GM’s Actual Ad Actually Lame


Here is the actual ad that ran during the game, after seeing the preview here. If you're reading this via RSS or a news reader, come visit the actual blog page to view the commercial video.

So, the “joke” in the commercial was that the sad robot was just having a bad dream about being fired and committing suicide. In the preview, we thought the robot actually did jump off a bridge.

Hilarious. Not really. As I said before, I think that was a sad and depressing ad, not an effective way to sell cars.

The tag line at the end of the ad says “everyone” at GM is obsessed with quality. I guess they're focused on the quality of vehicle production, not the quality of ad production.

Quality doesn't come from robots, Toyota has proved that for a long time… and GM's view of quality doesn't match up. Or, is it a case of the car buying public (non-manufacturing people) thinking that “robots alone = quality” the same way people think “inspection = quality”? It's too bad that the GM ad couldn't feature real people, UAW and GM both, talking about how they screwed up in the past and that GM is getting better.

I wonder what people were saying about that ad at Super Bowl parties? How many people with bad GM experiences were laughing at line about quality?

What did you think of the ad? What did others say?

Looking at blog comments, it's not kind, including this comment (blog link here).

The GM spot featuring the depressed robot might be funny to 20-somethings on Madison Avenue, but I'll bet it's not very amusing to the 66,000+ Americans losing their jobs at GM, Ford, and Daimler-Chrysler.

And this comment (link):

Is GM (suicidal robot commercial) bragging that they will drive their employees to suicide in order to ensure quality for it's customers?

And this comment (link):

My friend shouted in rage at the TV that he knew people who actually committed suicide after the plants closed in 1980, not to mention his friends who were, like himself, on food stamps for several years because the fast food jobs didn't pay the bills – a situation created, partly, because of the robots. That ad was a giant middle finger to the American working class. I was appalled.

Here is what GM's ad agency was supposedly “thinking” (link):

The message: Everyone at GM is obsessing, even dreaming, about quality.

Um, I bet most of them are watching the Super Bowl right now, not thinking about quality. Apparently, I'm obsessed with Lean if I thinking this during the game.

The robot was built by Stan Winston Studio, which devised R2-D2 30 years ago. But, unknown to Hirshberg, R2-D2's squeaks and buzzes were created by actors; the GM robot's utterances were based on mechanical sounds from power tools and car engines. Hirshberg and Bryce made the squeaks and grunts themselves; the audio techs did the rest. Suddenly the robot sounded more human.

The fretting didn't end there. To make sure the suicide scene seemed authentic, they viewed movies with bridge leaps (Fearless, It's a Wonderful Life).

The robot is a Hollywood creation. I'm sure the folks at the real GM Lansing plant must be Super proud. Isn't it sick that the ad people wanted to make the “suicide” seem as “authentic” as possible? Yikes. As I said in my last post, there's NOTHING funny about the parallels in a real person losing their job, falling into depression, and committing suicide. NOTHING.

Maybe GM got this ad because they hired an ad agency that thinks GM is a “loser brand”:

“People don't buy ‘GM' vehicles,” says Jim Sanfilippo of Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc. “So I think the emphasis on GM as a brand is wrong.” Hirshberg disagrees. Besides the stock symbol being “GM,” he says, thousands of mostly negative stories appear each year with “GM” in the headline. “We need to work on changing GM's story,” he says. “People don't like to buy loser brands.”

What a mess. At least their brand image lines up with reality. GM's CEO Rick Wagoner is to blame, personally, for the ad it seems. He saw that stupid ad and rewarded the ad agency with $200 million more. I'm sure the ad agency is laughing at taking the “loser” money from “loser” GM.

On Jan. 16, as Hirshberg kept tweaking, he videoconferenced with gm Chairman G. Richard Wagoner Jr., who loved the ad and gave Deutsch the $200 million Saturn account. Of course, in an age of YouTube (GOOG ) ad parodies, consumers have a lot of say over what advertisers do. They'll determine if the ad works—and if Wagoner's faith in Hirshberg is warranted.

Does anyone have faith in Wagoner? Tell GM how you feel. Or tell Bob Lutz.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I was at a good friend’s house watching the game when this commercial ran. I was so mad, I started yelling and ranting…had the brownie I had in my hand not been so tasty, I would have thrown it at the TV too.

    It was absurd, both in logic and in inference. The suicide bit was both untasteful (my cousin committed suicide…no laughing matter)and ineffective.

    I yelled “Don’t obsess over quality…DO SOMETHING about it!”

    My friend urged me to calm down…to no avail.

    Which let me go off on a riff about process excellence and how robots don’t equate to excellence, well thorugh several first downs by the Colts.

    Bad ad. And, overall, I thought most of the ads this year were weak.

    Whew…off my soap box now….

  2. How ironic that GM’s ad was trying to humanize a robot when GM management has viewed their human workers as mindless robots for decades, like so much garbage to wheel out to the curb.

  3. I wrote to GM, using the feedback link on their website, and told them how disgusted I was with the way they made light of the subject matter of suicide in their commercial, and that they had lost this long time GM customer (I’ve owned 5 different GM vehicles over the last 20 years). Their reply is pasted below. At least the reply, which was received in less than 24 hours from my original submission, was not an “auto” reply to sender.

    “Service Request # : 71-479215063
    Customer Relationship Specialist: Carly LeBlanc

    Dear Mr. Southworth,

    Thank you for contacting us recently regarding the General Motors commercial that was recently aired during the superbowl. We appreciate you advising
    General Motors of your concerns and providing us the opportunity for review as we recognize individuals have many different views.

    Feedback from customers, such as you, is very helpful to us. We have documented your concerns and will be forwarding your comments to the appropriate department for their consideration. Thank you again for taking the time to let us know how you feel.

    At General Motors, we strive to provide exceptional customer service. If we can be of any further assistance please email us or call 1-866-790-3500 between the hours of 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern Monday to Friday. Thank you for contacting General Motors.

    General Motors supports Buckle Up America. We encourage you, your family and your friends to always Buckle Up.


    The General Motors Marketing Team


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