Your tax dollars at work: Another dishonest GM ad

Fewer than one in five Americans believes that advertising tells the truth all or most of the time. The latest in a series of mereticious corporate commercials from Government (formerly General) Motors shows why. Using a series of stock-footage and movie clips (from “Animal House” and Popeye cartoons) showing failure and recovery, it delivers the message,“We all fall down. Thank you for helping us get back up.” Probably the only honest part of the message is that GM fell down.

Been down so long, it looks like up to me.

Among other things, the commercial assumes the audience is too dumb to know the difference between up and down.

This year, GM’s share of market went “up” from 19% to 18.3%. Even the manufacturer itself didn’t believe their share would go up from that 19%, having built an 18.5% share of a 12.5 million-vehicle overall market into their official turnaround plan. (The actual overall market, by the way, was only 9.4 million.)

Its global market share is “up” from 11.9 to 11.5%. Its US vehicle sales are “up” from 593,000 to 558,000. And its corporate worth, as measured by its $33 per share IPO pricing, is “up” from its $50 per share breakup value. Another measure of how far its worth is “up” is the AP estimate that “the government would have to sell” the remaining shares the Obama administration bought with your tax money “at about $53 a share [over the next two to three years] for taxpayers to break even.” Or, as Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) put it, “”GM shares would have to reach unprecedented heights for taxpayers to be made whole.”

My blood pressure should be so “up.”

Fool me once…

Of course, this isn’t the first time Government Motors has been a little, shall we say, liberal with the truth. In April of this year, another GM commercial featuring a standup by then-CEO Ed Whitacre, claimed, “We have repaid our government loan in full, with interest, five years ahead of the original schedule.” That being the case, how come GM still owes some 87% of their debt – $45.3 billion to US taxpayers and $8.1 billion to Canadian taxpayers?

And in making that “repayment,” GM merely took dollars from one government loan to “pay off” another — the equivalent of your using a MasterCard advance to pay your monthly Visa bill. The “the unvarnished truth,” says Sen. Grassley, is that “[p]ublic dollars were merely reshuffled.”

What’s more, Whitacre’s and others’ claims about GM’s indpendence from government control notwithstanding, Reuters reports, “the government is the back-seat driver…By many accounts, political considerations have loomed throughout..[T]he U.S. government has been running key aspects of the landmark stock deal and exerting tight oversight on management decisions seen as crucial to its success. On the biggest questions surrounding the IPO, including its speed and size, the fees paid to the bankers and the potential involvement of offshore investors, the U.S. Treasury has called the shots, people involved in the process say.”

In additon to pushing back the IPO’s timing until safely after the midterm elections, the government has also meddled in both short-term and long-term business decisions. Obama officials forced the Chevrolet division to kill a Cruze commercial, scheduled for the months before Election Day, featuring Sarah Palin and Tina Fey, Reuters reports, and “[i]n the most direct intervention of 2009, the White House scuttled a proposal by GM to leave its glass-towered headquarters in Detroit’s Renaissance Center for the nearby suburb of Warren where it has its engineering and development center…”

Out of sight, out of mind?

According to many sources, the “Government Motors” stigma is hurting GM in the marketplace. So GM has been removing its logo from all kinds of signage, from car badges to auto show displays in the disingenuous hope that if people don’t see it, they’ll forget it. But it’ll take more than a body shop to repair what IHS Global Insight analyst Rebecca Lindland calls “a damaged [name] because it’s ‘Government Motors.’ ”

Honesty: the best sales gimmick

Every business, from Detroit to Richmond, runs into adversity (or in the case of GM, creates its own adversity) from time to time. We all fall down. But dishonesty, concealment and disingenuousness are not the ways to get back up again. Consumers have brains, and they have memories. They’re willing to forgive. They’re willing to give second chances. But what they’re not willing to do is be conned, with transparently intelligence-insulting half-truths or worse.

It’s a shame nobody among either GM management or its back-seat drivers remembered what Abraham Lincoln said about fooling all of the people all of the time. Or bothered to read Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy, who believed that moral advertising was effective advertising. He had some advice they could have profited from: “Always concede graciously,” he wrote, “what you cannot afford to deny.”