Letters, Sept. 21, 2009

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Whitacre spots a waste of tax money

When I first heard about the Ed Whitacre/GM commercials I was not a big fan of the idea. Now, having watched them for a week, it has become obvious to me why they are not a very good use of taxpayer money. I thought I would share my observations with you.

First, the ads are not driven by what it is consumers would like to know before making their next car purchase, but rather what GM would like to tell consumers about how good their company is going to be. It is focused on the seller, not the consumer.

Consumers can not buy a GM. In fact, GM is not a brand. Consumers can buy Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Buicks and GMC vehicles. Most consumers do not consciously connect these brands with GM. Money spent promoting the idea of a GM brand is not money well-spent. Technically, the only GM the public will ever be able to buy is a share of the stock. If GM wants to increase the desire to own that, it needs to have the sales of its existing brands increase. Sales performance of the brands will be the best form of communications to increase the value of the GM shares when they go public.

Ed Whitacre may be the perfect chairman for GM, but he is hardly a household name. To the average American watching TV and to the average American car buyer, Ed Whitacre has no credibility at all. Furthermore, those who do know something about business know that he knows nothing about the automobile business at all.

The fact that he was positively impressed when he came to GM could indicate that he is simply not aware of how bad things really are there. To have a campaign based around Ed Whitacre really work, first you need to build Ed Whitacre as a brand. While I am not a big fan of celebrity endorsements, this is precisely why they work. Celebrities are brands to the public and their voices mean something. Ed's does not.

Walking through a design studio with future models in the background is very cool to those of us who know that you almost never get to take a camera into a design studio. But to the average consumer, it is just a nice man walking across a set with a bunch of cars in the background.

The best way to go is to invest every communications dollar into telling the public just how good the new products are, and comparing them to the segment leaders. This needs to be done on a brand-by-brand basis, and a product-by-product comparison.

Finally, stop doing GM ads. You are only talking to yourself, not the car-buying public.

Bob Austin
Auto Futures Group
Upper Saddle River, N.J.

Garfield's wrong, Goodby's right

RE: "Sorry, Bob, Adworld's Not Dying. 2 Stars" (AA, Sept. 7). Thank you, Jeff Goodby. Your opinion piece about Bob Garfield's "The Chaos Scenario" speaks for generations of ad folks around the world. Since the beginning of my career in advertising in 1969, there have been trade-magazine columnists -- often people who did not know much about the business -- who have attacked the industry. I can remember an Ad Age opinion piece around that time that was titled "The Ad Agency Business Is Dead" or something close. Not very encouraging to a 24-year-old account guy and, fortunately, not nearly true.

After a 28-year career in the agency business, I began to teach students what I know and have been doing so for 12 years. Part of what I know is this: If you have a product/service/brand, and you want to let people know about it in the most persuasive and positive way possible, your arsenal will likely include advertising. Some people are better at it than others, and there has always been more bad advertising than good. That may never change.

But what has changed is the media. There is more of it than anyone needs or can digest and, so far, trying to harness the beast has proved to be beyond anyone's capability.

The generations before mine had to master the evolution of print and radio; my generation had to learn those intricacies and adapt to and master the TV revolution, and the generations following mine will master the new media.

Please tell Bob Garfield that there are hundreds of agencies out there who are going about it quite nicely, thank you, because they are getting ahead of the curve and learning how to tame this new way to advertise.

He is a brilliant writer and his columns and his book are always fun to read as long as you understand how much he hates this business that has fed and clothed him all these years.

John Verret
Associate Professor
College of Communication
Boston University


RE: "From Stink-Free Room to iPhone Apps, Paint Marketers Pour on New Promos, Pitches" (AA, Sep. 7). Doner, not McKinney, handles marketing for Sherwin-Williams' brand Dutch Boy. McKinney is the agency for Sherwin-Williams stores.

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