GM: Whitacre Ad Is Working

Positive Response From Bloggers Means Chairman-Starring Spot Will Stick Around

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DETROIT ( -- A TV commercial starring General Motors Chairman Ed Whitacre, initially scheduled for a one-week media flight ending this weekend, will continue to air "a little longer... due to positive response," a spokesman at the automaker told Advertising Age.

The commercial, from GM's corporate agency, Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson, Birmingham, Mich., has been put into rotation during this Sunday morning's political talk shows.

GM learned via monitoring blogs and web postings that there was quite a positive reaction to the spot, she said. The marketer hasn't determined exactly how long the spot will continue to air.

The first two days after the chairman's commercial aired, GM found a 14% shift in willingness to consider GM vehicles, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who heads advertising and marketing, wrote in his live web cast Sept. 14. "These are good signs," he said.

The carmaker is trying desperately to change perception of its brands, as it aims to return to profitability after billions of dollars in federal loans and a quick trip this summer to bankruptcy court, pre-packaged by Uncle Sam. GM is attempting its turnaround in a global economic malaise that has changed Americans' buying habits, resulting in the industry's worst U.S. sales year in decades.

Also on Sept. 20, GM will break new work for three of its four core vehicle brands: Chevrolet, Buick and GMC. (Cadillac broke new work about 10 days ago from independent Modernista, Boston). All the commercials, and accompanying newspaper ads, carry the same theme, "May the Best Car Win," the 60-day, full-refund offer Mr. Whitacre's commercial introduced.

The new Chevrolet spot from Interpublic's Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., takes on the Toyota brand, touting better fuel economy with direct comparisons across several models. The interior of Buick's second-generation LaCrosse sedan is compared to that of the Lexus ES in a spot from Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett Detroit, Troy, Mich. Burnett also created GMC's launch commercial for the new Terrain crossover SUV, which boasts that its estimated EPA-certified highway mileage of 32 miles to the gallon is equal to that of the much-smaller Mini Cooper.

The work for all three brands has a clean, uncluttered look, apparently shot on a set, similar to how BBDO Detroit handled Chrysler's "New Dodge" work in the 1990s under creative chief Dick Johnson and during Mr. Lutz's rein in the top ranks of that automaker.

During his web cast, Mr. Lutz admitted GM "failed in conveying the fact that we have the best warranty in the business" (a five-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty that is transferable to the next owner). He said the purpose of "May The Best Car Win" is a "challenge to the consumer to find out himself or herself. Look at the data. Look at the interior. Drive the car. See what the suspension is like. See how the brakes feel. If your mind is closed, we can't help you; you're just depriving yourself of a great automotive experience."

Mr. Lutz said upcoming ads will most likely compare Chevrolet's second-generation Equinox to Honda's CR-V and Toyota RAV4 plus the Ford Escape hybrid, "all of which Equinox trounces roundly."

GM expects fewer than 2% of its new cars ad trucks sold under the refund program will be returned, Mr. Lutz said. Buyers must take delivery of their new purchases by Nov. 30.

Land Rover North America tried a similar program in the second quarter of 2001 for its Discovery SUV, although it only offered a 30-day money back guaranty. Jack Devine, VP-retail operations at Land Rover, said the automaker had to buy back only three or four new vehicles. He said it wasn't very successful, but the niche upscale SUV maker "never had a ton of money to market the program."

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