Much has been made lately of how General Motor's Bob Lutz wants to shake up the battered automaker's advertising. The 77-year-old Lutz who recently returned from a brief retirement to lead the company's marketing, advertising, communications, and even help with design, has said, "There's a lot of stuff that irks me" about GM's advertising, and has vowed to review it all.
"I want an interesting ad that's memorable. I want people to have a positively changed perception after viewing the ad," he told Automotive News.
But it won't be an ad that saves the “New GM” as it's being called. Allowing advertising to lead your brand's image is an old model, the wrong model, and it needs to be given up. The company only recently emerged from bankruptcy protection, so while a big ad buy can demonstrate you're still alive, it won't demonstrate that you're doing well, or help change minds that have heard nothing but bad news about GM for nearly a year. It will be the company's efforts to reengage its customers and win back their trust that will “move the needle” as Lutz has suggested he wants.
GM, of course, has a robust communications program as well, and Lutz no doubt understands the value of PR. He spoke at the PRSA conference last fall in Detroit, and was much noted for his work on GM's Fast Lane blog, which was introduced in 2005. More recently, GM revealed the GM Reinvention site to better explain the company's transition. It is also getting its senior leadership out to talk to the public more.
Clearly, a 360-degree communications program is in the works, which is a smart move for GM and Lutz. But the automaker should realize that advertising is no longer the market leader in this category. It won't overcome the brand “perception gap” problem that Lutz has said the automaker faces. Communications that engages GM's stakeholders in a real way, and inspires positive word of mouth will move the needle. It's time to let PR lead.