My first GM memory.

It is not a stretch to say, most of us have a fond memory of a past vehicle. Our first vehicle is a rite of passage as a young adult, the symbol of independence and freedom, and the first step to adulthood. This freedom comes with a cost, as we now begin the lifelong struggle to maintain and repair a product that already came with a hefty price tag. General Motors does not see vehicle maintenance as a burden, but as a long lasting, and loving memory, which we can all relate. As you can clearly see from the images, GM is boldly proclaiming that the brand is BuildinG Moments. The memory I have of my 1984 GM (Chevy) Citation II was the guaranteed cracked head-gasket at 100,000 miles, resulting in a 1,200-dollar fix. This leaves me wondering….. What in the hell is GM thinking?


 A BRAND new identity.

Brands often identify with a feeling, or sense of place in our psyche, in fact, that is how some brands have made their mark in a cluttered world. Nike sells personal achievement and independence, while Coke-a-Cola celebrates moments of happiness, and we must not forget Volvo proclaiming to be the leading brand in safety. With these brands in mind, it is no surprise that General Motors decided to sell “memories” (insert shrugging and confused look here).  I must give credit to the creative team who came up with BuildinG Moments, and their talent for wordsmithing. I would have loved to be in the room when GM told the team, “We want to connect with anyone who will buy a F@#$ing car from us.” I first noticed this campaign while scrolling through my Facebook. The image below popped up in my feed which is very unusual for me, as I do not follow any automobile industry related subjects, so I can only assume that I am their target market even though I have made a standard practice of buying my low mileage vehicles with straight cash. Regardless of my vehicle buying habits, their digital marketers lumped me in with the rest in hopes I would find this ad appealing to my fond memories of fixing my car with grandpa. I will not go into the specifics of the current threats the auto industry face with aging boomers with no savings and a generation of millennials who do not find value in buying a 30,000 pickup with the same options as a model from 10 years ago, minus the blue tooth connection and internet options.  You can read my thoughts on this automotive targeting trend found here, where I describe how Honda used Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to sell cars during its Happy Honda Days promotion.

Using emotions to sell cars, and logic to justify the purchase.

I understand the use of attitude accessibility theory here, trying to make us reminisce of the fond memories spent with dad and grandpa, changing our oil and replacing our sparkplugs. Or they are trying to make the boomer generation build thoughts of sharing those precious repair moments with their grandchildren. Those memories will then move us to thoughts of purchasing or leasing a new or gently used GM vehicle, with the ambitions to use our new GM to create new memories. People buy with emotion, and justify with logic.

For those of us who have real lives, and real families, we fondly remember dad or grandpa (not being gender neutral here) yelling at us for not being able to find the right socket, and swearing as the bolt snapped off, resulting in a bloody knuckle on the fan blade. My memories consist of grandpa yelling, “Your cousin Becky wasn’t born with the gift of sight, so don’t waste the gifts you were given and open up your damn eyes!” With these fond memories in the forefront of my mind, I can appreciate the attempt at connecting our childhood memories of working on cars with our parents and grandparents to the GM brand itself. One question I must ask is, why in God’s name would we celebrate a brand, that requires our continued maintenance and repair? When I consider a purchase on Amazon, I do say to myself, “Boy, I can’t wait for this thing to break so I can fix it with grandpa.”  I argue that these “treasured” memories of fixing vehicles happen to a small minority of us, the people who had a family rich enough to fix cars out of entertainment versus necessity. The rest of us were working on these cars when shit broke and left us on the side of the road, usually in the least convenient time, like winter. I vividly remember my alternator belt shredding off my 1999 Chevy Cavalier on the side of the road 10 miles from town. You can believe that special memory of grandpa helping me fix my car on the side of the road was not an accurate depiction of the images shared in GM’s new ads. The last place grandpa wanted to be was fixing my alternator belt.

What we really build is relationships, opportunities, hope and memories….  I call bullshit! You build cars that are essentially the same as they were 50 years ago, except you have upgraded technology to the point where no one under the skill level of master mechanic can even change the oil filter. This picture is literally impossible, unless the featured child is taking a wrench to the windshield fluid reservoir; there is nothing on a newer GM that the owner can fix. Bringing a new vehicle to get anything fixed now consists of turning over the rights to your first-born and mortgaging your house. Let us not forget that by this young child touching the car with his wrench, he voids the warranty and or lease agreement, because only a GM certified technician can perform any maintenance work on the vehicle.

Considering that GM is having one of its first labor dispute strikes in a decade, it is most certainly not offering opportunities or hope to its employees. As a company, this misses the mark; highlighting GM is not living up to its own values. So be weary of aligning your brand to a thought, feeling, or emotion when there are obvious objections to be argued. When it is all said and done, you can wear Nike if you aren’t athletic, Coke-a-Cola has created moments of happiness for diabetics everywhere, and you can still die in a Volvo. I guess the thought of grandad teaching his grandson how to use a wrench on a smart car isn’t so bad. In the end, it will tug on a heartstring for some and fall flat for others. This was a creative attempt to align a car manufacturer with a feeling, but doesn’t make it far on the flat tire. 

Dave Wentzel

Dave Wentzel


Dave is a strategic communicator with a passion for building solid brand foundations, and helping clients tell their story. His drive is fueled by a passion to help others reach their full potential. This blog is a platform for the opportunity to express his thoughts on industry trends, communication best practices, and to help viewers see the world as he sees. If you have any ideas on topics or thoughts for Dave to improve his communications, please feel free to connect via an email, or connect with Dave on LinkedIn at the icon below.

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