GM’s VP got a guest spot on Edmund’s Inside Line to promote his “to-do list for 2010.” The top two spots on the list are dedicated to Lutz’s resolution to “remain focused on the product above all else,” presumably because “stop repeating self” was cut by GM PR. But number three on Lutz’s list is of considerably more interest. Labeled “change minds,” Lutz uses the entry to defend the General’s “perception gap” hobbyhorse. You see, when GM accuses consumers of being too stupid to understand how great GM’s products are, they aren’t actually calling consumers stupid. In hopes of clearing up the confusion, Lutz does what any other savvy marketer would do: call the media stupid.
Let me digress for a moment and say that I’ve seen it written that GM’s marketing strategy is based on the fact that the consumer is too dumb to know what great vehicles it makes. I take huge issue with that. That’s an example of the media trying to ascribe some of the old GM arrogance where none exists.
But wait, there’s more. Having blamed the world’s most convenient scapegoat for a reputation he later admits GM deserves, he explains that the perception gap may not even exist:
It’s not arrogant to think you have great vehicles, so long as you do, and to try to spread the word about them. No one at GM has said that every vehicle we have is world-class — we still have room to improve. And no one at GM, including me, has said that the consumer is too dumb to realize how good our new products are. All we’ve said is that the consumer perhaps is unaware of said fact. That’s a far cry from being dumb.
And the typical consumer’s unawareness is a result of one of two things. First, the consumer literally may not know about our products and what they offer; or second, the consumer knows of them but chooses not to consider them, for a variety of reasons ranging from a bad previous experience to a relative’s bad previous experience to a neighbor down the street who has a relative who knows someone else who had a bad previous experience. In short, it’s reputation.
No, nobody at GM has ever accused anyone of stupidity. Except for maybe the one time GM spokesman Gregg Martin said it was “strange” that Rep Pete Hoekstra “would want to perpetuate some of the misguided thinking that resides outside of Michigan.” Or when Lutz himself said “Detroit and the U.S. domestic auto industry need to change a lot of perceptions — often misguided and wrong perceptions — the rest of the country has about us if we’re to turn things around.” Or when he compared import buyers to suicidal rodents. Or when he said:
We’re not going to erase that perception gap in this generation. People are still going to go to the Toyota store and are still going to get a Camry. They’re not going to care that most of the models are no longer recommended, and they’re not going to care about all the quality problems. It’s a learned response. That’s going to be hard to erase.
And on and on. No, GM has never called a consumer “dumb,” just “misguided,” “strange,” “wrong,” and “lemming-like.” Which is actually just how Lutz likes his consumers, as a quote at the end of his new year list reveals:
We realize, and this may be a little inside baseball for you, that “General Motors” itself may be what someone could label a “damaged brand.” (Someone might say that, but not me!) Even if that were true, and it may be, that alone would not be the reason we would choose to emphasize our brands more than the parent company. The reason for emphasizing the brands is that we’re proud of them, and their heritage, and their vehicle lineups, and what they represent: a glorious past and a potentially bright future.
Besides, there may still be that one person out there who says, “GM? They went bankrupt! Took money from the government! I’m not buying any GM car! Chevrolet? Yeah, Chevrolet’s OK. American car, right? I’d look at a Chevrolet…”
I’d put that guy in an Equinox in a heartbeat.
Sigh. Maybe MaxBob will figure the perception gap thing out next year.