GM Chairman Waves Big (Ad) Stick at Press Critics

22 October 2003

"Why should we feed the hand that bites us?" rhetorically enquired General Motors chairman Robert A Lutz on Monday, neatly turning the phrase for maximum impact on his audience at the American Magazine Conference at Rancho Mirage, California.

The GM honcho made no secret of his ire at some of the press criticism of his company's models - nor did he trouble to don the velvet glove regarding GM's use of the advertising stick to quiet its critics.

Lutz assured the assembled magazine publishers he did not "deny you your right" to print adverse reviews, at the same time reminding them that exercising that right might well determine where GM spent its ad dollars. "Biased" reviews, he implied, were unlikely to create a favourable attitude toward the publication in which they appeared.

Lutz cited a review of sports utility vehicles in a recent issue of Primedia's Automobile magazine. A not-yet-available Mercedes model had "sophisticated" electronics, opined the magazine; whereas a broadly similar system on a SUV made by GM's Cadillac division was dismissed as having "the usual Buck Rogers electronic hoo-hah."

His audience laughed. Lutz did not. "I'm not making this up," he assured icily before alleging a general press bias favoring Japanese and European marques against those of Detroit origin.

To the relief of his audience, Lutz then turned his attention to TV advertising, noting a recent survey [WAMN: 14-Oct-03] reporting that only 18% of American and European consumers believe TV had any influence on their car-buying decisions.

But Lutz, no klutz, should have consulted his marketing acolytes before trotting-out this ancient canard. As any media studies student could have told him, there is a mass of evidence that the general public invariably [but wrongly] believes itself to be uninfluenced by TV advertising.

But to his audience this was sweet music after his earlier comments.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff