme “May the Best Car Win,” GM is offering a 60-day money-back guarantee to anyone who buys one of its core brands–Chevy, GMC, Buick or Cadillac.

Reaction from marketing pundits (those who write columns and those who write comments) has ranged from blasé to bombastic. Laura Ries tweets that Ed Whitacre is the new “Dr. Z,” DaimlerChrysler Chairman Dieter Zetsche who was featured in Chrysler ads in 2006. The result then: 80% of consumers believed Dr. Z was a fictional character, Chrysler sales continued to crater, and Daimler jettisoned its American acquisition the following year.

The gold standard for CEO-driven ads remains Lee Iacocca’s Chrysler commercials of the 1980s, but that campaign owed its success to many unique elements. First was Iacocca’s telegenic personality, tough but likeable with a snappy delivery. Second was Chrysler’s inventive product line built off its company-saving K-Car platform: turbo-optional models such as the Dodge Daytona and Chrysler LeBaron; the iconic Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth minivan. Lastly was the spirit of the Reagan years, when “Buy American” could still be said with a straight face and a CEO might engender a modicum of respect.

The GM ad has none of these advantages. The company’s government bailout dwarfs the one Chrysler received 30 years ago, just as our current recession overshadows the downturn of that era. Even without negative reaction to its federal rescue, GM has long since expended its reputational capital with vehicles that either tried our patience or put us to sleep. Millions of consumers have come of age since the Iacocca campaign with no pangs of patriotism when it comes to car purchases. Add to that the muddled nationalism of Asian manufacturers’ stateside factories employing our countrymen and producing cars we enjoy. And, as Laura Ries points out, Ed Whitacre is no Lee Iacocca.

In the end, the GM campaign is an amalgam of two auto industry clichés, the “approachable” chief executive and the desperation incentive program. Let’s hope the Chevy Volt is better assembled.

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Entry filed under: Branding, Creativity, Crisis Communications, Leadership, Marketing. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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