July 16, 2014

The folks at GM just can’t seem to get this right.


After years of ignoring reports and warnings about ignition switches in its cars, GM finally seemed to wake up to the problem that has been blamed for at least 13 deaths. New CEO Mary Barra vowed to create a new culture of safety at the company, and the company started to get some positive attention for following Toyota’s example and taking ownership of a solution.


And then I saw this ad in today’s Washington Post.


I was left wondering if GM had hired someone from The Onion to write their ads for them.  Our research consistently finds that blaming your customers – or even appearing to put the burden of change on them – is the surest way to lose them.  Does GM really think that telling 18-year-old Suzie to take her college pendant off her key chain is going to solve the problem? 


The ad may be well-intentioned, but drivers aren’t going to wait around until GM figures out what to do next.  Ads like this signal to consumers that you don’t really know what to do – and that’s a recipe for disaster.  If GM’s best answer is “take everything off your key chain,” people will vote with their feet – and their house keys, access fobs, bottle openers, flash lights, and cute furry little creatures that make up the average key chain.


If it wants to engage consumers and buy time, GM needs a more forceful approach.  Toyota has recovered from its recall-related problems precisely because it didn’t blame customers.  It took a strong, aspirational approach to “zero accidents,” made it clear to consumers that making it right was the company’s top priority, and most importantly, was seen making real changes to its safety culture.


GM may think it’s giving drivers the key to safety – but we only see the key to worry (and a non-GM car).

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