GM’s Marketing IPO

During the heat of the bailouts, General Motors was famously, and derisively, referred to as “Government Motors.” But, a focused and well executed marketing and public relations effort has resulted in a positive spin to GM’s return to the land of the living.

GM’s IPO on Nov. 18th had coverage so positive it was hard to believe this was the same company savaged in the media the last several years. I tweeted late that morning this IPO was as much about good marketing and PR than the financials.

Well, elsewhere others concurred. In the MarketBeat blog of the Wall Street Journal, Dave Kansas posted a very good picture of the IPO’s realities which you can read here. Finances aside, this post talks about what the IPO is really about – the image of GM going forward.

Historically, Henry Ford mastered the assembly line and importance of a brand. GM was born from the confluence of several smaller automakers. That legacy was the albatross around GM’s neck. Join us and we’ll let you keep your brand. That history is reviewed in this February New York Times article.

Marketing is something that GM was always successful at. Think of seminal soundtracks “Little GTO,” “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet,” and Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock” to name a few.

But, like a military action, spreading too many resources around causes trouble. The key is to assess the benchmarks you want to achieve. I once worked for a small company that had multiple pricing levels and undercut themselves with specials. The result wasn’t business growth, but the spreading around of the same dollars. 

Now, here comes the next piece of this equation – owning your message. After the loans, the government forced changes on GM which included a turnaround CEO named Ed Whitacre. In a series of commercials, Mr. Whitacre showed the new version of GM – plain speaking, factual, laser focus.

These commercials attempted to show the new owners of GM – the taxpayers – that they had received the austerity message. The campaign was strong because it started shortly after the bailout storm passed and detailed what they would do.

Whitacre’s last spot (he departed as planned following the completion of bankruptcy) was the period to the sentence. Here’s what we did and what lies ahead. Watch it here. Happy days are here again….the loan is repayed with interest.

The sentiment was re-inforced post-IPO with an image spot that started running during the NFL Thanksgiving Day games which thanks the taxpayers. See it here.

But, among the publicly stated goals of the IPO was to help repay the investment made by the government. So, in some ways, this T-Bill is still an outstanding payable. 

So many companies fail to own their message. The BP oil spill was the most recent of many examples where the lack of a PR plan allows others to tell your story. I also discussed this in an earlier blog post referencing Johnson & Johnson’s credo.  

By executing this plan, GM has received overwhelming positive coverage and prepared itself for the real IPO – as discussed in the WSJ article – the emergence of the electric Volt and the economical Cruze.

Are “Mr. Blue Sky” by the Electric Light Orchestra or customers doing the “Electric Slide Boogie” into the dealership coming to a commercial near you? Old habits die hard. What do you think? Share your comments.

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One Response to GM’s Marketing IPO

  1. Dave says:

    The PR machine has surly done their job. GM is getting good press (even though the government still owns more than 30% of the company after the IPO). I guess taking ownership ought to include an honest assessment of both the past and the current condition of the company.

    As you said the company still owes us (about 4.2 billion dollars) that the IPO didn’t cover. With this debt still out there and the bond holders still looking at pennies on the dollar if any repayment of their investment, the ad campaign, while very well done, is drawing a very different picture than is true.

    So is the power of a campaign its strength of a message or the truth of the message?

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