GM just revealed a Super Bowl ad featuring Will Ferrell and Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski as well as references to Netflix shows such as Squid Game, Stranger Things, Bridgerton, and Army of the Dead. The message of the main ad is that GM is going electric, and Netflix will be including EVs in its shows, but, as a GM-sponsored Ferrell says, only “where it makes sense.”
It’s nothing new — EVs in movies and TV has already made sense. Tesla has been making cameos in movies and TV for almost a decade with over 625 appearances in movies, TV, and music videos around the world. Some recognizable for US readers might be Teslas referenced prominently in shows such as The Simpsons, South Park, Rick and Morty, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Deadpool 2, The Good Doctor, Silicon Valley, Handmaid’s Tale, Dead to Me, Shameless, Succession, American Dad, Star Trek: Picard, or King of Stonks. The pop culture obsession doesn’t end there, as there are hundreds of songs mentioning Teslas (beep beep, is that my Bessie in a Tessie?), including some making it the central concept of the song. Yung Gravy asks the riveting question “hey Alexa, how many bitches can we fit in the Tesla?” in his song Whip A Tesla, Rina Sawayama sings about the excess of Model Xs in Calabasas in her song XS (oh me oh my), and Injury Reserve raps about wanting to “Jailbreak the Tesla.”
Tesla has already put EVs in the pop culture spotlight, but the GM Super Bowl ad says it wants to “give EVs the stage they deserve.” GM, it seems, is no stranger to trying to steal the stage. In 2016, for instance, GM eagerly rushed the Chevrolet Bolt to market to try to beat Tesla’s Model 3 to be the first affordable truly mass-market EV. As a result, GM had to shut down Chevrolet Bolt production for an extended time and issue a massive recall as battery fire issues plagued the automaker. The Chevrolet Bolt now sells in low volumes for only $25k and loses money. It barely cracks the top 5 models despite bargain prices.
Shortly after the Bolt production shutdown, GM tried to steal the stage again by inviting President Joe Biden to tour its factory and speak in a televised speech during which he said GM “electrified the entire automotive industry,” and the now infamous quote that “[Mary] led.” In fact, GM has sold cumulatively, and in the most recent year, only a low single-digit percentage of EVs in the US, and only 1.7% of vehicles it sold were electric in 2022.
This time, GM’s stage-stealing cost it $7 million just for the 30-second ad spot, and likely quite a bit more for Will and Antoni’s cameos. It comes off as trying too hard to be cool to compensate for GM’s lack of compelling EVs. GM’s Super Bowl ad buys are likely to drive Tesla’s sales more than its own, as can be seen from Tesla’s order flow after the Super Bowl last year when there were tons of ads taking swipes at it, and no ads from Tesla.
Overall, GM spent a total of $1.36 Billion (with a B!) on advertising in 2022 according to Vivvix, which tracks ad spending. Deborah Wahl, General Motors’ chief marketing officer, said in a recent presentation related to the GM and Netflix partnership: “The more we see electric vehicles show up in this type of binge-worthy content, the faster everyone gets used to them.” Tesla’s chief marketing officer did not respond to requests for comment.
In all seriousness and with a genuine desire to see better, I would urge GM to cut the excess in marketing itself as an EV leader. Especially after its deliberate crushing (figuratively and literally) of electric vehicles in the 2000s and then the Chevrolet Bolt debacle in 2021. Perhaps GM should spend some of its billion-dollar ad budget to simply do better and create compelling, reliable, and safe EVs that people love. As Tesla has shown, the cool factor, pop culture acclaim, and profits flow from there. After all, it is much cooler to watch Netflix in your EV than to watch EVs on Netflix.
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