GM Timing On Facebook And Super Bowl Cutbacks Questionable

Unless something was missed, General Motors has taken the week off from spreading word it plans to cut a massive advertising initiative. There was nothing about yanking $30 million from newspapers because they can’t sell trucks. Nothing about dropping out of the World Series because baseball games are too slow and research shows viewers are increasing falling asleep, hurting ROI. And no announcement the upfront needs to go the way of Oldsmobile.

Then again, there’s still tomorrow. 

GM is a top-five advertiser. It butters some bread. So, after telling the Wall Street Journal last week that Facebook ads aren’t delivering and Super Bowl spots have become too costly, many sales executives may have spent this week wondering when GM CMO Joel Ewanick would publicly condemn any of their platforms.

GM sure picked an interesting time to raise concerns. Taking a shot at Facebook advertising two days before the social media giant’s IPO was not the classiest move. The point may have some validity, but couldn’t the automaker have waited a week?



Did Facebook do something heinous to GM other than offering its ineffective ad forum? (The Journal reports Facebook did question GM’s decision to have more than one agency manage its Facebook operations.)

It begs asking how would GM have felt if before it returned to the stock market in late 2010, a critical supplier announced it would never sell GM parts again because it opposed federal bailouts?

The timing of Ewanick’s Super Bowl denouncement was less barbed. Large advertisers occasionally pull out of the big game – notably FedEx in 2009 during the recession -- sparking the inevitable question whether the platform is worth it. Recently, it appears enough advertisers believe so that networks haven’t had much trouble replacing the departed.

Ewanick told the Journal that Super Bowl ads are getting too expensive and “we're not just going to do the same thing every year." Fair enough. A marketer frustrated with the annual price increases has to jump off the train at some point.

But, after GM ran a slew of ads in 2011, it apparently was satisfied enough to return with multiple spots this year. If its research hinted the ROI might not be sufficient, why return so aggressively?

As far as analyzing ROI, GM also had the benefit of not advertising in the game in 2009 and 2010. So, the 2011 analysis offered a type of clean sheet.

Also, there are indications the price increases CBS is asking for this year are below the percentage bumps NBC landed for the 2012 game. Of course, who knows the particulars of what it would cost GM with package deals.

Practically, GM might have lost a chance to benefit from some guerilla marketing. Why publicize it is forgoing the Super Bowl now? Why not announce next January it is sitting out the game, but doing something else huge instead that generates buzz? Maybe it could use social media (no, not Facebook) for a stunt?

In any case, networks beginning to negotiate with GM’s new agency Carat in the upfront might find some increased feistiness, but a GM representative told the Journal the company is not cutting overall ad spending. Guess that means some $20 million-plus is up for grabs ($10 million from Facebook and maybe at least another $10 million from the Super Bowl)?

Speaking of the Super Bowl, Ford was not in the game last year, but found itself the target of a Chevy spot and protested. Would it replace GM and return the favor this winter?

3 comments about "GM Timing On Facebook And Super Bowl Cutbacks Questionable".
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  1. Richard Gillam from DeskSite, May 24, 2012 at 7:11 p.m.

    Hey David,

    I respectfully disagree that GM should have waited until AFTER Facebook’s IPO to announce their dissatisfaction with the ad platform. In fact, I would argue GM did the general public a favor by not (indirectly) colluding with Morgan Stanley, et al., to artificially prop up the share price of an overvalued stock.

    GM’s Facebook announcement was imminent, and was certainly not a decision made two days prior to Facebook’s IPO. For argument’s sake, let’s say GM postponed this announcement until the week AFTER the IPO…what then? Well, I can easily argue the SEC might have some serious questions as to why GM artificially delayed announcing this info. The only thing GM’s announcement did was slightly reduce Facebook’s cash haul; ironically, Facebook’s share price drop actually generated trading profits for their underwriter (Morgan Stanley) ranging from $100 million to $450 million, depending upon who you ask…and this is in addition to Morgan’s share of $170 million in underwriting fees.

    Morgan Stanly analysts clearly tarnished GM’s stock in January of this year (via a well-publicized downgrade)…thus, if you want to look at this as payback, so be it. But at the end of the day, GM dropped Facebook simply due to poor ROI over a long period of time, and the timing of GM’s announcement almost certainly helped John Q. Public avoid billions of dollars in collective losses. If GM made their announcement a week after the IPO, and the stock dropped (as would have instantly occurred), the only people who would have shouldered that loss would have been the “non-insiders”, i.e., the average Joe’s on the street, like me, who also happen to be GM customers. In other words, wealthy investment bankers typically (and hypocritically) tend to purchase European luxury cars.

    Full disclosure: I recently purchased a black on black convertible Camaro, and I love it!

  2. David Rowe from Doremus, May 24, 2012 at 8:59 p.m.

    Thanks for the column. I also found the timing of the GM announcement strange.

  3. Wayne Ens from ens media inc, May 25, 2012 at 7:42 a.m.

    GM is to be applauded for thinking of the public (their customers) first, and not protecting the stock market by witholding information until post IPO.
    A lot of 'ordinary' people could have been hurt even more by facebook's IPO crash had GM not given us a heads up.

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