Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Question Is: Would YOU Buy A Car from This Guy?

This morning, AdAge is reporting on an interview with Bob Lutz, marketing chief at General Motors. Lutz is talking about GM’s new ad featuring Chairman Ed Whitacre. Why – out of all other choices -- is Whitacre featured in the new “reassurance” ads? "What we were looking for was a highly credible spokesperson who would be a new fresh face .. [Whitacre] is the new guy in town. He's tall, good looking, has impeccable white hair and has this nice soft Texas drawl and limps a little bit when he walks, which sort of gives him this old cowboy look."

Marketing Brillo is fascinated that GM's marketing department identified these particular attributes to communicate credibility and trust to an increasingly Hispanic, black, Asian, and American Indian population. To these segments of the market, impeccable white hair and a Texas cowboy drawl might communicate less appealing character traits -- like being born to privilege, bred with a narrow view of "who counts," or even representative of that “old, white, male, America” that probably only exists in the minds of people like… well, Mr. Whitacre himself.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Mr. Whitacre. In fact, I think he does a credible job as GM’s spokesperson. The ads are very nice and even quite convincing. I’m just curious that a company that marched into bankruptcy to a public (and government) chorus singing “You’re so vain” would choose to get back in touch using the same heavy voices that appeared to sink the ship in the first place.

The unfortunate reality may be that these ads still work. Somehow Americans -- all of us, despite gender, race, or social station -- have been educated, even sociologically brainwashed, to be soothed by sage white men with impeccable hair and the gait of an old cowhand.

This particular marketing choice can’t have been accidental or uninformed by some sort of corporate research. How the ad fares -- will it sell cars? -- will be an excellent barometer of whether or not the marketplace is still stuck in yesterday's reality.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

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