GM Ad Czar Bob Lutz Misses the Point. Again. Still.

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

OK, so GM launches a money-back guarantee for its cars and trucks. A kind of riff on the old “Try it! You’ll like it!” campaign. Except of course, those of us who actually remember the old Alka Seltzer ad (before Kathy Griffin murderized it) will recall that the exhortation to experimentation was ironic. The line—repeated by tens of millions of people ad nauseam—came from the waiter. The waiter, the bad guy of the piece, led the protagonist to try food which later made him want to hug the porcelain god. And that’s the key difference. The Alka ad was selling relief from remorse. The GM ad is selling the customer on the idea that they won’t need relief from buyer’s remorse. The GM ad highlights the possibility of buyer’s remorse, on the second biggest purchase of their customers’ financial lives (after their house). Which makes the nationalized automaker’s buyback campaign as dumb as rocks on toast. The man behind the plan, Maximum Bob Lutz, is completely oblivious to this analysis. In fact . . .

General Motors Co. could extend its offer of a 60-day, money-back guarantee for consumers when the marketing program expires at the end of November, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said today.

“It’s possibly renewable. We’ll see what kind of experience we have,” Lutz said in an interview on CNBC.

Lutz said that GM expects “way under 1 percent,” of consumers who buy new Cadillacs, Chevrolets, GMC or Buick vehicles will return them in the guarantee program.

Now I’m not sure if it’s Lutz or Automotive News [sub] who’ve made a great landing at the wrong airport: judging the program’s success (or lack thereof) based on the lack of returns, rather than increased sales. But point not taken.

Oh wait, Maximum Bob is focused on the bottom line. My bad.

Lutz said GM was pleased with the initial results of the guarantee program.

He said research by GM and outside analysts showed it had increased the pool of consumers who say they would consider buying a GM vehicle even though it had not boosted sales yet.

Limbo, limbo, limbo! How low can you set that bar, Bobby baby? Would you believe . . . lower?

“We never did want to look at this program as immediately driving sales,” Lutz said.

See? Now that’s fucked-up. You create a program using a wrong metric, use the wrong metric to judge it, then suggest that it did well by the correct metric, and then suggest that the right metric is the wrong metric. Automotive News end the piece in a desperate search for perspective, but when you’ve already fallen down the rabbit hole, even ritual appeasement comes hard. So to speak.

GM expects 2009 to end at around 10 million to 10.5 million in total sales with 2010 sales recovering to near 13 million.

In 2008, U.S. total sales were 13.2 million. This year will mark the fourth consecutive one of falling U.S. sales.

Lutz said GM dealers are low on inventory of better-selling vehicles but have “plenty of inventory” of full-sized sports utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

More by Robert Farago

Join the conversation
2 of 28 comments
  • Martin Albright Martin Albright on Sep 29, 2009

    Maybe slightly off topic but has anyone considered just how cluelessly insulting the whole "may the best car win" ad campaign really is? They start off with a "survey" where they ask people what they think is the most economical car, the most reliable car, etc. The obvious intent here is to gather the results (in which GM products will undoubtedly not rank in the top) and then do their "reveal" where they show that: Ta-Daaah! GM products are, in fact, the most economical, most reliable, most whatever (based, of course, on highly questionable "statistics.") The obvious intent of the campaign is to validate the notion of the "perception gap" (we really do build great cars but nobody knows it!) Like the "try it, you'll like it!" theme, this one, too, is based on an old TV commercial: The "hidden camera" commercial where the customer in the fancy-schmancy restaurant orders coffee, only to be told by the waiter that he is not drinking brewed coffee, but is in fact drinking "Folgers Instant Coffee Crystals" or some such instant brand. The customer smiles and then remarks at how completely he was fooled. The obvious difference here is that it's not some nameless schmuck in a restaurant who's being "punk'd", it's YOU, the consumer, the person they hope to goad into buying one of their vehicles. IOW, it's basically saying "You're stupid. Now buy one of our cars." I'm not a marketing professional but somehow I don't think insulting your customers is a winning strategy.

  • Martin Albright Martin Albright on Sep 29, 2009

    What happened to the edit function?

  • Tassos Jong-iL The Peninsula of One Korea.
  • Eric No, I just share my opinions. I have no use nor time for rhetoric from any side.
  • Redapple2 Jeez. This is simple. I 75 and 696 area. 1 nobody -NOBODY wants to work in downtown Detritus. 2 close to the tech ctr. Design and Engineering HQ. 20 miles closer to Milford.3 lower taxes for the employees. Lower taxes for Evil GM Vampire.4 2 major expressways give users more options to suburbs. Faster transport.Jeez.
  • Clark The Ring (Nürburgring) is the only race track I've driven on. That was 1985 or 1986 with my '73 Fiat Spider (and my not-so-happy girlfriend). So I made the Karussell (today: Caracciola Karussell, which I believe the author meant; there is another one: Kleines Karussell).
  • AZFelix This article takes me back to racing electric slot cars with friends on tracks laid out in the basement. Periodically your car would stop due to lost connections or from flying off the track and you would have to dash over to it and set it right. In the mean time your competitor would race ahead until faced with a similar problem. It seemed like you were struggling harder to keep from losing than trying to win. Fun times.“History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.” Mark Twain