By on June 9, 2010

To be perfectly honest, I wrote about half a post on GM’s decision to give Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a new Corvette after he was robbed of a perfect game by a bad call, before deciding not to run it. Why? Well, the story is classic Detroit: Galarraga’s victimhood is exactly the image GM would like to associate itself with (remember, everything was going fine before the credit markets collapsed), and The General owed the Tigers anyway because of owner Mike Ilitch’s decision to not charge GM for ad space on the stadium’s fountain when it was in bankruptcy (Ilitch added free Ford and Chrysler ads in the interest of fairness). In short, there was plenty of room for some trademark TTAC cynicism… and yet I couldn’t quite bring myself to twist the knife.

Part of the decision to back off was that 50-odd thousand dollars isn’t much money for a publicity stunt of this kind. Of course, the flip side of this argument is that it’s not as if Gallaraga couldn’t have afforded a Corvette on his nearly half-million dollar annual salary (especially in the land of five-figure home prices). Perhaps the biggest question to be asked about the stunt though, was how badly does GM need to shore up support from residents of the Motor City? But even when Rep Darryl Issa (R-CA) complained to the NY Times, I couldn’t quite bring myself to join in the fun. Even if his protest indicated that this stunt might have cost GM more than just the Corvette’s MSRP. After all, this was probably a snap decision made in the heat of sports-fan enthusiasm.

Or was it? Automotive News [sub] is reporting that

Joyce Julius & Associates Inc., which specializes in measuring sponsorship scope across all forms of media, said the give-away… was worth $8.9 million in media exposure value for the automaker.

Of course, JJA Inc. insists that GM didn’t pay for the study, and that it regularly looks into these things just for the heck of it. But now that GM’s stunt is being justified as good business practice by another hometown company in a hometown publication, I can’t help but wonder if it was really worth the price of a new ‘vette… or more to the point, the price of the PR backlash. After all, this event marks a sea change in GM’s approach to giving “taxpayer-funded” cars away to wealthy athletes. Does GM need more support from the home team? Did this make a difference outside of Detroit? If so, was it positive or negative? Is giving cars to athletes ever a good idea?

Please be honest with your interpretations of this issue, but please make sure to keep your comments constructive as well. Obvious flaming will, as always, be moderated.

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35 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Was GM’s Corvette Giveaway Worth It?...”

  • avatar

    I don’t think it makes any difference. Mr. Galarraga doesn’t need a consolation prize, and nobody’s buying a GM or a Corvette because he was given one.

    It would be more effective to give a Cruze to the families of the dying birds in the Gulf of Mexico.

  • avatar

    If the giveaway gave GM considerably more publicity than the cost of the car it was a good PR move. In the overall context of things how much difference does it make in GM’s bottom line anyway? About none.

    The amount it costs GM in new vehicles that are accidentally damaged or destroyed daily no doubt far exceeds the Vette’s cost.

    “giving away tax payer funded cars to wealthy athletes” is nothing but a cheap shot to grab headlines, it’s not like they do it on a regular basis.

    • 0 avatar

      Just one time is one too many for “giving away tax payer funded cars to wealthy athletes.”

      If I wanted to support GM, I’d buy its products. If I wanted to support the Tigers, I’d buy a ticket. Once again, I’m irked when that decision is made for me.

      Really though, just how much publicity did that $50,000 buy Government Motors in the long run? This was in the news cycle for about a day and a half. How effective would a saturation ad campaign run for the same amount of time have been?

      With most ads, hearing or viewing it once or twice is enough for me to make up my mind about how I feel about the product being touted. Once the novelty factor wore off, I turned off ESPN when any mention was made of this ridiculous episode.

      Probably not the message they were going for… and this certainly didn’t make me consider any GM products.

      Nice job with my money, Gov’t Motors.

  • avatar

    In the grand scheme, I don’t view this much differently than a Caddillac being given to the NFL MVP, or a Kia to the NBA slam dunk winner. All of them are looking for exposure and different levels of cost. Government “ownership” or not, it think this essentially boiled down to GM trying to “pay back” the Tigers for the free advertising in their outfield. It just happened to be through one of their comparitively low payed players.

    Either way, I’m no more likely to by a Vette now than I was 3 weeks ago.

  • avatar

    I caught the story on “CNN Headline news”. Twenty minutes later I saw it again on “TSN sports center” In all, thousands of people world wide saw the story.

    Cheap advertising eh?

  • avatar
    SVX pearlie

    There’s going to be backlash either way, so good on GM for spotting the opportunity and taking advantage of it. Timely and sensible.

  • avatar

    It didn’t cost GM $50k. It only cost GM the variable cost of one Corvette, which is probably half that. As long at 1 or 2 people looked at that car and said, “that’s a sharp car, I might buy one” it did it’s job.

  • avatar

    From a business perspective, this probably was incredibly cheap PR for GM. The story of the blown call and the ensueing good sportsmanship that was displayed afterwards was a “feel good” story, and GM capitalized on it. That being said, however, Galarraga could easily afford a Corvette if he was so inclined and I would have loved to have seen the $50k go somewhere much more productive, useful, and needed…like any number of groups working to clean up the oil spill mess…or any number of volunteer groups that provide support to military families…or…or…or…

  • avatar

    I’m a little dubious about all such giveaways–how many Pontiac G6s did Oprah sell?–but this one makes more sense than most. Note that no one questions the value of the gift, as they might with some cars GM has given away in the past. The Corvette is getting a bit long in tooth, so injecting it into the public consciousness as a car driven by a star (almost star?) athlete could help.

    Government ownership is irrelevant.

    • 0 avatar

      “Government ownership is irrelevant.”

      Michael, with respect… it absolutely is not irrelevant. To this or any discussion about Gov’t Motors in today’s climate. And it matters a great deal to a lot of people how GM choses to spend our money.

    • 0 avatar

      Rob: Government ownership may not be completely irrelevant, but that doesn’t mean that GM should be run like a government institution. It is a for-profit company in an industry where PR is an extremely important part in selling it’s products. Our government does own a large portion of the company, but that doesn’t give taxpayers like you or I input into daily business decisions of the comany. That’s the same as if I owned stock in NBC, I don’t get to start approving 30 Rock scripts.

      How effective this give-away is can be debated (as clearly evidenced by TTAC) but it at least has the potential to improve GM’s standing with potential buyers. If the federal government tried to get exact accounting of the profit/loss outcome of every GM decision (especially from PR), the chances of the company going back to public/private ownership quickly approaches zero. GM’s entire marketing department would go away. Personally, I want to see GM off of the government payroll, but that means them making every move that could sell more cars at a higher profit.

    • 0 avatar

      I have to disagree with you at the relatively small amount of money that was given to GM that you are complaining about. Here is where I come up with the term, relatively small.

      FY09 US govt budget was 3.1T. The amount of money given to GM and GMAC, was probably about 75B (I don’t remember the exact number). That is about 2.5% of the budget. Then, take 50k of that 75B of that 3.1T, and you get even smaller numbers.

      The argument here is so small that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have it. When you look at it in the actual perspective of the amount of money the gov’t spends, 50k is peanuts.

  • avatar

    This is an election year, even if they are mid-term elections. If you had access to the overtime schedules at GM’s assembly plants you’d think sales were bumping all time highs set a few years ago. Gm has to paint the prettiest picture of it’s outcome. Considering sales are counted when a car is delivered to the delership and not sold, it’s look like a bumper crop through November. Besides what’s more American than baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet?

  • avatar

    IMO, the fact that many media outlets picked up the story makes it worthwhile. All published photos of the gifting are of people smiling at a distinctly American venue. There are not too many opportunities to put over a warm-fuzzy on a large audience for only $50K. Plus Armando has a pretty good character. It’s not like they are giving a car to a punk player like Milton Bradley or some ‘roider.

    Anyone that has spent time in marketing and PR quickly realizes it is not a quantitative endeavor. Yes, they have a budget that is made up of a fixed amount, but you cannot place a discrete return on dollars spent. Building brand equity and awareness occurs at a glacial pace through repeat exposures. More positive exposures should be a good thing.

    The marketing department at GM has a budget – if they don’t spend money on PR at a Tigers game they’re going to spend a few grand on something else. Maybe they’ll donate a few thousand to a scholarship fund. This may help with building their brand with four kids and their families, but few others will care. Or maybe they’ll buy some ballcaps to give away at a parade. $50K can probably get you a few thousand ballcaps with Chevy logos sewn on them. Trying to determine if one approach is the “right” one becomes a theological debate with no clear answer.

    Heck, even the cost of this thing is hard to pin down. GM already sponsors Comerica, so they get a freebie to interrupt the game a bit and run this thing. Plus consider that the Vette probably didn’t come from the pool of dealer-allocated vehicles but instead from the internal marketing allocation. You should not consider that its price tag to be whatever you think a customer would pay for a Vette.

    The flip side of doing a giveaway is the criticism of their “generosity with taxpayer money.” One negative exposure basically undermines hundreds of good exposures. The question would be if the ‘Vette giveaway critics are people who otherwise did not harbor ill feelings about GM and its brands. In this instance, I think the risk of corrupting someone against GM is low. The risk of further annoying someone who hates GM is high… but that’s probably a battle they don’t care about. You know Farago would have emptied a soapbox full of cynicism on GM for this – but GM’s PR machine isn’t hurting too much if they piss off Farago again.

    • 0 avatar

      I do embroidery. $50K would buy about 10,000 baseball caps embroidered with a logo, but then you’d have to wait at least 6 weeks for them to be made in China and shipped. In those quantities, I’d do ’em for $7/ea. It’d take me a while, though.

  • avatar

    Obviously, GM knew they were going to get press on this. But I don’t look at this as a true “PR” move. I searched through GM’s website and found no mention of the give-away, no press statement. And in the news article, this all that I found:
    “That was hard to do in recent days. First came Thursday’s celebration, complete with the new Chevy Corvette. The debate over the missed call lingered into the weekend.”

    That was in paragraph 6 of the rather large article, with no further mention of GM, Chevy, or Corvette. GM was not looking to make this the story, or they would have pushed it harder and faster. They were willing to let the media take it whatever direction it would go.

    To the backlash of whether “taxpayer-owned” GM should be giving away cars to atheletes… the goal of the bail-out was to keep GM alive and get them back to an independent, profitable company as quickly as possible. If this give-away creates the positive PR to get one additonal car sold… than it’s worth it. You can’t run a car company like a Social Security branch and expect it to be profitable.

    Finally, I am still entertaining the possibility that GM’s PR group actually decided that Galarraga was robbed, was a class-act about it, and deserved some show of appreciation. I for one agree.

    • 0 avatar

      Just to add to GM letting the media run with it… here are Google trends for “Corvette” over the last 12 months for USA web activity:

      In the top graph, 1.0 is the normalized average of people searching for “Corvette” in Google over the period. It does not really change too much from the norm as you can see it’s not as if people were suddenly driven to do research about “Corvette” because of GM’s activity.

      But the bottom graph represents the # of news articles in the spider which contained “Corvette.” This means the word started to appear in publications all over the place without GM having to directly pay to get their vehicle name mentioned. I think it’s safe to say the news volume spike has occurred… and the catalyst was their gift. Assuming people actually read news sites, that is a a crazy number of exposures that they realized for very little $ spent.

      If you combine the two notions together it’s as if the news exposures did very little to drive search activity for Corvette. But that’s always the difficulty with placing quantified results on PR efforts. The positive impact of giving a car is not meant to drive immediate return. I don’t think it really matters what the news articles say about “Corvette.” As long as the name is out there and the context that it is used is positive, then the PR is working.

  • avatar

    I can’t recall at the moment where, but I thought I read somewhere a while ago that professional athletes who are given free cars generally donate them to charities.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s kind of a catch-22 for them, and it often depends if they want to keep the car. If a player accepts a gift car it may compromise their ability to be paid $ to endorse other vehicles. But I think it usually boils down to how cheap the car is and whether they want it.

      Kia sponsors the NBA (that’s why the Hamster ads are on the TV so much lately). Apparently the players all got a Kia… but most players donated them. I’m sure if they got Mercedes for free that there would be far fewer donations.

      When Eli Manning got his Hybrid Escalade for being Super Bowl MVP – he hung onto that one. But Eli endorses Toyota – and everything is still fine with his contracts.

  • avatar

    I’m still steamed that Selig wouldn’t give the guy his perfect game in the record books.

    • 0 avatar

      Selig didn’t want to unleash a tidal wave of second-guessing game calls at the Supreme Court (him). Difficult as it is, his decision preserved the sanctity of the field umpire’s role.

    • 0 avatar

      IMO because the difference in reversing the call amounted to a no hitter he should have reversed it. How many appeals for a reversal of an umpire’s call would he get of the same magnitude? I think there have only been about 23 no hitters pitched in the entire history of baseball. The umpire admitted he was wrong and the video clearly showed it. Selig should have reversed the call. What does it add to the integrity of baseball to let the blown call stand?

    • 0 avatar

      mtymsi, I agree. Selig could have done this and held tight the next time. It’s not like it affected the outcome of the game or anything.

      And actually, it was a perfect game, not a no-hitter, that was ruined. There have been 21 to date.

  • avatar

    I thought it was great. It is Detroit, right? Want to saddle him with some other local name product? Take your pick. A common Mustang or a long bed Ram? A Cadillac for a guy his age?

    And BTW, the sanctity of the umpires should go the way of propeller driven commercial aircraft, or taking in baseball games while dressed in coat and tie.

    I get bored in person at a baseball game, drift off when one is on the radio or TV, have not driven a Corvette since before most posters on this forum were born, and I still think it was a great move by all concerned.
    I recently took two of my grandchildren to a minor league game on a warm Sunday in Rome,GA. Nice venue. Only fans the age of the players were their wives/girlfriends and the dancers and groundsmen.

    If Selig keeps it up, MLB will sink below boxing and horse racing in terms of fandom. And I used to take them both seriously too.

  • avatar

    I hate to see the Corvette/GM angle (or any other angle, like replay) dragged out because it obscures the real story: Galarraga’s true sportsmanlike conduct and the humility of the umpire.

  • avatar

    I’m no fan of GM, their bailout, the Corvette, or even baseball, but GM got a lot of good publicity/exposure for $50k. Since I am not a fan of any of the above entities and am still aware of the Corvette giveaway, I would say they got a lot of exposure for their money. Maybe they are on the right track after all.

    BTW, you could not do a “saturation” ad campaign in Kokomo, Indiana for $50,000, much less anything approaching national exposure. A single 30 second TV spot on any national network program with decent viewership costs at least 10 times that.

    • 0 avatar

      “BTW, you could not do a “saturation” ad campaign in Kokomo, Indiana for $50,000, much less anything approaching national exposure…”

      Not saying it would. My point is, how much press did $50K really buy if the story burned bright for a time… then died within 36 hours? Apart from we bloggers, who else is still talking about this ploy? Such blitzkrieg-esque publicity stunts are the advertising equivalent of the Balloon Boy, and even less credible.

      Of course I think Government Motors could have found better uses for that money than giving a car to a ballplayer already making millions. (As just one example… how about adding that $50K against the billions still owed to the American taxpayers?)

      I doubt this publicity stunt sold one single Corvette. Nevermind a Malibomb.

  • avatar

    1)GM is got to be happier with the press they got giving a free Vette to an “almost” perfect game pitcher than taking back their free Escalade from a lying, cheating golfer.

    2)Looks like that Vette is a convertible – if so thats probably over $60k

    3)Fan of GM or not, theres a lot worse ways to drive to the ballpark than a Corvette. They are truly great cars.

  • avatar

    Bottom line is the bottom line. GM got way more publicity out of this than what a Corvette Grand Sport costs them.

    I’m not a fan of giving wealthy celebrities/athletes/actors/etc. free cars for publicity purposes. Did you know that GM gives Wolfgang Puck a comped Escalade? A while back Cannondale made Shaq a custom mountain bike – it was probably worth about $6,000. My first reaction is that Shaq can afford his own damn bike, better to give it to some promising rider. Then I realize that the exposure value is much greater than the cost of the freebie.

  • avatar

    It’s a feel-good style commercial for GM that probably cost way less than making and airing an actual commercial. They saw an opportunity and took it. Would you feel different if they paid him to be in a commercial?

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    On behalf of Americans who are ambivalent about baseball and professional sports, it really didn’t matter to us. I’d never heard of the guy. Seriously.

    And once I did and saw how the situation played out, think the Corvette comes across as something of a booby prize.

    So I’d like to publicly apologize to Mr. Galarraga for thinking he was an updated version of a 1980s videogame when I first read his name in a headline.

  • avatar

    Q: …how badly does GM need to shore up support from residents of the Motor City?

    A: They don’t, but this story grew and became a national story for a short time. 50K (or less as some posters have astutely noted) is absurdly cheap for that kind of pub.

    More money than that used to get spent on shrimp cocktail at a full-on media blitz.

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