US auto makers show their stripes

June 12, 2009

By Michelle Edelman, President @NYCA

The economic crisis looks back at us in the mirror every day and asks: who are we? What do we really need in this life? What of our happiness is monetary? What of our very survival? 

Brands and companies are no different than we are – just a lot more public. The US auto companies are visibly melting before our eyes. What will reform from the molten metal when all these companies emerge from their bankruptcies, closings, and mergers? Hopefully, innovation will emerge. That’s the American spirit, after all.

That’s what GM wants to capture as its own spirit:

It’s always hard to tell whether the target audience on these briefs was you and me, or Wall Street. Or the thousands of GM employees, ex-employees, subcontractors, suppliers and retirees that are promoters or detractors of this brand. It’s a TV commercial that’s meant to preserve our faith in a time when truly, we have no idea what a government-run car company will yield. I sure hope the resultant cars don’t turn out like the other things the government makes, from buildings to tax forms. 

Despite its 1-way omniscient nature, this GM spot does espouse a positive message for consumers: that of hope. But consider this one too:

Hear that? Hyundai is speaking to you. In a year when every auto maker will take double digit sales hits, Hyundai still found a way to innovate car ownership and a relationship with the dealer. Whereas GM is banking on our hope for the future, Hyundai is giving us something to hang onto today. 

Don’t get me wrong. I believe the GM spot is beautiful, uplifting, and may even be successful. But it’s just an ad. Agencies can do better. We have a programmatic responsibility to our clients. Reassuring words are important – but they aren’t the same as commitments. 

My hope for NYCA is that we always help our clients act on behalf of their consumer – not just speak to them. Sure, sometimes we make ads. But we’d rather make promises.