Thursday, October 13, 2011

Aw-shucks. GM Blunders onto Campus

Not everything the auto lobby does today is greenwash. There is plenty of that about of course, but in addition the honeyed words that are constantly articulated to calm our raging democratic spirits and to bring us to believe that we are all in the same side in this one big happy sustainable family, there are occasions in which the industry and its more hapless proponents fall back into a blatant posture of pure meanness of spirit. As an example let us take a look at a recent vicious campaign of General Motors to sell their cars to young people, at any cost to their future well-being.

To make our point as calmly as possible, in this short piece we first to draw your attention to the specifics of their advertising campaign, and then step back to give the stage to the League of American Bicyclists, who rightly enough took vigorous exception to the advertisement and to the spirit behind it. From there we move you on swiftly to quote word for word the text of the ever so environmentally correct GM manifesto on innovation and environment, for you to read and savour in the present context. Then on to the short section that comes right out of!/GM to draw your attention to some of the aw-shucks reactions on the part of their ever so normal marketing folks when being challenged by people and groups for their blatant hypocrisy and mean-spiritedness. And in closing a few comments by the editor.

Off we go.

1. The GM Reality Sucks campaign

GM ad

The GM Reality Sucks campaign can be enjoyed directly here.

2. GM Blunders onto Campus

* Source: League of American Bicyclists. Click here for original posting

If you are a student looking to add tens of thousands of dollars of long term debt, care little about the environment, and want to lump two tons of steel around campus while paying through the nose for insurance, gas, and parking…General Motors has got a perfect deal for you. Bonus: it’ll make you fat and unhealthy! All you have to do is give up that dorky bicycle that’s easy to use, practically free, gets you some exercise and is actually fun to ride.

In one of the more remarkably ill-conceived car ad campaigns of all time, good corporate citizen GM is heading to campus to actively stop you from riding a bike by trying to make it look like it sucks. Obviously it’s been a while since GM execs and their creative teams set foot on campus. Anyway, I’m sure the campus facilities people will love having to add thousands of extra car parking spaces on campus at $30,000 a pop (who needs more buildings to learn in anyway, lets fill campus with parking structures); and University Presidents will have a little bit of explaining to do when it comes to those end of year climate and greenhouse gas targets… Maybe it’ll generate more business in the gym where students can drive in to go and ride on stationary bikes. Hope there’s enough parking.

In case you were wondering, GM has a fine-sounding corporate responsibility statement – carefully crafted by the best in the business, I’m sure. One sample quote: “As a responsible corporate citizen, General Motors is dedicated to protecting human health, natural resources and the global environment.”

And if you wanted to send a quick note to Chevrolet or GMC, there are instructions on how to do that.

# # #

3. "Innovation: Environment: Our Vision"


At GM, we are committed to being responsible stewards of the environment in all of our business practices. This includes how we operate our factories and business offices, using renewable and recyclable materials as much as possible, and making cars and trucks that use less fuel and produce fewer greenhouse gases.

Our commitment extends to sharing with others our knowledge about the environment, energy and technology to help promote an appreciation for and understanding of how we impact our natural surroundings. It’s why we are very active in educational outreach to employees, local communities and students of all ages.

GM Environmental Principles

General Motors Company adopted Environmental Principles to serve as a guide for all GM employees worldwide. They encourage environmental consciousness in both daily conduct and in the planning of future products and programs.

As a responsible corporate citizen, General Motors is dedicated to protecting human health, natural resources and the global environment. This dedication reaches further than compliance with the law to encompass the integration of sound environmental practices into our business decisions.
• We are committed to actions to restore and preserve the environment.

• We are committed to reducing waste and pollutants, conserving resources, and recycling materials at every stage of the product lifecycle.

• We will continue to participate actively in educating the public regarding environmental conservation.

• We will continue to pursue vigorously the development and implementation of technologies for minimizing pollutant emissions.

• We will continue to work with all governmental entities for the development of technically sound and financially responsible environmental laws and regulations.

• We will continually assess the impact of our plants and products on the environment and the communities in which we live and operate with a goal of continuous improvement.

# # #

4.  Twittered into submission

Finally, if that blatant example of cognitive dissonance is not sufficiently clear to make the point of scurrilous willful attack on the basic premises of sustainability and decency, then all we need to do in a next instance to understand the behavioral underpinnings of all this is to invite you to check out the Twitter exchanges that their ad campaign immediately set off. You can follow it at!/GM.

It will not surprise our readers that the floodgates opened on their site as numerous people and groups piled in to make the point that this is not the best way to be part of the solution. But what is to my mind every striking is the choice of words, the explanations, the aw-shucks, oh-gee nudges and winks of the eye that are offered up by those responsible for the GM Twitter site. Here are a few samples:
Wanted you to know we are making changes to the campaign soon. Didn't mean any offense--our apologies.

Hey, want you 2 know we've been listening 2 Twitter feedback and are making changes 2 the ads. Didn't mean any offense.

Sorry you found the ad irritating. We are listening to feedback from today and making changes to the campaign.

We're just happy it's a day and age we can get this kind of feedback quickly and respond! Thanks for coming to us.

James, apologize for any offense. We're making changes to the campaign soon.

No problem! Just thankful for Twitter so we could get the quick feedback.

Looking forward to sharing the roads!

Sorry again for any offense.

* and their most popular Tweet: Want to let you know we're making changes to the ads based on input. We created w/student input and didn't mean to offend.

What can I say? Kafkaesque.

5. A word from the editor

Let me put my cards on the table. (a) I am not an anti-car guy (per se). (b) I am glad that GM is back in business, providing jobs in the United States and around the world, and making the cars, buses and trucks that our societies need in order to continue to function. But on the other hand, (c) it is entirely clear that with something on the order of 1 billion motor vehicles already on the streets and roads of the world today, we are in the need of new attitudes and approaches and cannot allow ourselves simply to be carried along in an inertial manner with more business as usual.

The bottom line for this nexus is that the automobile industry and all of those whose well-being is in concert with them needs to change. Let me be more precise: to be changed. And the  instrument of this change will be wise public policy, which at present is still sadly lacking in most places.

It would be nice, it would be warming indeed, to think that all of the players on the planet by now understand the fundamental issues and are all pretty much on the same side. But let us not fool ourselves; there are huge, fundamental  and under the present situation irreconsilable conflicts of interest here which are not about to go away by themselves, and it would be foolish of us to lose sight of that.

The only answer to this discordant reality is wise and strong governance. We are not there yet, but the first step is to realize that if we are to save the planet, save our cities, and provide a fair break for the great majority of all citizens, we must be fully lucid, ever vigilant, aware of these conflicts and ready to take them into consideration when it comes to the law. Let's refuse to be lulled to sleep.

Bring on wise and strong governance, so that we can make sure that GM is using all its talent, energy, and competence to provide the goods and services that our society needs. They have an opportunity to be part of the solution -- but not if we leave it to them to figure out how to do it. That's what active citizenry is all about.

PS. And the day following the GM gaffe, the following ad appeared from the other side.

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