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

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.

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