Sunday, September 21, 2008

5968: More Multicultural BS From GM?

Can’t help but think the story above detailing General Motors’ multicultural marketing (Advertising Age, September 15, 2008) is a monster truckload of bullshit.

Less than a year ago, the automaker spun out and collided into arguably the most bizarre example of messed-up PR in recent history. It started with alleged misreporting from Advertising Age that announced GM was shifting its multicultural accounts to different shops, and even handing Black assignments to White agencies. Within days, minority media sources were criticizing the automaker. Rev. Jesse Jackson wrote a letter to GM Chairman-CEO Rich Wagoner. Rev. Al Sharpton broadcast concerns via his radio show. And consumers were organizing boycotts. GM ultimately tried to correct the alleged publishing mistakes—with GM North America Vice President Mark LaNeve granting interviews and posting online comments. Yet nothing was ever clearly resolved.

This latest piece of fluff inspires questions and contradicts earlier remarks.

In the story, General Motors appears to be boasting about its own diversity:

“We began to value the contribution of diversity to our business,” said Rod Gillum, VP-corporate responsibility and diversity, who has been at GM for 29 years. So from hiring a diverse group of engineers, designers and executives starting in the late 1960s, GM went on in 1999 to establish 10 affinity groups within the company, including African-Americans, Hispanics, women, people with disabilities, Chinese, Middle Eastern and more recently Native American.

The idea? “We need to hire people who could help us market to people like them, recruit people like them and retain people like them,” said Mr. Gillum, who also chairs the General Motors Foundation.

It’s always astonishing to see major advertisers embrace diversity while conspiring with White advertising agencies that have consistently failed to do likewise. Of course, companies like GM compensate by hiring minority agencies. But the minorities receive significantly less money. And in the end, GM perpetuates the industry’s segregation.

Regarding the scheme GM once dubbed as “a new approach to diversity marketing,” the specifics remain fuzzy. GM executive director-advertising and media operations Betsy Lazar supplied the standard corporate speak by saying, “The shift was part of a broader strategy to expand multicultural representation … aligning agencies with the retail channels.” Whatever.

GM claimed to increase its multicultural spending. However, the automaker won’t reveal the figures. In the minority world of advertising, increased funding doesn’t translate to proper funding. Plus, GM admitted to cutting its Asian-American agency—although the company insists the move “should not be construed as lack of interest in Asian-American marketing.”

It’s hard to determine how Black agencies benefited from the breakthrough strategy. When originally probed on the notion of giving Black assignments to White agencies, LaNeve declared, “…it will be an African-American agency that will get the Chevy business, and that will get the Cadillac-Saab-Hummer business.” However, the story above states, “Cadillac and Hummer moved African-American advertising to GM general-market shop Modernista…” LaNeve needs to wrangle his communications staff. Their interactions with the press are making him look like a liar.

The story above seems to indicate General Motors has essentially increased spending for Latino marketing. And increased the separate-but-unequal status of minorities in advertising. Ironically, the piece ends with a final nod to doing the proverbial right thing.

“As demographics shift, diversity becomes more and more important in getting your message out,” said GM’s Mr. Gillum. “Some people call it marketing. I call it value.”

Reading between the lines of this story, MultiCultClassics calls it business as usual.

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