GM Goes Yellow

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

“Live Green, Go Yellow”
GM’s E85 Campaign

Between the SBX snowboard event and Evan Lysacek’s courageous come back in the Olympic free skate, you may have caught General Motor’s advertisement for E85, part of GM’s campaign to promote its “flex fuel” vehicles – cars and trucks that run on fuel comprising 85 percent ethyl alcohol (ethanol) and 15 percent petroleum.

“Let’s create a greener future with cleaner air, renewable energy. GM is harnessing the power of corn. Now you can too.” Young, active, multi-racial, urban and rural, the ad’s actors say, “What if an answer to our dependence on oil was growing right in front of us? What if we could lower greenhouse gas emissions with a fuel that grew back every year? What if a company had already built over 1.5 million cars and trucks that could run on this fuel? What if they were willing to build a whole lot more? What if we could live green by going yellow? Yellow is the E85 ethanol. And one car company will lead us there. Go to”

Primarily an air quality and greenhouse gas reduction pitch, the campaign assumes we all know what “living green” is – and that whatever it is, we want it, and ethanol is it. GM presumes, or hopes, that the “ethanol=green” message is enough to win over consumers.

GM’s campaign steers clear of fuel efficiency, possibly because of the company’s position on Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for the internal combustion engine: “[GM’s] CAFE reflects which products its customers choose. In recent years, consumer trends for larger models, higher performance engines, and more features have offset much of the fuel economy increases from technologies we’ve implemented.” (Other American car manufacturers voiced similar sentiments at the Great Energy Efficiency Debate sponsored by the Alliance to Save Energy in Washington, DC, May 2005 saying, “we’re just giving consumers what they want.” The representative from Toyota, the maker of the Prius hybrid, listened contentedly as Detroit sputtered in defense of its position on fuel efficiency.)

How efficient, then, is ethanol? E&E Publishing’s Greenwire reports “ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva pointed out that E85 gets only 75 percent fuel efficiency of traditional gasoline.” (“Oil companies question feasibility of E85 in national fuel strategy”)

The GM ad steers clear of messaging around domestic job creation – possibly because ethanol can just as likely come from Brazil as Iowa. The campaign steers clear of national security (reduced dependence on foreign oil). And the campaign doesn’t get into the problematic issue of competition between fuel and food crops (after all, it’s a marketing campaign).

As far as marketing “green” goes, it’s clever, youthful and provocative, particularly when compared with Detroit’s other media buys. The website, branded with integrated print and tv advertising, provides information about E85, a cornulator (a ‘corny’ twist on environmental offset calculations), ‘cobcasts’ (videos of Americans extolling corn), a ‘stalk car’ race (a game), and a schwag shop (t-shirts, screensavers) as well as links to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition and DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (among other) websites.

But I can’t help but wonder…what if GM gave consumers fuel efficiency and better air quality and reduced emissions? That would be downright chartreuse.

:: When you’re really good, you get the gold! Just in time for the winter Olympics, SmartPower received its own Gold Medal for Best Television Advertising Series in the Third Annual Services Industry Advertising Awards (SIAA) – joining the likes of Verizon, Marriott, MasterCard and Time Warner Cable. ::

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