GM’s not a jolly green giant after this latest miscue

How come there are so many smart people in Corporate America who, when banded together, become incredibly stupid? Okay, it happens in small companies too, and God knows it happens in government. But when organizations like GM beautifully juxtapose their so-called "Live Green Go Yellow" initiative with subsidizing gas purchases for anyone who buys the company’s biggest gas guzzlers, you can’t help but wonder if group think could get any worse.

GM’s green program is a great idea. Done right, as The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman describes with razor-sharp accuracy, it could spark the company’s comeback. But instead, its short-term thinkers, no doubt staring at what must be legions of unsold SUVs and trucks, convinced the company to offer gas at $1.99 a gallon for a year to anyone who’d actually feel good about buying one at a time like this.

When this kind of thinking wills out, companies, governments and other groups lose the chance to do something great. They’d rather make this quarter’s numbers than invest the time, energy and money to create something of lasting value, not only for society but for the company as well.

GE figured out that a solid eco-strategy would not only be a good thing for the environment, but great for the company’s reputation and over a fairly short time, damn good for its bottom line, too. Its eco-imagination program is expected to yield billions for the company over the next few years.

What really galls me in GM’s case is that its highly respected head of global communications has either bought into the group think or is willing to serve as the mouthpiece for it. His job is to stand apart, even when it feels mighty uncomfortable (let’s face it; it’s a lot more comfortable to agree with the boss than disagree), and fiercely protect the company’s reputation by advocating for policies that improve it and strongly objecting to those that don’t. A real green initiative, one that spans all of the company’s lines, would certainly fall into the former category.

Until that happens, GM can look forward to more columns like Tom Friedman’s, and we can look forward to more dumb, short-sighted decisions born of group think that may ultimately consign this particular company to the scrap heap.

10 thoughts on “GM’s not a jolly green giant after this latest miscue

  1. Absolutely right, Andrew. But, here’s where GM took a bad situation and made it worse. They were called out for the obvious duplicity of the promotion by Tom Friedman and then made the mistake of picking a public fight with the uber-powerful NY Times correspondent. Say what you will about sales vs. ethics. Picking a fight with the world’s most powerful paper is beyond dumb.

  2. i wasn’t slamming pcom in any way. i made a point that there has been much success in 10 years but every great company has hiccups. and that doesn’t make it a bad company- that was the point.
    in GM’s case, one sales promotion doesn’t mean they are abandoning the green program. they need to sell cars now and sort of introducing a green line today, they need to do something to boost short term sales. i would agree with you if the trend continued for years but now it’s simply a sales promotion.

  3. Is the promotion a total contradiction to their eco-friendly positioning? Yes! Can GM expect to turn the model around overnight? No, but they are making an (albeit slow) attempt. In the meantime, they have a huge inventory of SUVs sitting on dealer lots, so as desperate and ironic as it is, they are doing what they have to do to boost sales. It’s an unfortunate predicament for GM, because as Repman says, they are saying one thing and doing another — but the bottom line is the bottom line.

  4. I don’t think the point is whether the company is being two faced. It’s about making strategic business decisions that affect the company’s reputation and bottom line — and then doing something that blatantly flies in the face of that. So in GM’s case, either this happened which means bad management, or it wasn’t really serious about an eco-strategy, which is bad policy and bad reputation management.

  5. No need to slam Peppercom (as is your usual tactic, I-man). GM is a publicly-traded company and, as such, has a fiduciary responsibility to be open and honest to its shareholders. They’re doing exactly what you say they aren’t: they’re promoting themselves and their programs as being very green-friendly. Then, they turn around and offer special gas discounts to owners of the 9 miles per gallon Hummers. This isn’t about having a “bad week.” It’s about saying one thing and doing another. Why can’t you accept the fact that such a move undermines any positive feelings that accrue to the green program?

  6. that is why i said that you are generalizing, which i the issue I usually have with your posts. as an example, say joe blow’s doctor tells him he needs to lose 100 pounds for his health, and joe tells his doctor that he will begin right away. joe loses 60 pounds and has a bad week and gains 2 back. does that mean that joe is now off his diet and has lied to himself and his doctor? NO!
    Just b/c GM runs a promotion to sell cars, doesn’t mean that they are two-faced. being two-faced would be saying they are going green and then announcing that they are coming out with a new line of cars that get 4 miles per gallon.
    what you have done here is what you do with advertising. you take one ad and say how it shows how bad the industry is. i am going to take a guess that in pcom’s 10 year history filled with many successes, there have been a few clients that weren’t happy. imagine if those clients came together and started a blog that gave examples of why they weren’t happy. does that mean we should generalize that pcom is now a bad agency?
    my point is simple- when you take one incident, or in this case, a sales promotion, it by no means says that a company is two-faced.

  7. Then, tell me I-man, what good is a person’s or company’s reputation if they say one thing and do another?

  8. rep-
    i agree that this promotion is not in line with the big picture. but again, gm has a lot more to answer to than the repman’s blog. they have to sell the cars that are produced and this might help. they can be a company turning green direction, but that doesn’t mean they are fully there yet…

  9. I-man, can’t you see how foolish this move is? Can’t you see that it undermines GM’s strategy to be seen as a “green” friendly company? Toyota has cleaned their clock by beating them to the punch with hybrid models. Now, finally, GM wakes up and announces it will make hybrids and environmentally sensitive cars. But, at the same time, they offer gasoline discounts to push their Hummer sales! I AM calling a spade a spade, I-man. This column is about image and reputation, and GM’s two-faced marketing message is one of the worst image and reputation moves I’ve seen in a long, long time.

  10. really dont get this post. ok, its not that i dont understand it, but i dont understand your point of view. GM is a public company. public companies live and die by their quarterly numbers. if GM completely misses the mark the next few quarters, there might not be a GM in a few years to worry about green, yellow or purple.
    just b/c a company introduces a short term promotion to sell cars, doesn’t mean it has thrown it’s long-term strategy out the door. once again rep, you have taken one small item and generalized it as the be all end all of a company/industry. why not just call a spade a spade- or in this case a simple promotion you don’t agree with…