GM Thinks Twice About Robot Suicide

February 11, 2007
General Motors relented Friday and agreed to re-edit a Super Bowl ad that offended suicide prevention groups.

The ad, which tells the story of an assembly line robot that dreams of getting fired after dropping a screw, and then jumps off a bridge because it can’t stand the thought of not working in a GM plant, drew the ire of the special-interest groups right after the game. As recently as Thursday, GM said it would not re-edit the ad, which is part of the automaker’s campaign to promote GM quality.


But by Friday, GM executives re-thought the decision. TV networks were running to thries about the controversy, not GM quality. Fox News, for one, was referring to the ad simply as “GM’s suicide ad.” That, plus advice from outside the company, convinced GM head of sales and marketing chief Mark LaNeve that the ad needed to be re-edited.


Deutsch, L.A. , which creates GM corporate ads and was just handed the Saturn ad business, was re-editing the ad so that the humanized robot stops short of jumping off the bridge.


How could GM have not anticipated the backlash? The suicide is part of a dream sequence. And, according to an article in BusinessWeek about the making of the ad, the issue of the suicide sequence never came up at the agency or at GM. Vice president of advertising Mike Jackson played the key role in approving the ad, and, said the BusinessWeek article, used his 13-year old daughter as part of a legion of people who approved the ad.


The ad scored reasonably well in many Super Bowl ad rankings. The USA Today poll ranked it 18th overall and the best auto ad.’s poll ranked it the best ad. But some newspapers like The New York Post ranked it among the worst.


Criticism of the ad on TV news shows centered on the irony of the ad depicting suicide for an assembly line robot at a time when tens of thousands of workers are being downsized out of jobs at the automaker. The United Auto Workers, however, endorsed the ad. Also, the story in the 60-second ad simply did not come through for many. Fox News Bill O’Reilly commented that he really did not grasp the story in the first viewing.


The BusinessWeek story about the ad, in fact, reported on the concern of Deutsch creatives that the ad moved too fast, and that the narrative story was hard to follow.


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