Ad Nauseam: General Motors’ Flying Cars

After receiving a heavy dose of car commercials during the New York Mets playoff run last month, I decided that it was time to start a new feature on Streetsblog called Ad Nauseum. Below is the first installment.

Commercial: General Motors’ "Elevate"

Created by: Deutsch, Los Angeles

Narrative:
Morning has broken across a smoggy, yellowish, post-Apocalyptic looking America. The sound of honking horns and slowly grinding traffic congestion fills the air. We see the faces of frustrated, miserable car commuters and in the background a radio traffic reporter is saying, "…traffic is gridlocked all the way to downtown…"

GM_adsurd2.jpg

A pissed off looking male motorist jabs at the dashboard radio and the traffic report is replaced by the sound of Jet’s "Get What You Need." As the rock music pumps, the angry driver’s expression turns to amazement as his 6,000 pound Cadillac Escalade begins to levitate above the non-GM brand vehicles still stuck in traffic below.

GM_adsurd.jpg

It’s a miracle. GM cars are levitating above the streets of Miami, Los Angeles, New York and the Golden Gate Bridge. A male voice intones: "A new level of strength. A new level of quality. Introducing the GM 100,000 mile warranty. A new level of confidence." Rock singer: "You’re gonna get what you neeeeeed…" The levitating cars begin zipping through the sky leaving America’s streets to Japanese-made vehicles, hybrid cars, bikes, buses and pedestrians.

Analysis:
General Motors spent $551 million on corporate advertising last year so you know the marketing team has been paid good money to identify the problem: Americans aren’t happy in their cars anymore. Across the land, GM’s customers are stuck in gridlocked traffic, frustrated and pissed off.

Fortunately, GM’s ad agency also gets paid good money and they have come up with a solution. No, it’s not commuter rail, bicycling or congestion charging — the answer is flying cars. Unfortunately, GM isn’t selling flying cars. All they have to offer is a new 100,000 mile warranty program. But rest assured: The financially struggling corporate giant, which posted a $3.4 billion loss last quarter, feels your pain. You’re going to get what you need.

  • JK

    Great feature. You’re on fire.

    It would be tremendous if there was a victim’s group, like MADD, that would take the car advertisers to task for the untold number of adverts showing hotrodding around NYC streets — Derek Jeter and Spike Lee should hang their heads.

  • lane wyden

    gridlock isn’t the only thing making motoring an unhappy activity. cars, formerly associated with status and sex, are increasingly tied to environmental, economic (both macro and micro) and health problems.

  • What I found even more shocking than the sheer stupidity of flying cars “…a whole new level…” (of stupidity) was another ad that played a little song that went somethings like “..this is our country…” and featured photos of New Orleans under water, hard working farmers, new york just after 9/11 and Rosa Parks— YES: ROSA. PARKS. all to sell Chevy Silverados.

    It just made me want to shout: ROSA PARK COMMUTED BY BUS!!!!!!!!!!!

    Nothing makes me want to by a truck like thinking about the ridiculous disenfranchisement of my people and the giant hole in the ground two blocks from my apartment. This is their country all right: it belongs to those who drive. It’s as American as drowning black people.

    At least this stupid ad didn’t hijack our history and the emotions tied to it to sell vehicles…

  • AD

    That flying cars ad was so annoying because they played it too often during the NLCS. We had a running tally of all ads during the series were car ads and how many were ads for everything else. (Everything else won.)

    Aaron, this is a great series that promises to be entertaining.

  • This falls into the category of jedi mind trick marketing. Classic marketing identifies a problem and explains how your product solves that problem. Jedi mind trick marketing identifies a problem that people experience with your own product, and then explains how an unrelated product attribute somehow solves that problem though the powers of video graphics in a cartoon world.

  • Jeff Lamba

    I thought the Ad was great. It got the point across wrt to GM’s new powertrain warranty.

    It is high time that we Americans stop bashing the domestic car manufacturer’s. The Asian manufacturer’s have been dumping in our market for years under the guise of “free Trade” yet they manage the trade into their own country and manipulate exchange rates. Check the real value of the yen,won etc

    I thought the Truck ad was appropriate. As Americans we should buy American products!

  • Jeff,

    Do you really feel that american tragdies are an appropiate tool for moving product? I find it, well, manipulative, and self important.

    It’s a new low for advertising. And, I didn’t think that was possible.

    As for American manufacturing, you are quite right that we ought to build better local supply networks. It’s not just good for the country, it’s also better for the environment.

  • Jeff,

    I almost have to assume your comment is sarcastic. Powertrain warranty? Is that what the Flying Cars ad and the Rosa Parks ads are selling? Please.

    Thank goodness the Asian carmakers are "dumping" their products on the U.S. market. Otherwise we would have no hybrid vehicles here. We’d be stuck with the piece-of-junk, gas guzzling SUV’s that our short-sighted, soon-to-be-bankrupt US carmakers continue to produce.

    The idea that GM is doing good for America is, at this point, completely unsupportable by the facts.

  • Bobby B

    GM had a $115 million loss in the third quarter (including $664 million in special charges), not the $3.4 billion that you reported.

  • GM loss for 2nd quarter is deeper

    BY MICHAEL ELLIS
    FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

    August 2, 2006

    Less than a week after General Motors Corp. reported a net loss of $3.2 billion in the second quarter of 2006, the automaker revised its results to a loss of $3.4 billion.

    The change came after the company reassessed the tax impact from the sale of its GMAC financial services unit.

  • Sproule

    Jeff-

    At the risk of making you feel like you stepped into hornets’ nest here, I don’t know how you can say that John Cougar truck ad is appropriate. Others have pointed out all the insulting associations between 9/11 and Rosa Parks (yes, she rode the bus…how more absurd can you get in a car ad?!?) and buying a truck. 99% of the ads we see are inane, so I don’t really hold that against either the GM ad or the “our country” spot, but playing on xenophobia, already over-hyped terrorism fears, and a courageous civil rights pioneer is just plain insulting.

    As far as your grasp of global economics, I have to take issue with a few things you implied. Asian car makers don’t “dump” their cars in the US market, they make better cars at a lower cost IN US FACTORIES. And with the Chrysler/Daimler merger, GM’s recent merger talks with Renault, Ford and other’s ownership of brands like SAAB, Aston Martin, etc., the question of where a company is based is almost irrelevant. The Bush Adminstration talks a lot about free-trade, but engages in the same protectionist policies in many sectors…steel, sugar, ethanol, etc., that you attribute to Asian governments.

    So “buying American” is as misguided as the “keep America rolling” bull*&^% that we saw in ads right after 9/11. I do agree with you that we should stop bashing US car companies – companies exist to earn their share-holders a profit; governments and watchdog groups exist to regulate them and keep them in line. They make what people want to buy. It’s our fellow Americans who bought and keep buying wasteful vehicles like SUV’s to make themselves feel safe and tough that we should bash.

    We know that SUV are not safer than cars, especially regarding climate change. And if a big SUV is someone’s idea of tough, I take a lot of satisfaction that they will pay a $5,000 to $10,000 premium for that lady-killing barge.

    All in all, US auto companies are paying dearly for missing the boat on hybrids and higher fuel economy vehicles, and for their costly labor and healthcare arrangements. Spending half a billion or more on crappy ads is not going to help them much. Why don’t they hire the ad whizs that VW used?

    I look forward to $4 a gallon gas prices. The free market is already working its invisbile hand magic on the US auto industry.

    Sproule

  • lane wyden

    Jeff,

    are you going to respond, or just cut and run?

  • Mathperson

    Jeff — the sooner the US car companies fail, the sooner this country can get past feeding a pipedream and get back to efficient transportation and sustainable densities.

  • Anonymous

    Cars are not going away, even if US carmakers go away. We can’t put that genie back in the bottle any more than we can nuclear power.

    Despite their many problems cars ARE the most efficient transportation available. They consume less fuel per passenger mile than trains, and have fewer deaths per million passenger miles.

    That doesn’t mean we cannot or should not improve on auto’s many weak points, but let’s not invent things that are not true to ensure their demise. The horse is more sustainable than the auto because it uses only renewable resources, but if we were to recreate our modern economy using only horses we would soon find out two things: there aren’t enough renewable resources to feed that many horses, and we are in seriously deep shit.

    General Motoers is failing not only because they promised a dream they cannot deliver, but because they promised retirement and health plans they cannot deliver.

    The environmental movement has the same problems. They are making promises that they cannot deliver on. As a result they are becoming more and more radicalized, and also more margianalized. It is easy to go out and beat up on GM, drive spikes in trees or burn down homes under construction.

    It is a lot harder to actually do something constructive for the environment. It is even harder still to do something that is both constructive for the environment and profitable.

    Go look at a sierra club ad and then try to tell me iti s any less fantasmagorical than the GM flying car ad.

    Yeah, the flying car ad is utterly stupid. So is much of the rhetoric that supposedly supports what I believe is otherwise, a good cause.When the environmental cause is like Toyota, producing a quality product that people want, and at a price they can afford to pay, then the environmental movement will start to look a little smarter and a little less like GM.

  • amazed

    I am amazed at the GM bashing, and domestic auto industry bashing I’m reading, not to mention the falsehoods that are perpetuated. For example, Aaron’s claim that without the Japanese we’d have no hybrids here, and also his claim “…that GM is doing good for America is, at this point, completely unsupportable by the facts” is — well — completely unsupportable by the facts.

    In point of fact, GM has for years been selling hybrid buses, a far more effective use of hybrid technology than a subcompact, four-passenger car. And GM employs far more Americans than any foreign competitor. Oh yes, why is everyone ignoring GM’s leadership position in the development of fuel-cell vehicles? They’re not commercial yet, but they soon will be, and they are far more important than hybrids.

    I am amazed when Americans cheer for Americans to fail. And as long as Americans continue to buy foreign products, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  • Frank

    GM and buses?

    In the 30s and 40s GM conspired to buy out most of the urban light rail transit lines in the U.S., ran them into the ground, and replaced them with buses and, of course, private automobiles. Thanks to GM’s commitment to buses, the most American cities now have a an urban mass transit infrastructure that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_streetcar_conspiracy

    http://reformjudaismmag.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=1166

  • Mathperson

    Cars aren’t going away. But the sooner fewer Americans are dependent on them for their livlihood, the sooner we can start to think more rationally about them.

  • Mathperson

    Oh, and bicycles are orders of magnitude more efficient than cars.

  • r

    I have no problem with GM wrapping the Chevrolet Silverado in an American flag – like it or not, Chevrolet and trucks have been a big part of the American auto culture for some time. The creative approach is definitatly questionable, but the fact that it has drawn so much attention – whether positive or negative – indicates the campaign is effectively drawing awareness for the product.

    What I find more disturbing is the carte blanche afforded all non-domestic manufacturers when it comes to fuel economy and product lineup decisions. True the domestics missed the hybrid boom (although they say they are prepared to get into the game) while they were focused on meeting consumer needs for SUVs – a much more profitable segment of business. But before any tree-hugging granola head screams “the SUV boom was a conspiracy led by the domestic auto manufacturers to force these vehicles on the unsuspecting public” let’s be honest – consumers purchased these vehicles willingly. This fact did not go unnoticed by Toyota, Honda and Nissan – most of the growth of the these companies (and other non-domestics) in the US in recent years has come from the sales of full-size SUVs (Armada, Pathfinder) and full-size trucks (Tundra and Titan) – product offerings with fuel efficiency that is at best comparable to domestic offerings, but more often times lower.

    I’m not here to defend the domestics – I suspect they will continue to suffer from their broken promises to employees, consumers and investors. But, I won’t root for their demise or that of the foriegn automakers – competition benefits all of us as long as we recoginize all manufacturers are for-profit businesses, not charitable organizations and made their business decisions are made accordingly.

    (FYI – Ford owns Volvo, GM lost $115m in the 3rd quarter, and while the original Prius’s were sold at a loss in the US, the current versions are profitable).

  • Frank

    r,

    First off, if environmentalists are still "granola" eating "tree huggers" then, given what we now know about the Earth’s environmental crisis, what should we call people who aren’t incorporating pro-environmental ideas into their day-to-day lives and work? Tree haters? Coal-fired power plant huggers?

    Putting aside the name-calling I find one important piece of your argument to be disingenuous. Consumer preference does not grow in a vacuum. The demand for gigantic gas-guzzling SUV’s is not an innate human desire, otherwise we’d see more of them in European cities too, you’d think. The auto industry spends hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars each year to shape consumer preferences and steer us towards particular products.  As recounted in Keith Bradsher’s "High & Mighty," automakers created the SUV craze, stoked it, and resisted government’s attempts to foster sanity in the marketplace because SUV’s were more profitable than regular cars.

    You’ve got to believe that if American automakers spent the same energy and money telling us that smaller more fuel-efficient cars were the cool, smart, macho, sexy, powerful — and good for America — then a whole lot of Americans could be led to believe that. And yet today, given what we know about the trajectory of oil prices, the disaster that’s underway in the Middle East and the specter of climate change hovering over us, the TV airwaves are still jammed with car commercials selling gas guzzling, America- and planet-destroying SUV’s. 

    How much money would it take to get LeBron James or Tiger Woods to drive a hyrbrid vehicle?

  • Sproule

    Great post Aaron…this is the most comment I’ve ever seen here.

    One last point: Let’s give consumers some credit. Marketing can affect our consumption decisions, but we’re responsible for our purchases and their consequences. To say that ads unduly influence us is to stray into the kind of paternalistic concepts that represent the worst of progressive thinking. The commons problem is a longstanding and global issue that is sure to crop up in places like India and China when they get their hands on cars and fridges, as they have as much right to do as we do.

    SUV’s don’t work in Western European cities because their streets are small and gas prices are high, not because they are smarter consumers. As a recovering tree-hugger, I came to terms with the fact that a lot of people really don’t care about these issues, even if it affects them adversely.

    Rather than count on those of us who give a shit to consume less of a good (like, say, gasoline) that has many negative consequences, we need to tax it so that it’s cost represents those consequences accurately. Or rejoice when the free market does that for us. Then we don’t have to worry about who cares about our causes.

    I am still struck with how NYC politicians don’t see the economic effects of traffic and overuse of cars. Conservative estimates put the cost in the billions. Scaling back car culture here is truly a win win…for the tree-huggers and the capitalists.

    Sproule

  • W

    I know a lot of “soccer moms” who don’t drive SUVs because they’re “sexy,” they drive them because they hold a boatload of kids. Minivans aren’t that much more efficient than SUVs. I don’t care how efficient a Prius or any other small hybrid is, until someone figures out how to bend time and space so the inside of a Yugo sized car looks like a school bus, there are a lot of families who won’t be purchasing them.

    Me? If I had an extra $30K laying around and wasn’t trying to support a family, I’d love to have a new hybrid, or even an all-electric like the vehicle formerly-known-as-the-Corbin-Sparrow to drive to work. Until that happens, I’ll have to stick with my crappy Mercury Mystique.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    I’m a little disappointed in this blog that no one has contested the facts in Anonymous # 14’s post. Especially about the pedestrian safety issues. “Passenger miles” for bicyclists and pedestrians? Or the relative fuel efficiencies of railroads v. autos? How about that the most dagerous thing to pedestrians (deaths per blah blah) is cars. How can cars be safer transportation than walking when most pedestrians are killed by cars?

    How come none of you wonks took this guy on? Is that for me to assume that he was actually right? I don’t, but… Or do you feel much more comfortable debating someone elses pensions and health insurance rights and the US auto industry rather than the actual safety character of the mode?

  • someguy

    Who knows he got the supposed statistics about fatalities per “passenger miles”. For the general population, vehicles are more dangerous by far:
    1. http://hazmat.dot.gov/riskmgmt/riskcompare.htm
    2. http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_02_01.html

    Looks to me like rail is more efficient than passenger vehicles: http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_04_20.html

    I think a lot of people can’t rattle off (real, accurate) statistics at a moment’s notice, nor do they care to expend the time + energy. I just did a couple quick google searches, nothing fancy. On the other hand, it’s very easy to make up fake statistics, as that anonymous poster did.

  • Clarence

    #23. Don’t forget, this post is nearing its 4th day up. Sometimes all the wonks don’t have the time to continually go back and check all of the feedback and defend or argue every point.

    That’s all I would chalk that up to.

  • Toyota just reported earnings. They’re killing the “Big Three” because they make better cars that more people want, plain and simple. And they build 60-some percent of the vehicles they sell in the U.S. in North America.

    If it wasn’t for all of the Toyota hybrid technology that Ford licenses, the hybrid Explorer would still be on some engineer’s whiteboard instead of on the road. The Japanese makers are light-years ahead of the US makers when it comes to alternative-fuel vehicles. And #15’s claim about GM’s “leadership” in hydrogen-fueled vehicles? Pure fantasy, and emblematic of why Toyota is eating their lunch. GM threw in the towel on hybrids in favor of RUNNING ADS touting fuel cells. Now it appears they’ve skipped ahead to flying cars.

    As for #14, his claims are bloustery nonsense. He appears to have gotten caught up in the excitement of the season – tell a bunch of lies while sounding authoritative, and hope no one checks the facts until after the election.

  • I have read various sociological studies (of uncertain validity and provenience, but they’re all I’ve seen) which agree that the popularity of SUVs and minivans is driven mainly not by the need for interior space but by fear — of other drivers and vehicles and road conditions. More and more people are living in suburban and exurban areas with poor or nonexistent services such as public transportation or even road repair and snow clearance. When drivers do get to the main road, is jammed with other vehicles with whom they must struggle for space and headway.

    In short, the private automobile as presently designed doesn’t work, and the immediate response in hypertrophy — to try to grow big and push others out of the way.

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