The Downturnaround almost went out and bought a car this weekend after we saw the new General Motors ad. Seriously. We're not sure we've ever driven a GM car, but that's mostly because we're New Yorkers and rarely drive.
But if we were to drive more often, we'd think about getting something produced by General Motors. Because, frankly, we're sick to death of the facile bashing that the company has had to endure. Consider this, which David Brooks wrote recently:
"Over the last five decades, [General Motors] has progressively lost touch with car buyers, especially the educated car buyers who flock to European and Japanese brands."
We're sorry, but this is bullshit.
Brooks obviously lifted that line from the playbook without engaging his brain, as he is wont to do. General Motors has sold tens of millions of cars over the last five decades, and they didn't do it merely by foisting them on hicks with no taste. The company was capable of making good cars and connecting with consumers: Saturn, the car they built specifically to win middle-class youths and baby boomers back from imports, was smartly marketed and achieved a "near cult-like following" in its early years, before GM foolishly let the brand languish. And they did pretty goddamn well with their pickup trucks and SUVs, too.
GM's main problem was that they didn't take an ax to the vast dead-and-dying parts of their business, because, well, that's very hard to do. Nobody likes closing factories and laying off workers and unwinding dealership networks. In fact, to their detriment, companies avoid doing such things at all costs. But this failure to act isn't rooted in stupidity or venality. It's rooted in the false hope that things will somehow improve on their own or some less-painful alternative will come down the pike. So they muddle through. No, it's not good business, but guess what? Almost everybody does it. If Brooks wants to see another prime example, he need look no further than his own employer. They're doing the same thing. (Also, to those under the delusion that Japanese car companies are inherently smarter than their American counterparts, we highly recommend this recent review of the Honda Insight.
So where were we? Oh, yeah, the GM ad. We loved it. It reminded us of the Miracle on Ice. We loved the opening, with the sun coming up and illuminating Central Park West (the land where not a single GM driver lives, but never mind). Then the voice-over:
"Let's be honest. No company wants to go through this. But we're not witnessing the death of the American car. We're witnessing the rebirth of the American car."
Then, yes, green sprouts bursting from soil. The image of a runner with one of those springy, artificial legs. A blasted streetscape that we assume is Detroit, a hockey player getting crushed into the ice by a ruthless opponent. The script is tight and direct, with lines that could've been lifted from an Obama speech: "Reinvention is the only way we can fix this. And fix it we will."
Cheesy? Sure. But so are amber waves of grain! And then the kicker:
"This is not about going out of business. This is about getting down to business. Because the only chapter we're focused on is chapter one."
It's not fashionable to say anything nice about the American car companies. In fact, it's much more fashionable to come up with spoofs like this. But what do we get from that, really? The satisfied knowledge that GM is the Evil Empire? The guy who made that isn't creating any jobs. We doubt he even has one himself. With the GM spot, on the other hand, we're impressed. The company has been in bankruptcy for a week. Among its many creditors are its advertising agencies, to whom it owes $170 million. And yet, the very week the company declared bankruptcy, Deutsch produced a spot that is — while being deeply manipulative and, okay, maybe a little derivative of Viagra's campaign — touching and hopeful. That's faith. If they can have it when they're that much in the hole, so can we.