Tuesday, August 12, 2008

And Now a Message From Our Sponsors

At a time when GM is struggling just to remain viable as an American corporation, the car maker has now bet the farm on advertising during the Olympics. Along with Coca Cola, McDonalds, and Exxon Mobil, GM is one of the major sponsors for NBC’s marathon Olympic coverage, but their ads are a mystery to me. Most of them feature various GM models parked unattended next to a gas pump at the filling station, and while the car owner is off camera (presumably inside paying his obscene fuel bill), the gas nozzle comes to life through the process of computer animation, and begins playing various pranks on the helpless, inanimate, vehicle.

The intended message is that gas pumps dislike Chevy vehicles because of their miserly fuel consumption. There are two other interpretations, both equally valid. One, that GM products spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in gas stations. And two, that GM car owners aren’t smart enough to pay at the pump.

The GM Volt is also featured in a few of the ads (see my article 7/31). The target date for the start-sale of the Volt is now pushed back to 2010, and from the sounds of the ad, the Volt will use hybrid rather than fuel cell technology. The once-futuristic body is not looking any newer than it was eight or nine years ago. GM might as well put it all on the line with this 2008 Olympic telecast, because it’s not a sure bet that GM will be around for the 2012 games in London, and the company has already announced their decision to not advertise during that event.

As for the other big players in the NBC ad pool, the Coke and McDonalds spots are fresh and entertaining. Coke and McDonalds do advertising far better than they do human nourishment, but that’s another story. Exxon Mobil gets the award for having the most chutzpah . With their oil profits at obscene levels, their ads focus on their work curing malaria in Africa. For each million dollars in oil profits, Exxon Mobil evidently contributes one mosquitoe net valued at roughly one dollar. The spokesman in the ads for the malaria project is some guy with an M.D. after his name. I don’t know if he’s a real doctor, but he plays one on television, and in the past that was always good enough for TV commercials hyping medical messages.

The real tragedy of this year’s TV advertising is that the Olympics occur in election years. That’s always the case, and there’s nothing worse in the electronic world than political ads. It’s a wistful thing to imagine what it would be like to see the Olympics presented without televised messages tearing down political candidates.

Also see: It’s The Infrastructure-- Stupid

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