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Businessweek Archives

GM Oil Ad A Non-Controversy Run Amok

Talk about a non story. Both Automotive News [see story below in the extended blog space] and some of the auto blogs have reported that General Motors was “breaking” with Big Oil by way of a TV ad that was to say,” “Dear Oil,” a new TV commercial begins. “We’ve had this great relationship for many years. We think we will both be a lot happier and healthier if we see less of each other.” The commercial from McCann-Erickson was to debut on NBC’s “Meet the Press” June 22, Benoit said.

The ad was talked up by GM marketing exec Katherine Benoit at the meeting of the American Advertising Federation.

And the controversy was…? Um….uh….hmmmmm.

The point of the ad was to say that GM’s cars increasingly have to use less oil…electrics, smaller engines, gas cars that get much better fuel economy, hybrids, plug-ins.

But the story was conflated into this whole other thing; That GM was going to war with the oil companies, or something. The auto companies and oil companies do not exactly lobby DC in lockstep. Take the ethanol issue. GM pushes for more Federal subsidy and for government to compel oil companies to support ethanol at its stations, and the oil companies fight that.

A top GM exec once told me that he was giving a presentation on hydrogen power. An ExxonMobil exec walked up to him afterward and said…”You know, gasoline is a great source of hydrogen (asserting that GM should more aggressively pursue a system that cracks the hydrogen out of refined gasoline). The GM exec responded…”And so is water. I think water is going to be the better way to go.”

Now, GM is saying the ad may not run.

This is practically a case study in a non-story actually pushing a company to alter its course. The coverage of the speech has been puzzling to say the least.

[The original Auto News story].

GM BREAKS With Big Oil In New Ads

ATLANTA -- General Motors is sending a "Dear John" letter to big oil.

Katherine Benoit, GM corporate marketing director, told attendees at the American Advertising Federation meeting this week that the automaker is launching a corporate campaign this month that addresses the oil-price issue head-on, albeit with a tongue-in-cheek twist.

"Dear Oil," a new TV commercial begins. "We've had this great relationship for many years. We think we will both be a lot happier and healthier if we see less of each other." The commercial from McCann-Erickson is to debut on NBC's "Meet the Press" June 22, Benoit said.

A Chevrolet campaign focused on green issues also is about to launch, and GM will tout its corporate environmental message as part of its NBC Olympics sponsorship, Benoit said.

GM has been boosting advertising for its fuel-efficient models since last year. But Benoit said the automaker suspended ads for its E85 models, partly because of the availability issue, and is backing options other than corn or other food products to make ethanol, which is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

Part of GM's energy and environmental unit will check and confirm all its green marketing claims, Benoit said. "You have to make sure that the story you tell plays out."

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