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Should GM and Citi CEOs Take To The Airwaves?

Posted by Stephanie Startz on September 17, 2009 02:50 PM

With consumer confidence low, and populist sentiment high, brands that received a large federal bailout are facing an unwelcoming return to the market place. GM and Citi have been particular personae non gratae to consumers. This week, both fallen titans signalled their plans to reform their image and resuscitate their brands.

Two months after declaring bankruptcy, GM has rolled out a new ad campaign featuring government-appointed chairman Ed Whitacre. In a 60-second spot, Whitacre declares the brand revived, and goes so far as to brag, "We win." The ad shows Whitacre walking through what looks to be GM research and development, shiny new cars decorating the scenery. Whitacre invites consumers to test a new GM model -- though none are shown -- and promises them a 60-day-money-back guarantee if not fully satisfied.

Citigroup, yet to return its bailout funds, is quietly preparing its own ad campaign to be introduced as soon as next month. Though few details are known, insiders expect Citi to focus on the company's positive steps over the past year, like revising customers' mortgage terms. The ads will also strive to defend the reputation of CEO Vikram Pandit, though it's unclear whether the chief executive will face the cameras directly like GM's Whitacre.

These brands seem to be taking a gamble by personalizing their product with the very leaders the public holds responsible for their failure. Consumers may dismiss the ads as just more lies and empty promises. On the other hand, they may find the sight of executives stepping up to the plate a refreshing act of responsibility.

Business Insider's John Carney (no fan of Citi's past campaigns) is skeptical. He tells brandchannel, "Neither Whitacre or Pandit is Dave Thomas" (the late Wendy's chief and long-running star of Wendy's ad campaigns). "Ad agencies can do a real disservice to clients by pitching CEO ads. It's an easy way to land a client, because it's very flattering to the CEO. And most CEOs have big enough egos that they cannot imagine appearing in the ads might be a bad idea. They just think the agency is brilliant for recognizing their own brilliance."

The thinking that led these brands into the red appears to be guiding their brand reform. GM and Citigroup have both made the same miscalculation: Consumers are looking for action, not words. GM should spotlight their fleet of competitive vehicles in advertisements. Instead, they're undermining the quality of their product by placing the spotlight on their 60-day-money-back guarantee. Whereas Citigroup, in trying to explain why they have yet to pay back bailout funds, essentially misuses their bailout funds for an ad campaign.

Comments

Bystander United States says:

Why quote Carney? He's a former corporate lawyer turned finance blogger. What insight could he possibly bring to an audience of professional communicator?  

September 17, 2009 05:29 PM #

Rutendo Chabururuka Zimbabwe says:

I really like the concept because it expresses confidence in their brand and gives the consumer the licence to bring it back if it fails to meet satisfatcion levels, which is a great consumer focused stance. Taking that risk means GM is serious about satisfying their customer which is really encouraging. Let us wait and see what their competition has in store for them, the revival of the automotive industry will bring some exciting communication in the media.

September 18, 2009 04:06 AM #

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Citi asked me to take a survey on their website recently, filled with questions about how they could serve me better. Then last week I got a call from a Citi person wanting to know what they could do for me.

Here's what I told them:
- Citi took the most money from our Treasury and has been the least accountable.

- Citi cut my credit limit in half back in February, though I have perfect credit. Business dropped off almost completely in September for my small design studio. By February we'd spent our reserve and I either had to lay people off or use credit. In a way we did both - I cut their time 20% and borrowed money to pay salaries.

- Citi more than doubled my APR when I switched over, at their constant urging, to paperless statements. I didn't get a statement, though I get other emails from them, so I went online and found I was two days late and the APR had been pushed to 25.99%. I made an immediate payment online then called. The rep agreed it wasn't my fault, saying he'd reset the APR and refund any extra interest they'd charged. Two weeks later the APR had not changed. Called a 'supervisor' who told me the same thing, but two weeks later the APR had not changed. Then I got a letter saying they would not drop the APR because I had failed to pay on time. This is after years of paying on time, every single time. Not only that but the letter informed me the APR was going from 26% to 30% I called again and got a 'director' who said he would fix it. The website didn't update the APR for weeks but finally, after more than two months of this waste of time, it is actually fixed.

My company made it through the bailout fallout without losing one employee, and for us right now, business is stronger than ever. Good thing, because I'm in debt. But I will not forget Citi's grab of our tax dollars, and their refusal to pay it back or even allow government oversight of their expenditures. I won't forget how Citi undercut my business at the worst possible time, when I have been a good customer for more than ten years. I won't forget how Citi tried to cheat me by jacking up the APR when it was their own fault that I didn't get their statement on time. I won't forget that Citi did not honor the promises of their own representatives. And I certainly won't fall for Citi's new nice guy act.

Now I hear they're using our tax dollars to run what is essentially a fraudulent campaign. I'm sure they've burned their bridges with many of their customers. The only way to rebrand their bad selves is to pull a GMAC Financial: give themselves a happy new name and run many, many expensive ads that say, "Hi! We're Ally Bank, here to be your best buddy..."

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