General Motors Greenwashing?

During the Olympics, we all were privy to a variety of good, bad and ugly ads rolled out while we rolled in the hours of viewing. I was struck by the number of spots that attempted to rally our interest around environmentally sensitive or proactive companies and their products.

It’s not for me to say if these ads are true examples of greenwashing, but they get perilously close. I do feel that with increasing frequency our intent to “do good” with our purchases is being preyed upon. Now, being a marketer myself, I understand the opportunity that exists to manipulate consumers on this point. It’s the very reason behind my work on a “green” marketing program for Blue Tent Marketing.

We all want to “pitch in” and make a difference to good ol’ mother earth. However, we just don’t want it to inconvenience our lifestyle choices. I’m just as guilty. I tend to agonize over the issue a bit more than others I know. However, when I hear about another environmental insult, I am no longer able to pause, generate a concerned-sad facial expression and then return to my activities. I’m now feeling each report with greater anxiety, but like so many I know, the little changes of new bulbs and a hybrid automobile aren’t helping me feel better.

I want to know how to do more. I want to feel that American corporations will help me do better. General Motors is doing something to help me feel as if there is hope. They’ve introduced a new automobile and its going to make gas stations extinct!

At least, that’s what their very slick story in :60 told me. I was captivated by the fast paced, time lapse montage of a corner gas station. It starts with a green field at the base of a mountain range. The cross-roads appear, then the first gas station, followed by successive upgrades through the years. It ends with the same green field and no gas station. GM has helped us evolve beyond fossil fuels with the introduction of the General Motors Volt- a completely electric vehicle? Well, the message is a bit confusing on that point as it states it can go 40 miles before fueling… but then why make the gas station disappear? You’ll still need it!

Additionally, we learn nothing about the specifics of the vehicle as it is only a prototype. The car is targeted for a 2010 launch! Targeted… I enjoyed the story arch and then the resolve that helped me feel that we could return to nature. However, I quickly understood the aim of GM and any momentary hope was dashed.

Yes, its a hybrid that may be predominantly electric (not alternating), but the majority of our electricity is fossil fuel generated. That’s just one observation. I have many more. However, GM could really help me feel better if it ran one of the following three TV ads:

  • A GM mag-lev and solar powered light-rail system that is so competitively priced that a municipality can’t say no to installing it.
  • A GM lobbyist pushing law makers to craft and ratify new policies to subsidize alternative energy and end government subsidies for fossil fuel production.
  • A GM executive canceling a golf tee time with a coal company executive and instead making an appointment with a hydrogen energy executive to go surfing.

The “feel good” ads aren’t helping me feel good anymore… but it’s still an entertaining spot.


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