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So it’s official — GM’s bankrupt. Bring on the PR campaign. Actually, don’t; the agency entrusted with giving Americans “permission to believe” in GM again (as one of the Morning Joe heads just said) is the same bunch of geniuses who embarrassed GM with its suicidal robot Super Bowl ad . You remember . . .

The script goes like this: An assembly line robot drops a screw. The other robots and line workers glare at the klutz, who is then escorted from the factory. The robot goes on to a series of humiliating jobs: holding a real estate for-sale sign, the speaker at a fast-food drive-through, and so on. He looks wistfully at GM cars driving by-the Cadillac CTS, Pontiac Solstice, Chevy HHR. Eventually, he makes his way to a bridge and hurls himself off. But the robot isn’t dead after all; he wakes up in the factory to find it was just a nightmare. The message: Everyone at GM is obsessing, even dreaming, about quality.

Even before Deutsch began making the ad, the concept set off critics. They told Jackson that selling the carmaker as a whole was doomed. “People don’t buy ‘GM’ vehicles,” says Jim Sanfilippo of Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc. “So I think the emphasis on GM as a brand is wrong.” Hirshberg disagrees. Besides the stock symbol being “GM,” he says, thousands of mostly negative stories appear each year with “GM” in the headline. “We need to work on changing GM’s story,” he says. “People don’t like to buy loser brands.”

But something went wrong :
General Motors has decided to change an ad that had shown an assembly-line robot throwing itself off a bridge after making a mistake, two days after it said it was sticking with the spot in the face of criticism.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention had issued a statement Wednesday saying that the ad that first aired during the Super Bowl sends dangerous and insensitive messages, and it asked members of the public to write to the automaker and ask that the ad be pulled. [ . . . ] “The ad, in its carelessness, portrays suicide as a viable option when someone fails or loses their job,” said the group’s original statement. “Research has also shown that graphic, sensationalized or romanticized descriptions of suicide deaths in any medium can contribute to suicide contagion, popularly referred to as ‘copycat’ suicides.”

GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney had defended the ad earlier in the week, saying “Our robot ad is a story of GM’s commitment to quality. That was the predominant impression by previewers of the ad. It is not intended to offend anyone. Advertising during the Super Bowl brings instant critiques, both positive and negative.”

There were nonstupid critiques , too:
“I think, in this case, GM failed,” said Ann McGill, a marketing professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. “It has a very dark tone. It’s creepy. It’s extremely sad, and the realization that it’s a dream doesn’t remedy any of that creepiness and sadness.” Creepy or not, some said the theme of the commercial seemed strangely ironic — even offensive — given GM’s recent financial woes. Fifteen months ago, the company announced it would lay off 30,000 workers and close at least 14 plants by 2008 as part of a restructuring plan.

What bowls me over is that the future of GM now hinges on the ability of a failed PR company and the federal government to make a bankrupt behemoth appealing to the American people. There is something unprecedented and supremely creepy about the government getting into the marketing business, dependent as it is upon the successful manipulation and mass stimulation of psychotherapeutic cues. Here’s another thing that’s official: we’ve gone from a market-driven economy to a marketing-driven one.

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