February 4, 2007
G.M.'s Very Bizarre Superbowl Ad
This year's Super Bowl commercials had the usual winners and losers, but the strangest had to be G.M.'s spot highlighting the company's 100,000 mile warranty.
You can watch the spot above, but in brief: a robot on the G.M. assembly line drops a bolt, to the horror of everyone, and is escorted out of the factory. With no direction, no prospects, and presumably no union representation, he engages in self-destructive behavior, works various minimum wage jobs, and finally throws himself off a bridge. But suddenly - he wakes up! It was all a dream, brought on by the fear of not meeting G.M.'s high quality standards. The commercial ends with a voiceover: "The G.M. 100,000 mile warranty - it's got everyone at G.M. obsessed with quality."
No shit. Even putting aside the crappy quality of G.M.'s products, the company is in a lot of trouble. Like the rest of the domestic auto industry, G.M. has been hemorrhaging money and jobs for the past ten years. The company lost more than $10 billion in 2005 alone. In January, the trade publication Automotive News officially stopped using "The Big Three" as shorthand for G.M., Ford and Chrysler and is instead referring to them as "The Detroit Three." (Since Toyota is now the third largest company in domestic auto sales, the editors didn't want to cause confusion.) And last week, the company announced that it will be reducing production over the next two years on the heels of reports that January 2007 sales were down 17%.
G.M. is the largest private purchaser of health care coverage in the country, and its benefits have always been considered the "Cadillac" of employer-sponsored plans. But in addition to lay-offs, last spring G.M. started offering buyouts to more than 100,000 of its workers - as long as they agreed to give up their right to the continued health benefits that they had earned. According to the New York Times, the response was similar in many ways to our robot friend's: "The prospect of losing General Motors health coverage can be terrifying for workers who went straight from high school into factory jobs and have few good prospects for employment beyond the assembly line."
I'd say it's not just the robots at G.M. who are pretty worried right now.
Update: Apparently, I'm not the only one who had this reaction. According to Reuters, a UCLA study of viewers' brain scans while watching Super Bowl ads showed:
"Among the top anxiety-producing ads...was one for General Motors aimed at drawing attention to the automaker's 100,000 mile warranty. The ad features a robot working on the line at an assembly plant until he drops a screw forcing the line to shut down. Angry workers kick the robot off the line, rendering the robot jobless...'That one got people's attention. But they did not feel good about the message. It produced big spikes of anxiety and perhaps ... feelings of economic insecurity,' [researcher Dr. Josh] Freedman said."
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