Was GM's pullback from Facebook ads the beginning of a General (Motors) retreat?

When you tune to Channel 6 to watch Super Bowl XLVII this coming February, don’t expect to see any Government Motors commercials.

After pulling the plug on $10 million worth of advertising just days before Facebook’s $100 billion IPO, America’s third-largest advertiser has now announced it’s dumping the Super Bowl. This is after having spent $82 million to advertise there between 2002 and 2011, according to Kantar Media.

But now, “it’s just getting too expensive,” GM’s global marketing chief, Joel Ewanick, told the Wall Street Journal, “we simply can’t justify the expense.”

This is kind of funny coming from the very man who, when he was in charge of Hyundai’s marketing, took his brand into the Super Bowl telecast to roll out the job-loss guarantee program that helped steer Hyundai through the depths of the Obama Recession.

Everyone else is out of step

Ewanick’s old employer, Hyundai, announced it was following his old example, not his new one.

“The Super Bowl is a perfect venue,” Steve Shannon, Hyundai’s marketing vice president, e-mailed USA Today.We are extremely pleased to be an advertiser on the 2013 Super Bowl. In addition to the fact that this is far and away the best-watched television program in the U.S., the social media opportunities continue to grow every year and we expect even more impact from this aspect of our advertising on the Super Bowl next year.”

That spillover can be worth more than the $3.8 million dollars it will cost for 30 seconds of 2013 Super Bowl air time. When Super Bowl advertisers put their commercials online for weeks and months before the game, they get tens of millions of views, plus tons of word of mouth. Volkswagen’s Super Bowl spot with the dieting dog got over 14 million free views on YouTube alone.

“It feels premature for GM to make such a big decision regarding Super Bowl,” says Edmunds.com analyst Michelle Krebs, “especially since GM will be launching a whole new line of full-size pickup trucks and full-size SUVs.”

Looking for failure inĀ  all the wrong places

One GM executive attempts to rationalize the decision as being not about costs, but results. “It’s about what’s going to move autos out of the showroom,” he told Ad Age.

Moving autos out of the showroom is something Government Motors has proven itself singularly inept at, regardless of advertising medium.

Marketers at Ford and elsewhere have criticized GM’s misuse of Facebook advertising — including botched implementation of an irrelevant “Plant a Tree” campaign. GM blamed that failure on the medium, dismissing it as “having little impact on consumers.”

In the wake of GM’s Chevy Volt advertising, their own dealers rejected deliveries.

Last year’s Chevrolet Silverado pickup commercial, set in a post-Mayan-calendar apocalypse, drove consumers to auto showrooms, all right — only it was Ford showrooms. Silverado’s share of traffic dropped 25% on the Kelly Blue Book website, compared to the week before the commercial, while the Ford F-150’s grew by 26%.

With that kind of track record, maybe it’s just as well they’re keeping next year’s pickup truck introductions off the Super Bowl broadcast.

It’s not the media, stupid

GM already cut its total ad spending by 16.1% from 2010 to last year, and Ewanick is looking to cut out over $2 billion more — a sum equivalent to its total 2010 U.S. budget — from its Chevrolet advertising alone between now and 2017.

At first glance, it makes sense to zero in on media costs. Media, after all, represents 90 to 95% of total advertising budgets. But it’s the other five to ten percent, for the creative and production, that can either multiply the value of the other 90% or totally negate it.

Given its record of failures to communicate, GM’s concentration on the media dollars may be compounding their many creative errors — and in advertising, errors can be disastrous.

Because while doctors can bury their mistakes, advertisers like GM have to display their mistakes, on television and on the Internet, before large national audiences.