In mid-April, Ed Whitacre, Chairman and CEO of General Motors, appeared in a commercial to announce the automaker had repaid their Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) loan in full with interest -- five years ahead of schedule.
It came as exciting news for a nation that witnessed some of its most prolific industries (finance and manufacturing) fall to ruin over a two-year period. Perhaps this was a sign that the once-dominant GM was back, reinvigorated and ready for global competition.
A week later, it all came crashing down.
Republican Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa) delivered a speech from the Senate floor that questioned GM's claims and exposed "hidden" details behind the GM repayment.
"Last week, treasury and GM announced with press releases and nationwide TV commercials that GM had repaid its TARP loans 'in full, with interest, ahead of schedule, because more customers are buying' [GM vehicles]," he said. "However, the hype does not match the reality."
Based on Grassley's findings, the GM bailout will cost taxpayers $30 billion, a sum unlikely to ever be repaid. While GM did repay the $6.7 billion, it didn't result from increased sales or cost-cutting mesures; instead, the U.S. Treasury allowed GM to borrow money from an escrow account to repay their TARP debt.
In the midst of their parent company's deception, Chevrolet is preparing to launch nationwide ad campaigns, introducing new slogans for Chevy's 2011 line of automobiles. Whitacre, seemingly oblivious to the public's perception of GM, believes the Chevy campaign "is striking the right chord."
GM's sales are built on Chevy, the flagship brand that sells 70 percent of GM's vehicles.
In addition to shuffling federal dollars, GM's been busy shuffling its executives and partners. In a move foreshadowed by Chevy's divvying of accounts between Publicis and incumbent Campbell-Ewald, Chevy announced in April it would be moving the entire account to Publicis, severing a 91-year relationship with Campell-Ewald.
During this realignment period, Chevrolet's advertising efforts have been seen as unfocused and inconsistent. Chevy's Klaus-Peter Martin defended the brand.
"Nobody can predict how well a campaign will resonate with consumers," Martin said. "At the end of the day, it is all about the product."
Chevy's new campaigns will center on their offerings. It's scheduled to running by the time GM relaunches the Silverado and Sierra pickup lines in the summer.
With their efforts focused inward, Chevy's main competitor looks forward. Ford, enjoying the PR boost they earned by not taking a bailout, witnessed a first quarter sales increase of 37 percent.
The fact that Chevy and Publicis have a long road ahead is obvious, especially when their parent company has been vilified for violating the public's trust, which brings to mind an old quote that claims we're known by our associations.