General Motors’ “college program” ad campaign backfires

by Raymond Parker on October 14, 2011

in Advocacy, Cycling, Social

If you’ve heard a racket on the Interweb the last few days, it was probably a General Motors advertising campaign backfiring like an old Chevy Vega.

The juvenile “reality sucks” ads—encouraging college students to “stop peddling….start driving”—underestimated the intelligence of their potential audience and the power of social media to react to insult.

The online uproar happened quickly. GM’s Twitter and Facebook streams have been transformed into forums for complaints, and corresponding apologies from the public relations people at the car company. They have pulled the ads.

Much of this has been covered on other blogs and in the corporate press, so I’ll leave you to explore the many cogent and often humorous replies to the failed advertising blitz at the links above.

I also thought the League of American Bicyclists expressed the blunder well.

But the baffling question remains: How could GM be so stupid? Why would a company that is already under public scrutiny, having received a huge bailout from the public purse ($10.6 billion in Canada alone) still be unable to conduct itself intelligently?

Perhaps, because it did not have to face reality in 2009 … because, like, reality sucks, huh?

I’m not at all surprised at this screw up, however. In September 2010, I monitored a Vancouver social media conference via Twitter. Among the presenters was none other than Christopher Barger, GM’s Director of Social Media. Barger was enraptured with this newfound medium, through which, he claimed, one’s most strident critics could be mollified.

I challenged him on that assumption, saying that BS was still BS, whatever medium was used to deliver it. He replied that it was the communicators job to be on the level. I agreed wholeheartedly. My full report can be read here.

I’m assuming that Barger is feeling some remorse for failing to assure the content of this communications strategy “is not bogus.” If I wanted to apply some salt, I might tweet @cbarger and ask how well the post-fail conciliation campaign is going.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add your spin! }

Ryan October 14, 2011 at 4:52 pm

They should have looked at Kia. At least Kia showed bikes & cars “sharing the road” and talked about their past with bicycles.

The first thing that popped into my head, was targeting trucks to college students!?! Students can hardly afford their tuition, let alone the cost of maintaining a compact car.


Raymond Parker October 14, 2011 at 8:41 pm

As some other critics have pointed out, why didn’t they take a pointer from the Subaru commercials that show healthy young people transporting their bikes to adventures?

But I think it might be expecting too much from GM culture, which seems to be wholly unimaginitive. To think our government gave these people our money ….


Ryan October 16, 2011 at 2:46 am

I think GM was targeting commuters more then adventurers or recreational riders.

I suppose a positive we can take from this ad, is that commuter cycling is *much* more serious now, that a car company actually has to take aim against it.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: