GM Re:Invent

While I’m not sure if this ad falls within the mission statement of the blog, with all the issues around government ownership of GM, I imagine the audience for this ad is as much policy makers as consumers.

That’s a rationalization.  The reality is that I really wanted to review this ad for two simple reasons: 1) it’s not often that I see an ad that surprises me and makes me say wow; and 2) this ad surprised me and made me say, wow.

Reading some of the comments on Advertising Age, I thought I was crazy — most of the  comments were along the lines of this blog post: the ad misses the mark, its not going to change anything,  there’s nothing new here, how does this help GM?

When I showed it to Nora my wife, she had the same reaction as me, “wow.”

So maybe I’m not crazy or maybe we’re just a perfect match.

Form (on a scale A-F): A-

Ads, like movies fall, into genres — a series of conventions: stylistic, subject, sometimes legal requirements.  Think of beer ads or prescription drug ads or hell, while we’re on the subject, political ads or car ads.  Each one might be unique, but they also tend to be similar in many ways not related to product.

Breaking convention can be genius, like this Volkswagen ad (one of my all time favorite ads) or disaster (no examples of those off the top of my head).  I think this ad pushes the bounds of the car ad genre, plays with your expectations, and surprises the viewer with images and voiceover that are at times literal and at times unexpected and lyrical.

I find the images compelling: the runner with the prosthetic leg, the bridge with the sun glaring through, the house being built.  There’s something iconic about the images, though they’re not the usual iconic images.  They speak to resolve (the tattered flag in the hurricane), to toughness.  It’s America, but not the America we’re used to in car commercials.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the copy.  I think this is an incredibly smart and well written ad, conversational in tone, yet conveying important information. “There was a time eight brands made sense, not anymore.” It’s simple and direct; you don’t need to understand branding and marketing to understand what they’re saying.

I also love the quality of the narrator’s voice, not the usual voice of God in car commercials, but strong and matter of fact.

Function (on a scale A-F): A-

Here’s where I think the naysayers are missing the point of this ad.  It’s not trying to sell cars per se, it’s trying sell GM.  Why is that important? Because I think consumer faith in GM is low.  Who would want to buy a car from a dying company that makes crappy cars to begin with?

Watching this ad, I want it to be true.  Odd, right?  I’m not a car guy, I didn’t grow up worshiping at the alter of the American car, yet this commercial taps into something.  Maybe it’s the Hero’s Journey quality: the hero (GM), beaten and humiliated by hubris, must start again, from nothing.  He must rebuild himself, but in this new birth he finds humility and strength he didn’t know he had to create something greater and more meaningful than he had before. Think of the end of “An Officer and A Gentleman”:  Mayo, broken by the death of his best friend, must face his demons one more time before becoming the officer and gentleman that the title promises (thanks to ““The Writer’s Journey,” for the example — a great guide into the hero’s journey for those who dare not brave Joseph Campbell).

Is that too much from one car commercial?  I’m not sure it is.

This ad sets the stage for that re-birth, the RETURN from the dead into the world of the living.

While I did ask myself, is any of this true?  I quickly decided I’m not sure if that matters yet.  I want it to be true, which is enough for now.  It’s up to GM to make good on the promise it’s made here.  A key element to any commercial is honesty and truth. This commercial starts with “Let’s be honest.” And there is an honesty here.  Admitting mistakes of the past is a big deal for any company and it makes me more likely to believe what they have to say after that.

Final Grade (on a scale A-F): A

Why an A?  Well, I added a little extra for effort.  The ad, while not groundbreaking in execution, is honest and very well crafted.  It delievers information in an emotional way.

The ad helps GM to frame their own :60 story outside of the media.  They’re not a company in Chapter 11 (“The only chapter we’re focused on is chapter 1”);  Its a mythic story about a company that was too out of step, too big, and too proud, a company that failed and now sees its sins, a company that is striving to reinvent itself.  That’s a powerful story to my mind.

It’s a story that touches on patriotism and the strength of the American character, it touches on the epic, the Hero’s Journey, and it touches on the angst we all feel in these changing times — facebook, twitter, terrorism, a changing economy, jobs being outsourced, etc.

Of course, the proof will be in the pudding: is this a hoax or real?  I don’t know, but I do know it got me curious to see what GM does next, which is something I would not have said before watching this commercial.

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6 Responses to “GM Re:Invent”

  1. jules Says:

    the GM ad made me and my partner go “wow!” too – and for all the points you mention. great writing combined with unusual & compelling visuals (the tattered flag, the prosthetic leg caught my eye too). by the end of it you’ve been on a rollercoaster ride of emotion and comebackology that Rocky would be proud of. and then you remember its for GM.( and you worry you’ve been taken. again.) meanwhile in TV-land, two thumbs way up for the spot.

  2. Adam Strasberg Says:

    The prosthetic leg — that’s why we always worked so well together.

    Your last point is exactly what I was just thinking about. GM makes this big claim, we’ve changed, you want to believe it, but its GM — can they really have changed?

    Its a claim that I’ll (the viewer) will be looking to verify, if they really haven’t then they risk a backlash. Making a big claim and not backing it up is a big NG (that’s production talk for no good).

    The Ad Age article:
    profiles 10 campaigns that have made big claims, only one, Apple, lived up to the promise.

  3. KZ Says:

    Agree the ad breaks through the usual car clutter and invites reconsideration of GM. Unfortunately when looking at which brands to keep and which ones to kill, they choose to keep some of the most undifferentiated, stodgy ones in the portfolio. By elminating Hummer, Saab, and Saturn they reinforced a prevailing view among an important segment of car buyers (30-45 year-old affluent, educated professionals–a nice car-buying sweet spot) that they are out of touch with current trends. They should have kept the more youthful brands and matched them up with their innovations and then the repositioning message would be more believable.

    Just my two cents…

    • Adam Strasberg Says:

      You make a good point, but from a brand point of view, when people think of GM do they really think of SAAB? Saturn’s brand used to mean something, but they’ve spent 10 years running it into the ground, instead of the “different” car experience they promised it became the same old crap.

      It seems like GM is going back to their core: Chevy, Buick, Cadillac, and GMC. You can argue what those brands mean, but you have to say they do mean something, they evoke something even in me who is car agnostic. Saturn, Hummer, SAAB those are brand extensions that I would argue weaken what GM is about.

      Now you’re right they can’t be all things to all people. Can they reinvent Chevy et al to be on the cutting edge? Can they get people to re-assess what a GM car means? That’s a big part of the challenge ahead. Can they turn Buick into a youth brand? Chevy used to be the car every teenager wanted, can it be that again? I’m skeptical too, but I’m also interested which was my point — I wasn’t interested before, but you can be sure if I see an article in the Wall Street Journal but the new GM cars rolling off the assembly line, I’m going to read it. I want to believe it, but if they blow it, then it just becomes meaningless words. But at least I’m willing to listen.

    • Adam Strasberg Says:

      BTW, I just saw this poll today of consumers asking which GM brand should be saved.

      Kind of interesting in response to your comments.

  4. This Week’s Inspiration « Ad Nauseam Says:

    […] mentioned this ad in the GM post as one of my all time favorites. It was made several years ago, and I still marvel at it every time […]

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