When I first saw General Motor’s CEO, Ed Whitacre on a TV ad saying GM had paid back the government loans five years early I thought “damn, that’s impressive.” Apparently a lot of other consumers also liked what they saw, according to polling firms.
But wait a minute, it turns out that these GM ads were lies or exaggerations according to several US Republicans and Steven Rattner, the former head of President Barrack Obama’s automotive task force. GM is in fact paying back the loan with bailout money that it received from the federal government in the first place.
So as editors and politicians comment on the inaccuracies of the GM ad, the beleaguered car maker enjoys a slight lift in public perception. Why? Because a mass media ad campaign still influences opinion.
Typically PR/earned media drives reputation repair. Skeptical consumers usually distrust ads from big, bad companies emerging from recent crises. Therefore nice things said by journalists and other third-parties are needed to change perception.
So how is it that the GM ads have improved public perception? Do Americans have a pent up desire for good news after so much bad news from this iconic brand? Is it wishful thinking in hopes of lower unemployment?
Could be, but what’s more likely is that the mainstream media ads featuring an earnest Mr Whitacre persuaded people to believe that GM had improved. Which perhaps isn’t far from the truth since it’s hard to go lower than bankruptcy.
So when pollsters asked consumers about the ads, a small majority said the company is making progress. Which is a victory for GM. It just needs to also focus on what’s good about the brand, sell more cars and generate some good news. Otherwise this perceived success might be seen as a credibility issue.