GM Not Practicing What It Preached for Advertising

Creates Corporate Spots, Near-Identical Magazine Spreads for Different Brands After Promising Opposite

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DETROIT ( -- General Motors Corp. said it wasn't going to do corporate ads -- and then it put Chairman Ed Whitacre in its multiple-model "May the Best Car Win" campaign. The automaker also said it was going to create distinctive advertising for its four remaining vehicle brands, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC -- but tell that to subscribers of Newsweek and BusinessWeek.

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GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said the ads 'would deliberately have somewhat of the same look, even though the illustrations and messages should be unique, except for the tagline.'

In early October issues of those publications, GM is running nearly identical back-to-back spreads from McCann Erickson, Birmingham, Mich., for the Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Malibu and/or new Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon. The ads are not only nearly mirror images of one another -- simply with a different car in each -- but they run in consecutive front pages of the magazines.

The spreads are so similar they "homogenize all the brands again," said Maryann Keller, who has her own auto consultancy. "GM is as dysfunctional as ever," said the author of two auto industry books.

GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, tapped post-Chapter 11 to oversee all advertising, told Advertising Age in an e-mail that he had not seen the print ads. When told they are themed "May the Best Car Win," he said those ads "would deliberately have somewhat of the same look, even though the illustrations and messages should be unique, except for the tagline." The umbrella themed ads are in "a corporate campaign, but with messages attributed to every brand," he wrote.

When asked why there is a corporate campaign at all when both Mr. Lutz and his boss, President-CEO Fritz Henderson, repeatedly said that after bankruptcy the company would focus on the four vehicle brands, the vice chairman responded: "That's why the 'May the Best Car Win' is brand-specific, but with an overriding theme that is applicable to all brands. Nowhere is GM mentioned. The only reference to GM as a corporation was in the early phase, with the Ed Whitacre ad."

The magazine buy indeed called for two spread insertions in the same broad-reach titles for impact, said GM's Betsy Lazar, exec director-advertising and media operations. "What we did not intend was to run the ads consecutively," which she called "a miscommunication in traffic instructions that has been corrected in every issue that had not yet gone to press." There will no longer be more than one "May the Best Car Win" spreads in a publication going forward, she added.

Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group is GM's dedicated planner and buyer.

Ms. Keller said the corporate effort is a waste. "GM is not a brand, but GM is trying to make it a brand," she said. "This is not a good start." While the automaker has significantly improved the competitiveness of its products, she said, "GM has better cars than advertising."

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