Questions If TV Ads Really Sell Cars Effectively

GM VICE CHAIRMAN CRITICAL OF PRESS COVERAGE

Warns Magazine Publishers; Also Questions Effectiveness of TV Auto Ads

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RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AdAge.com) -- The vice chairman of General Motors North America today offered magazine executives both carrots and sticks in his mid-morning presentation
Photo: Doug Goodman
GM vice chairman Robert A. Lutz warned publishers about unfavorable vehicle reviews in their magazines.
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at the American Magazine Conference here.

For starters, Robert A. Lutz questioned the value TV ads bring to automakers. He cited a recent survey that found only 18% of car buyers reported a TV ad influenced their buying decision -- although attendees may have noticed that a comparable figure for magazine advertising was not included among the data he cited.

Press bias
Mr. Lutz went on to ding the press for instances of what he saw as a bias affecting coverage of Detroit automakers vs. the type of attention Japanese and European automakers receive.

More specifically, he cited reviews of sport utility vehicles in one issue of Primedia's Automobile magazine. In its review of a not-yet-available Mercedes model, a reference was made to the SUV's "sophisticated" electronics. But a roughly comparable system on an SUV made by GM's Cadillac division was dismissed as having "the usual Buck Rogers electronic hoo-hah."

To laughs from the audience, he said, "I am not making this up."

He told the audience of publishers that he did not "deny you your right" to write such reviews -- but reminded them that GM also had the right to determine where to spend its ad dollars and that it might not look kindly on what he termed "biased" reviews.

Charming malapropism
In a charming malapropism -- albeit one with serious implications -- he asked the rhetorical question "Why should we feed the hand that bites us?"

The audience, though, appeared to focus more on Mr. Lutz's remarks about TV than those about editorial coverage. Two key magazine executives, buttonholed in the lobby briefly after Mr. Lutz address, said they would love to provide a video of Mr. Lutz's remarks to sales reps making calls on carmakers.

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