GM and Chrysler Have Gotten Messaging All Wrong

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Even as General Motors scrambles to get its house in order, its marketing efforts continue apace. But the troubled automaker -- and Chrysler as well -- should rethink current tactics.

GM is spending millions to assure consumers that it's still here by pushing its "Total Confidence" package, its version of Hyundai's Assurance program. While it is smart marketing to continue spending during the worst of times, GM needs to consider its priorities.

Right now, the priorities for it and Chrysler are to move cars out of the showroom and to get money in the bank. Ads for assurance programs may seem soothing and may even increase foot traffic to some degree, but they strike us as pointless and the consumer as completely out of touch with reality. For instance, how can Saturn promise to make your car payments for up to four months when the brand itself is slated for disposal?

Consumers watch the news. They know that Chrysler is declaring bankruptcy and GM is on the brink. They know both companies are laying off huge numbers of employees, temporarily shutting down factories and relying on the government to make it through. So however well those ads may be executed -- the Saturn spot in particular seems well-crafted and brand-appropriate -- they ring false.

The customer isn't stupid. And he or she is in a pinch as well. So why not advertise, in plain English, that customers can now get the deal of a lifetime on a vehicle? Don't hide it behind messages about financing or ridiculous phrases such as "employee-pricing" discounts. And don't put it all on the dealers.

This may go against branding principles that say you don't undercut the brand image, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Both companies can still get in messaging about quality, and both will have to figure out a way to assure the consumer that they'll be there -- not to pay the bills, but to fix the car and honor the warranty. Perhaps promise that now the vehicles are guaranteed by Uncle Sam, the newly invigorated car companies will actually be in better shape to be around for the long haul.

Do that, and adjust prices accordingly, and it's likely Americans -- who are always on the lookout for a deal -- will start driving out of the showrooms rather than walking out.

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