GM: "We Don't Need No Stinking Badges"

There isn’t much left of the GM brand, and one wonders what will be there a year from now when GM, the new GM, will be in the midst of an expected initial public offering.

The automaker, fresh from Chapter 11, has decided, as was first reported in The Wall Street Journal, that it will phase out attaching a small GM badge in the front bumper of each vehicle. There will be no such badge on 2011 models.

As the bandit in The Treasure of Sierra Madre famously said, “We don’t need no badges…I don’t have to show you any stinking badges.”

I can recall in old GM cars, specifically the Oldsmobiles my family had, the GM logo was the button on the seatbelt. You had to push the GM logo every time you were getting out of the car. I have also seen it on the dashboard at various times over the decades. And there was a time when GM was the logo on the key no matter what brand of car it was—Chevy, Buick, Olds, Caddy….The GM brand was literally a touch-point that was supposed to, and did for many, engender trust, safety and confidence.

How and whether to push the GM brand at all has been a game that comes around each year at GM like deer season. Usually, the ad agency that has the assignment of GM corporate advertising has a meeting with the GM exec in charge of advertising, and shows him or her some whiz-bang research that shows how important the GM brand is. Of course, there are whiz-bang storyboards and ripo-matics that go with the research. And whiz-bang sponsorships, like Ken Burns documentaries on PBS that GM long sponsored before pulling the plug this year.

But cooler, smarter and grayer (GM marketing chief Bob Lutz is 77)heads are prevailing.

There was ad work from Deutsch/LA talking about GM just as the company was emerging from Chapter 11. That, to me, seemed necessary and correct to communicate, at least transitionally, what was happening to GM.

But that was then. GM for too many consumers is like AIG. And officials acknowledge that it wants to distance its main brands from the company, and brand that people associate with an unpopular tax-payer funded bailout.

That said, a poll of CMOs at The CMO Club a few weeks ago showed a substantial majority of members would not dump the GM name all together. They said they would take the familiarity over spending to launch a new name. And Bob Lutz told me in a recent interview that he did not think GM would opt for a different ticker symbol when it launches its IPO next year for the same reason.

The “General”, of course, is private now, with the government, the UAW and debt holders owning stakes in GM. The stock trading today, for less than $1.00, is for “old GM,” and despite warnings that the stock is essentially worthless, it continues to trade. The shares seem to keep changing hands under some weird “phantom” energy—like when an amputee says he can still feel pain in the leg that is no longer there. It just keeps going—or like a chicken after it’s head has been cut off.

I’m not sure why the company would brand itself again on The New York Stock Exchange as GM if it is too ashamed to put the letters even in small letters on the bumper of the cars, or on the seatbelts that keep its occupants safe.

Cadillac and Chevrolet are the brands that are going to drive this company’s sales and future. Sure, Buick and GMC are part of the mix too in the U.S. And Holden remains the brand in Australia. It could be that Opel stays in GM hands in Europe now, even after months of trying to sell it. And if Opel is staying, it seems likely that GM’s U.K. brand, Vauxhaul, would stay in tact too.

All of a sudden, especially if GM keeps Opel, the stream-lined brand line-up of GM doesn’t look so streamlined any more. Under the re-emergence plan, GM was going from an insane 11 global car brands to a barely sensible five. If it keeps Opel, it could be back up to seven with Vauxhaul sticking around. Going from 11 to 7 is still shatteringly inefficient, and does not inspire confidence in would-be investors for shares in the new GM.

Though, I wonder how enthusiastic they will be anyway if GM doesn’t back off the idea of keeping GM as the new ticker symbol.

“New” GM. “Old” GM. You say potato…I say pot-aw-to.