Editorial: Between the Lines: GM BOD Chairman Ed Whitacre's "Satisfaction Guaranteed" Ad

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

First of all, I don’t have the embed code for this ad. For some reason, GM hasn’t sent it to TTAC and it’s not on YouTube. To see the ad, click over to Autoblog. Second, New GM Chairman of the Board Ed Whitacre should never have done this ad. GM’s single biggest problem, the one that trumps everything: their insular culture. By fronting this spot, Whitacre has become part of the problem. He’s crossed the line from gamekeeper to poacher. He’s lost his independent observer/taxpayers’ guardian status; he can no longer distance himself from the Lutzes and yutzes who animate the GM zombie. Whitacre’s now “one of the boys.” Third, the actual text of this ad [parsed after the jump] misses the boat.

“I’m Ed Whitacre, the Chairman of General Motors.”

What? No hello? Not very friendly, is it? First impressions count. Whitacre looks like a prison warden walking through The Big House. But is that rank-pulling exercise a good thing? GM has four brands left: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC. The whole chairman thing squares with Cadillac’s core clientele, maybe Buick. But Chevy and GMC? Those are supposedly working-class brands. Their average buyer is more in tune with the word “boss.” And not in a good way.

Yes, I know: Lee Iaccoca was Chrysler’s Chairman. But his famous 1984 ad didn’t start with him saying, “I’m Lee Iaccoca, Chairman of Chrysler.” (A subtitle provided the ID.) Lee’s opening line: “A lot of people think America can’t cut the mustard anymore.” That’s the way you do it. Grab ’em by the lapels and don’t let ’em go.

“Before I started this job I admit I had some doubts. [pause] Probably a lot like you.”

What doubts? Did you think GM cars were crap? Crap how? Unreliable? Uncomfortable? Badly built? What? And why “probably”? That’s an admission wrapped in a denial shrouded in mystery. Whitacre’s vague statement is so Old GM: wishy-washy and vague whilst trying (and failing) to be genuine and sincere.

“But I like what I found. I think you will too.”

What did he find? See: above. Except this time the ad’s trotting out GM’s secret weapon in its own self-destruction: the perception gap. Clearly, Eddy’s saying “I was wrong about GM—and so are you.” Which is another way of A) calling himself a close-minded ignoramus and B) calling GM customers close-minded ignorami. Idiots. Fools. It wasn’t OK for Old GM to insult its customers. It’s not right for New GM, either.

While we’re at it, “like” is not the kind of word that convinces people to risk their hard-earned money on a car from a company with a history of building crap (both relatively and absolutely). “Buy a Buick. You won’t love it. But you will like it.” That’s not going to cut the mustard, and he didn’t even say it. Clearly, GM doesn’t know the power of the specific. Or does it?

“Car for car, when compared to the competition, we win.”

What’s with the strange sentence construction? It’s no small thing: people listen to TV ads—if they listen—with one ear. Anything that makes it hard for them to understand what’s being said (let’s not even talk about Ed’s accent yet) dilutes the message.

Ed’s assertion sounds like it’s designed by lawyers. What does “car for car” mean? I know YOU know what it means. But again, what about people who aren’t really paying too much attention? Whitacre should have said “car vs. car.” Or something else entirely, that follows on from the previous statement.

And then there’s “we win.” HUH? By what metric? As the Chairman doesn’t cite an authoritative source for this declaration of victory, the ad asks viewers to take Mr. Clicky Shoes’ word for it. Yes, well, who the hell is Ed Whitacre? [Note: Ed’s the guy who said, “I know nothing about cars,” the day his appointment was announced.] And if Ed was so stupid as to have doubts about GM products he shouldn’t have had, why should we think he knows shit from shinola now?

“It’s as simple as that.”

Who would’ve thought it could get worse? But it does. “It’s as simple as that” is the same as saying “I know more than you do.” Or “I’m not going to debate this with you.” Or “STFU and buy a car from us.” Yeah, that’ll work.

“I just know if you get into one of our cars you’re going to like what you see.”

So, Ed you feel it in your water, eh? Not good enough. Taken literally, “you’ll like what you see” makes no sense; people don’t buy a car based on whether or not or how much they like the way the interior looks. Taken on a more metaphorical level, it’s a meaningless statement—that depends on Ed’s credibility. Again, he doesn’t have any. For 99.78% of the general population, Whitacre’s a completely unknown quantity. Judging him as a salesman, I don’t like what I see; Whitacre doesn’t have one tenth of Iaccoca’s star power.

“So we’re putting our money where our mouth is.”

The switch to the royal “we” is jarring and completely inappropriate. A personal message has instantly become just another example of a corporate shill mouthing off.

“Buy a new Chevy, GMC, Buick or Cadillac and if you’re not a hundred percent happy return it.”

Anyone else catch that momentary hitch between Chevy and Buick? Seriously; Whitacre is trying to remember the list. He’s mastered it, but it’s not quite there. By the same token, look at his finger point. It’s out of sync with what he’s saying. That’s what psychologist calls cognitive dissonance. Or what normal people call B.S.

In any case, the 60-day guarantee concept is deeply flawed. Buying a car is not like buying a packet of gum in a flavor you’ve never tried before. People hate car dealers. The only thing worse than the thought of buying a car is the thought of returning it. The customer is thinking, rightly, hassle, more hassle and more hassle, ad infinitum.

“We’ll take it back.”

How nice of you. But it’s not “We’ll give you every penny back, plus give you a toaster for your time.” Sigh.

“That’s our new, 60-day satisfaction guarantee.”

Think like a moron for a moment. Ed’s saying that the guarantee will be in place for 60 days. OK, I’m being picky, but this isn’t as clear as it should be. All they had to do was add the 60-day bit to the return statement. Oh, and the usual “no questions asked” caveat, that’s been around since 34 A.D. Like this:

“. . . if you’re not a hundred percent happy after the first sixty days, return it to your GM dealer for a full, no-questions-asked refund. Plus a new toaster for your time.”

“And as always you’ll get our 100,000 mile five-year powertrain warranty on every vehicle.”

That’s “your” vehicle, not “every” vehicle. And sorry, it’s not vee-hickle. Whitacre’s accent just crossed the border from regional to quirky. And that’s opened him up for parody (check back with TTAC in future posts). Whitacre could have, should have said “car” instead. Anyway, what’s the point of mentioning this? Trying to remember two deals is not as easy as one.

“That’s how strongly we feel about our cars and how committed we are to you.”

See how that doesn’t work? By introducing the warranty thing, the connection between the 60-day guarantee and the commitment has been broken. Touchback.

“So put us to the test.”

Test? I’m not buying a car with confidence, I’m buying a car to see if GM’s any good? No thanks. Not with my money. As PCH101 says (below), people want to buy a car they can keep. Duh. And if the car was any good, why would Eddy even mention returning it?

That’s the problem with this type of come on, and there’s no getting around it. And the more expensive the item, the more risk the consumer assumes. The more risk, the less likely they are to buy. Even with a money-back guarantee.

“Put us up against anyone.”

Huh? They’re introducing a new concept—comparison shopping—in the last ten seconds? What’s that got to do with the 60-day guarantee? If I don’t like the car relative to the competition I can return it? Obviously not. But this “we’re better than the other guys” is a different idea that smacks of throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. Not that GM’s ever done that before . . .

“And may the best car win.”

This is a blatant attempt to echo “If you can find a better car, buy it.” But it’s totally different. Whitacre’s closing statement admits the possibility that the competition is better than GM’s products. How stupid can GM be? That stupid. And more. Watch this space.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Joeygoat Joeygoat on Sep 17, 2009

    I sadly bought a 2009 Chevy Impala LTZ. I had to pay list price $31,100.00. I need my head examined. I keep a box for all the bits and parts that fall off. My car is less than 2 moinths old and I am going to find a nice beater car and park this disgrace of American Junk car parked in the driveway. And Oh! GM won't buy it back, it has 500 miles on it and it is a trainwreck of a car!

  • Dynamic88 Dynamic88 on Oct 04, 2009

    I'm late to the party, but here's my 2 cents. I agree with RF that vee-hicle is annoying. Whiteacre doesn't come across as a contry bumpkin, but rather as one of the actors on the old TV show "Dallas". I just know he's going to put his arm around me, walk me into the F/I office, pull my pants down and boink me. Since I'm not gay, this has no appeal for me. Whiteacre's hole manner suggests that GM isn't even thinking of improving quality - just selling the idea that they already have. I resent the implication that I'm stupid enough to believe that.

  • Dartdude Having the queen of nothing as the head of Dodge is a recipe for disaster. She hasn't done anything with Chrysler for 4 years, May as well fold up Chrysler and Dodge.
  • Pau65792686 I think there is a need for more sedans. Some people would rather drive a car over SUV’s or CUV’s. If Honda and Toyota can do it why not American brands. We need more affordable sedans.
  • Tassos Obsolete relic is NOT a used car.It might have attracted some buyers in ITS DAY, 1985, 40 years ago, but NOT today, unless you are a damned fool.
  • Stan Reither Jr. Part throttle efficiency was mentioned earlier in a postThis type of reciprocating engine opens the door to achieve(slightly) variable stroke which would provide variable mechanical compression ratio adjustments for high vacuum (light load) or boost(power) conditions IMO
  • Joe65688619 Keep in mind some of these suppliers are not just supplying parts, but assembled components (easy example is transmissions). But there are far more, and the more they are electronically connected and integrated with rest of the platform the more complex to design, engineer, and manufacture. Most contract manufacturers don't make a lot of money in the design and engineering space because their customers to that. Commodity components can be sourced anywhere, but there are only a handful of contract manufacturers (usually diversified companies that build all kinds of stuff for other brands) can engineer and build the more complex components, especially with electronics. Every single new car I've purchased in the last few years has had some sort of electronic component issue: Infinti (battery drain caused by software bug and poorly grounded wires), Acura (radio hiss, pops, burps, dash and infotainment screens occasionally throw errors and the ignition must be killed to reboot them, voice nav, whether using the car's system or CarPlay can't seem to make up its mind as to which speakers to use and how loud, even using the same app on the same trip - I almost jumped in my seat once), GMC drivetrain EMF causing a whine in the speakers that even when "off" that phased with engine RPM), Nissan (didn't have issues until 120K miles, but occassionally blew fuses for interior components - likely not a manufacturing defect other than a short developed somewhere, but on a high-mileage car that was mechanically sound was too expensive to fix (a lot of trial and error and tracing connections = labor costs). What I suspect will happen is that only the largest commodity suppliers that can really leverage their supply chain will remain, and for the more complex components (think bumper assemblies or the electronics for them supporting all kinds of sensors) will likley consolidate to a handful of manufacturers who may eventually specialize in what they produce. This is part of the reason why seemingly minor crashes cost so much - an auto brand does nst have the parts on hand to replace an integrated sensor , nor the expertice as they never built them, but bought them). And their suppliers, in attempt to cut costs, build them in way that is cheap to manufacture (not necessarily poorly bulit) but difficult to replace without swapping entire assemblies or units).I've love to see an article on repair costs and how those are impacting insurance rates. You almost need gap insurance now because of how quickly cars depreciate yet remain expensive to fix (orders more to originally build, in some cases). No way I would buy a CyberTruck - don't want one, but if I did, this would stop me. And it's not just EVs.