TRUE CHARITY OR DESPICABLE BEHAVIOR?

A Hard Look at UAW-GM's Self-Congratulatory Ad

By Published on .

Advertiser: United Auto Workers-General Motors Partnership
Agency: McCann-Erickson, Troy, Mich.
Rating: 0

In the summer of 1968, the AdReview staff had just turned 13 and was employed for $5 a week as a junior counselor at a whole-grained day camp for offspring of rich, liberal parents. One day, one of our 6-year-old charges, Todd, was liberally tormenting smaller kids in the pool when he began to drown.

In the swim-time commotion, none of the adults noticed. The AdReview staff -- fearless and heroic then as now -- jumped into the pool and rescued little Todd, who weighed an impressive 60 pounds to our 90 and very nearly took us down in his panic. This breathtaking display of sudden dampness was observed by exactly nobody.

There was no Camp Miquon medal ceremony, no tearful thank you from Todd's parents, who not only never learned of the episode, but stiffed us on tip day. The world continued to spin on its axis.

Then, three decades later, the very same AdReview staff found itself in St. Croix being kidnapped at gunpoint. Bad guys with cruel intentions, the FBI later concluded. But we miraculously escaped, thanks to a security guard who abandoned his post to grab a smoke, blundered into the gunmen and frightened them away, saving us from a near-certain very unpleasant death.

And that security guard? The very same Todd whom we'd saved 30 years before!

Selfless acts are rewarded
(Actually, that last part isn't true, although Paul Harvey is welcome to the yarn. We have no idea what became of Todd.) The point is that selfless acts are rewarded, if at all, by God and the Internal Revenue Service, nobody else.

Got that? Because the charitable souls at the United Auto Workers-General Motors Partnership do not.

What is it all of a sudden that ostensibly philanthropic acts must be immortalized in self-congratulatory advertising -- usually at an obscene ratio of ad dollars to charity ones? The indescribably shameless Philip Morris set the standard with a puny contribution of Kosovo food aid inflated by a huge ad campaign to suggest corporate Mother Teresa-dom. Since 1994, Southwest Airlines has been trotting out sick kids at Christmas to boast about its Ronald McDonald House contribution (McDonald's doesn't even boast about Ronald McDonald House). The Anheuser-Busch Foundation simply had to announce its $3 million donation post-9/11.

And now comes the UAW-GM Partnership, via McCann-Erickson, Troy, Mich., with a beautifully rendered, elegiac travesty.

'Simple question'
"It was a simple question," the narrator tenderly begins, beneath artful, sepia-toned images of a Michigan assembly line: "How can we help? We answered by donating the time, the parts and our labor." Then, with an understated version of "Danny Boy" in the background, we see hardworking UAW members assembling 50 vehicles. "And just like that a fleet of cars and trucks was on its way to the New York City Fire Department. It was a simple question. But to the UAW-GM Partnership, it was a way to say thanks."

No, for the UAW-GM Partnership, it is a way to say, "Hey! Look what we did!" That's why they re-staged -- in dramatic super-slow-motion -- the turnover of the keys. That's why they spent far more on the ad than the value of the donated labor. That's why they should be ashamed of themselves.

The union claims the ads are aimed at UAW members to instill pride, but that's what newsletters are for. Not national advertising.

No, hard on the heels of GM's deplorable "Keep America Rolling" promotion, the automaker's Big Labor friends are demonstrating full partnership in the Despicable Behavior Sweepstakes.

Put a dying child in a race car
The very same UAW-GM is also staging a cause-related promotion invoking the Make-a-Wish Foundation. In full-page newspaper ads, we see a dying child in a race car, thanks to the munificence of these selfless benefactors, donating $25* -- that's 100 quarters -- for every $10,000-$75,000 GM vehicle sold at participating dealers in December. (*"Up to $1 million nationally from committed funds.")

Breathtaking in its vulgarity.

Good deeds, once advertised, cease to be good deeds. They become a repulsive form of self-promotion. If you're looking for a return on investment, you'd do better in the money market. If you're looking for respect, take a peek in the mirror. You can't even get it from yourself.

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