A 'Road to Redemption' That Really Isn't

By Published on .

Client: General Motors Corp.
Agency: McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Troy, Mich.
Star Rating: 1.5

This Just in: General Motors has failed.

Not necessarily at producing good cars and trucks, although that's what the company is belatedly confessing

The 'Road to Redemption' ad is a double-page print magazine spread.

See full-sized .pdf of
'Road to Redemption' ad

Related News Story:
Automaker Tries Painful Honesty as Marketing Strategy

to in a series of print ads from McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Troy, Mich.

"Thirty years ago, GM quality was the best in the world," says the subheadline in one magazine spread. "Twenty years ago it wasn't. The story of our long journey back."

The name of the campaign: "The Road to Redemption."

Utter ineptitude
How strange. GM's past institutional blunders -- born of arrogance, misjudgment and sheer bureaucratic paralysis -- have been thoroughly documented. But what is revealing and altogether new about this anguished mea culpa is the ongoing failure it reflects: GM's utter ineptitude as a marketer.

This is a company that consistently fails to divine the desires of the marketplace and translate them into the right product for the right time. It is a company that, having spent decades and billions achieving quality parity, is unable in its ordinary divisional promotion to communicate that achievement to the world. And it is a company with priceless brands containing unimaginable reserves of equity -- equity inaccessible to the owners who can't seem to find the combination to the vault.

So now they're telling us this isn't your father's General Motors ... and we're supposed to believe them?

We don't believe them.

A look at the evidence
Just look at the evidence they cite: the introduction of the $42,000 Chevy SSR roadster/pickup and the $75,000 Cadillac XLR roadster. Sure, they're head-turners, but rushing a few pricey concept cars to market is not necessarily evidence of newfound nimbleness. It may simply bespeak panic, a way to generate buzz for a couple of low-volume vehicles in a desperate hope that it will trigger a stampede to the Buick Century.

Which it won't.

The way to declare "We have changed" is not to declare "We have changed." United Airlines tried that

with "Rising," only to plummet into Chapter 11. For years Ford said "Have you driven a Ford lately?" and every year more customers said "Yes" -- on their way to the Toyota dealer. And, come to think of it, "This is not your father's Oldsmobile" was a fiasco, because a) core customers were offended and, b) young prospects were skeptical, because, c) this most certainly was your father's Oldsmobile, only smaller and slower.

Drop the sloganeering
Genuine change is not accomplished via sloganeering. It is accomplished in design, promotion, warranty, brand development and all that you do. Not all that you say; all that you do. This would mean, for example, understanding that the Vortec 4200 inline 6 engine your ads boast about is rendered unimpressive by an SUV interior fabricated cheaply out of plastic.

It would mean understanding and tirelessly communicating the difference between Pontiac, Chevrolet and Buick, and letting that difference -- not corporate infighting or factory capacity or dealer bullying -- solely determine what you make and sell.

It would mean, in other words, completely changing the way GM does business. But that's hard, and expensive. Talk is easy and cheap -- which perfectly describes this campaign.

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