Automaker Tries Painful Honesty as Marketing Strategy

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DETROIT ( -- General Motors Corp. on June 2 will launch a print advertising campaign with a "road to redemption" theme, according to

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'Road to Redemption' ad

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the company. The announcement confirms what the print edition of Advertising Age first reported May 5.

Aimed at the large number of consumers who don't consider buying a GM vehicle, the unusual newspaper and magazine ads acknowledge that the automaker's reputation for top quality slipped 30 years ago.

'Longest road'
Headlined "The longest road in the world is the road to redemption," the ad explains that GM has been working for a decade in an effort to improve its products and win back consumer confidence.

John Middlebrook, vice president and general manager of advertising, corporate marketing and vehicle marketing at GM, said 5% of the ad is "mea culpa" and 95% discusses "what's going on that's good at GM."

Negative survey results
GM vehicles didn't do well in a recent survey of 113,500 people who intended to buy 2003 model-year cars, Advertising Age reported earlier this month. Consultancy CNW Marketing/Research revealed GM's Cadillac tied for fifth and its Saturn brand ranked ninth in quality among all cars in the survey.

The "road to redemption" placements will run in national and regional magazines and newspapers through July. Subsequent print placements will discuss GM and the environment as well as GM technologies such as the OnStar satellite vehicle communications system and availability of XM satellite radio.

Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Troy, Mich., handles the account.

May add TV versions
Mr. Middlebrook said GM is studying whether to add TV commercials to what he described as a long-term campaign. He declined to reveal spending, but said GM's corporate ad budget "is probably up a little bit" from 2002. GM spent $198 million in measured media on corporate advertising last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

Gary Cowger, president of GM in North America, said consumers don't understand the improvements in quality the automaker has made in recent years. Citing consultantcy J.D. Power and Associates, he said eight of the top 12 plants in North America are GM and 44% of GM's sales volume is from vehicles on Consumer Reports' "Best Buy list."

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