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Social media marketing: Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

June 27, 2010

One of my favorite ways of passing the time these days is checking out the spoof TV commercials on YouTube – especially those that poke fun at the establishment or take corporate America to task over some misleading claim or statement. The “doctored” ads are often just as well scripted as the originals, in many instances much funnier and, almost always, far more engaging and entertaining.

So when my Tuesday evening viewing of Lost was interrupted by General Motors CEO Ed Whitacre striding awkwardly toward the camera against a backdrop of shiny new Buicks and Chevys, and talking about how his revitalized company has repaid its government loans and is now making the best cars in the world, I reached straight for my laptop.

If you haven’t already seen the ad, here it is:

Just as I’d hoped, right there alongside the real commercial uploaded by GM’s official blog team were about 50 posts – some spoofing the ad with a new voiceover or additional graphics, some responding with a video post of their own, but all calling out GM on its loan repayment claim.

According to the YouTube community, seems like GM didn’t quite tell the whole story in its commercial. Yes, the company did repay its government loan five years early. And, yes, it did pay back the full amount, plus interest. What GM somehow failed to mention, however, was the fact that it repaid the money out of another government funded escrow account so that it could borrow a further $10 billion at a reduced interest rate.

The result of this backlash is that The Competitive Institute on May 4 filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade commission arguing that GM is giving the false impression that it used its own funds to repay the loan, thereby unfairly duping consumers into thinking that the car manufacturer is faring significantly better than it really is.

Heavy stuff.

Up until a few years ago, companies could by and large get away with making outlandish, exaggerated and, in some cases, totally false claims in their advertising. Nowadays, with the advent of social media, there’s a task force ready and waiting to call out anybody who tries to manipulate a story, disguise the truth or simply hoodwink the public.

We are in an age where transparency in your actions and your message are essential. GM needed to drag its automobiles kicking and screaming into the 21st century. It needs to do the same thing with its marketing. P.S. For the record, if you want to see how “striding toward the camera” should really be done in a TV ad, Click here .

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