GM bankruptcy ad is a symphony of weasel words

In the face of the greatest single corporate collapse in the history of the world, GM rolled out an ad that inadvertently explains the company’s failure.

It is a veritable symphony of weasel words.

Let’s be completely honest, no company wants to go through this.

By the end of that first sentence it is clear this ad has no intention whatsoever of living up to that initial clause. You can tell because the final pronoun is never made specific. That “this” covers billions of sins. It implies we all know what has happened without saying what that was. It is everything to everyone and thus means nothing. Is “this” an utter failure of leadership? Or is it an inability to have even the vaguest understanding of the needs of the marketplace? Sadly, I suspect “this” is “an economic calamity no one could have foreseen” – the preferred phrase of everyone from Alan Greenspan to, well, the Detroit-based car makers. There is no taking responsibility anywhere in this ad just as there has been no taking responsibility at GM for decades.

But we’re not witnessing the end of the American car,

We’re witnessing the rebirth of the American car.

The conflation of America and GM is offered as an explanation as to why the US citizen is now on the hook for $50+ billion dollars. GM = American car and of course we need to save American car. This neatly sidesteps two key facts: 1) Ford has somehow managed to avoid contributing to the financial debacle that is the US government; and 2) Honda, Toyota and all those other companies who build and sell cars in the US are just as “American” as GM. Actually by the very fact they haven’t required our tax dollars to pay for them to go out of business they are, in my eyes, far more patriotic than GM. They are providing jobs and generating funds for the nation and its citizens.

General Motors needs to start over in order to get stronger.

You can’t argue with the need to start over. It is a safe, bland phrase which appeals to the charitable side in everyone. After all, who hasn’t had problems and who doesn’t believe in a second chance? And we are offered no option but the opinion that GM will get stronger. This is an emotional appeal specifically aimed at diverting attention from the fact that this is a business, not your neighbor or nephew. Any discussion of capitalism and free markets is shunted aside. This isn’t about dollars or stock price or the rich getting richer, no this is about helping someone who is down on his luck.

And lest we forget how dazzling and brilliant that friend once was:

There was a time when eight different brands made sense, not anymore.

There was a time when our cost structure could compete world-wide, not anymore.

Note the use of the phrase “There was a time.” The rhetoric seeks to use past successes as another way of avoiding responsibility. This is nothing more than a badly bloated rewriting of “Mistakes were made.” This is followed up quickly by a blizzard of meaningless business jargon and words that imply much but mean nothing.

Reinvention is the only way we can fix this and fix it, we will.

So here’s what the new GM is going to be:

Fewer, stronger brands.

Fewer, stronger models.

Greater efficiencies.

Better fuel economy.

And new technologies.

Leaner, greener, faster, smarter.

Reinvention! Yes that’s the ticket!

Well, actually what GM needs is the corporate equivalent of putting senior management up against the wall. To actually re-invent the company everyone associated with the ancient regime would need to be replaced. The successor executives are about as likely to break from past failed policies as Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner. Since I am paying for this fiasco can I make a suggestion: Jim Stengel’s stepping down from P&G, can we put him in charge? If not Stengel – and I would not wish this job on anyone – then how about someone else who has experience running a successful business?

Having invoked the empty but pretty idea of re-invention the ad descends into a staccato barrage of lovely sounding words and phrases signifying nothing: Fewer, stronger, greater, better, leaner, greener, faster, smarter!

The ad ends with triumphal horn blast

This is not about going out of business, this is about getting down to business.

Because the only chapter we’re focused on is Chapter 1.

The first sentence is straight from the handbook of Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorensen who penned all those pretty reversible quotes like “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” It is a call to action that requires no action. A promise without commitment. The final words are a smug wink and a nudge, an effort to let you know how clever they – or the ad writers – still are. Note the unspoken play on Chapter 11.

At a time when what the company and all three of its remaining customers need are a few simple declarative sentences we get more of the usual: Pretty smoke and brilliant mirrors. GM still wants us to believe its management knows what is best for the company. I didn’t mind that claim nearly as much when they weren’t using my money to make it.

I am clearly not the only person to feel this way. Here is the version of the GM ad I would have made if I had the video skills I clearly don’t.

Detroit car cos. as bad at PR as they are at business

autofailThe CEOs of GM and Ford have announced they will drive from Detroit to DC for the next round of begging from Congress. Clearly this was supposed to make us forget that the Detroit Three had flown in separate private jets the last time they tried to explain why their companies were running out of money.

Instead all it has done is reminded us of this. Apparently you can’t answer a cheap shot with a cheap stunt. I particularly like the fact that the two CEOs are coming in separate cars. No car pooling for these two.

Better move would have been to simply taken a commercial flight. Or walked. I hope the press will tail both men all the way during their drive. Otherwise we might get a Rosie Ruiz situation. (Ms. Ruiz was named winner of the 1980 Boston Marathon, until it was discovered she had only run .2 of the 26.2 mile course.)

Will Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli also indulge in a little stunt driving? Unknown. What is known is that he “will not travel by corporate jet. A spokeswoman says his travel plans will remain secret for security reasons.” I have no doubt this is utter and total bullshit, but it certainly plays better than what the other two are doing.

10 things a satirist gives thanks for

  1. The Bush Administration
  2. GM’s “leadership” (What’s the difference between the cub scouts and GM? Adult supervision.)
  3. Sarah Palin and her handlers sarah-palin-turkey-slaughter-big
  4. The voters of Minnesota. Jesse Ventura! Al Franken! (someone’s spiked the 10,000 lakes).
  5. Jaguar Land Rover for applying for a bailout.
  6. Barney Frank: “These two entities — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — are not facing any kind of financial crisis. The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.
  7. The Chicago Cubscub curse
  8. Alan Greenspan
  9. The phrase “too big to fail.” Econ speak for: About to bite the dust.
  10. Joe Biden: “When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the princes of greed. He said, ‘look, here’s what happened.’”

Penguin seal

GM argument against bankruptcy is a car wreck

The astoundingly badly run car maker says it won’t declare chapter 11 because “people won’t buy cars from a bankrupt company.” Given that GM’s sales have dropped 45 percent over the last year, how would this be any different from the current situation?

Not surprisingly the “it’s not our fault” argument is echoed by UAW President Ron Gettelfinger: “We’re here not because of what the auto industry has done. We’re here because of what has happened to the economy.”

This would be more believable if GM had been doing well before the credit markets went to hell. Let’s remember that we’re talking about GM here and what it’s track record is like. This is a company that even when it gets a good idea goes out of its way to kill it.

Quoth this great article from the WSJ:

This situation doesn’t stem from the recent meltdown in banking and the markets. GM, Ford and Chrysler have been losing billions since 2005, when the U.S. economy was still healthy. The financial crisis does, however, greatly exacerbate Detroit’s woes. As car sales plunge — both in the U.S. and in Detroit’s once-booming overseas markets — it’s becoming nearly impossible for the companies to cut costs fast enough to keep pace with the evaporation of their revenue.

In all this lies a tale of hubris, missed opportunities, disastrous decisions and flawed leadership of almost biblical proportions. In fact, for the last 30 years Detroit has gone astray, repented, gone astray and repented again in a cycle not unlike the Israelites in the Book of Exodus.

Remember Saturn? GM started an authentically different company that attained a beloved cult-like status and then all but killed it by not letting it put out new models. Don’t even get me started about the electric car and where the company would be today if they’d kept developing that program they killed after putting $1 billion into it. And then there’s the decades of lobbying against improving mileage standards that — had they been in effect — would have also saved their asses.

GM is also arguing that it’s basically under new management and that the guys who made all those stupid decisions have been replaced. Even if this is true, then let’s hold them accountable for the stupidity just since Rick Waggoner became CEO. For the last seven years their strategy has been, “we’re going to bet it all on the short-term profits to be made from SUVs.” Thus they launched Hummer et al. I’m supposed to trust a bunch of guys who couldn’t figure out that the price of gas fluctuates? Who couldn’t figure out that there was a difference between short-term profits and long-term viability?

Let’s make one thing clear — the term “US automakers” is a misnomer. When someone says they want to “bailout the US automakers” they really mean GM. Ford has said repeatedly that they have enough credit to get through and Chrysler is no more or less a US company than Honda or Toyota. The Big Three is in fact the Incompetent One.

Wait, I will bow to the Journal on this one: they’re going with “The Detroit Three” and that works for me.

GM merging with Chrysler: Dumb and dumberer

What part of two wrongs don’t make a right do these people not understand?

Isn’t the idea of a merger to combine strengths? What is it that these companies combined would be able to do that they can’t do by themselves? GM already has too many brands. So it wants to add more? The nice thing about having these two merge is that it will bring together a lot of bad management and keep it away from other companies.

Further proof that irrational exuberance walks among us: General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. shares were up more than 24% each on Monday. Ford’s stock is up apparently because it had previously held merger discussions with GM. The only reason this should be a boost for Ford is the realization that it was smart enough not to merge with GM. It is astounding to see what has happened to what was once the largest and best-run company in the world.

GM’s bold new idea is to finally copy the Japanese

General Motors Corp on Thursday said it would invest $500 million to build a new fuel-efficient, small car the automaker says will show it can make money in head-to-head competition with its Japanese rivals as it fights to return to profitability.

WOW. What a brilliant move. Very timely. Something about barn doors and horses seems to come to mind. Too bad they’ve never developed an electric car … oh wait, never mind. BTW, someone should tell the GM brass that in addition to being fuel-efficient and small, the cars should also be made well for a change.

Press release of the day: “Film Sets New Christian Comedy Trend”

Back in the immoral age of comics, Christian comedians seemed out of place in any other venue besides a church.

Some would argue that the only thing that goes on in a church is comedy, but that would be going for the cheap laugh and I would never do that.

Or how about: “Three comedians walk into a church. Only one of them knows he’s a comedian.”

Aren’t all comedians Immoral? (“deliberately violating accepted principles of right and wrong“)  The basic job definition is holding up a fun-house mirror to society & letting people consider ideas that they would never think of otherwise.

It would be hard to come up with a bigger violation of currently accepted principles of right and wrong than humbly pursuing your faith, loving your God and your fellow man even over the pursuit of material gain. Thus Christianity can be pretty damn immoral. When the late Mr. Carlin went on about the seven dirty words that you can’t say on television he was making a point about the unpleasantness of swearing serving to distract us from the true obscenities of the world like poverty, war, bigotry. For me that’s a very Christian message.

I actually have a bunch of God related material in my act. “Two phrases I hate: ‘person of faith’ and ‘faith-based organization.’ Please do not insult my belief that way. Cubs fans are a people of faith and support a faith-based organization. Me, I believe in God.” (The way things are going I’m going to have another patsy organization. GM? The Knicks? The Fed?)

In case you were wondering what the hell: “Enter Ron Pearson, a Christian who is explicit about his faith yet is one of the top secular comics in the business. … Pearson’s latest project, Apostles of Comedy; The Movie, is a masterpiece that’s sure to set a new trend in both the Christian and secular comedy world. The film fuses 4 award – winning comedians that spotlights not only the quirks but explores their private lives as they share their journeys of love, faith, hope and forgiveness. You’ll see famed comedians Pearson, Anthony Griffith, Brad Stine and Jeff Allen as you’ve never seen them.”

“As you’ve never seen them?” Well, that’s setting the bar pretty low. How about as you’ve never heard of them?

And just FYI: Bob Newhart is GOD!

Punk god illustration by George Coghill.

Would you buy a used metaphor from GM?

The astoundingly badly run General Motors Corp. has decide that now is the time to try to sell off the Hummer brand.

“Unfortunately, it’s just a sign that once again they’re behind the curve,” said Peter Jankovskis, a chief investment officer with OakBrook Investments, which owns GM shares in some of its portfolios. “If they were looking to sell the Hummer brand, the more sensible thing would have been to do it three years ago. They’re not going to get anything for it. Just in terms of timing, it’s a very poor example.”

I’m no auto genius — which I’m at least willing to admit — but walking past a Hummer dealership this past weekend told me everything I needed to know about the brand and its future. Even the tumbleweeds were avoiding the place.

The Hummer has managed to combine a double entendre and gross conspicuous consumption since it hit the civilian market in 1992. GM bought it in 1999.

At the same time, the Detroit auto maker affirmed its commitment to funding production of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric-hybrid vehicle, with a target of hitting showrooms by late 2010.

An electric car?!?!? What a great idea!!!!! Why didn’t GM think of this before … wait, never mind.

Car makers discover that suicide may be painless, but it’s sure not funny

Car companies must think that just because their sales are depressed everyone else is too. Why else do they keep trying to get people to off themselves? First it was GM with its beyond-tactless robot-jumping-from-the-bridge spot:

Then the irrepressible Germans decided to get in on the act and VW, via agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, decided to follow suit with a customer having to be coaxed off the ledge because … well it has something to do with selling cars. Click here to view their addition to what we can only hope will be a short-lived genre.

Note to all you creative types — There are a select few folks who can make death funny. Top of my list: Richard Pryor, Bobcat Goldthwait, DJ Hazard, Terry Pratchett, Mel Brooks. I’ve probably missed a few, but even so I guarantee your name is not on that list. Keep that in mind.