When it comes to commercial advertising for car dealerships, the most common image a viewer thinks of is a family walking around a dealership looking to buy the perfect car as an employee approaches them to explain all the “great” deals that they are promoting. However, in 2007, General Motors released an advertisement featuring a yellow car factory robot that dropped a bolt and was laid off from the company only to then be sent out into the world to make its own way. The advertisement used emotional appeals and personification to show how the robot emotionally felt and how he dreamed of suicide after being laid off. The dream caused a lot of backlash on the advertisement and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention responded by saying the ad sent “dangerous and insensitive messages” and “the spot may encourage people to consider suicide as a solution to their problems.”
The commercial sets the first scene by displaying an assembly line of robots and employees constructing new vehicles. As the setup is established, a yellow car factory robot accidently drops a bolt on the floor which causes a siren to go off and all the fellow car factory robots to cease production. All the employees look around with a look of disappointment on their faces. Then the boss walks over to the yellow car factory robot and lays him off. The robot is then sent into the real world to make its own way. The robot tries to make a living by selling condos and taking orders in a drive-thru but seeing all the GM cars drive past made the robot sad and depressed and he just could not handle it anymore. While Eric Carmen’s song, “All By Myself” plays in the background to add a sense of melancholy, the robot makes his way to the edge of a bridge and prepares to meet his watery end. After the robot jumps off the bridge and submerges into the icy cold water, he suddenly wakes up back in the car factory looking around franticly and “breathing” heavily. The commercial closes with the on-screen message, “The GM 100,000 Mile Warranty, it’s got everyone at GM obsessed with quality.”
As any car dealership commercial, General Motors was targeting anyone as their audience who: either did not have a GM vehicle or did not have the GM 100,000 Mile Warranty. The General Motors’ commercial aired during the Super Bowl XLI and had intended to show the viewers that all GM workers were obsessed with quality. Despite the attempt to emotionally appeal the viewers, the commercial received thousands of negative comments from YouTube viewers. They were asked by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to be taken down since the foundation believed that it was “insensitive to families of suicide victims.” Robert Gebbia, the foundation’s executive director, said that “It was inappropriate to use depression and suicide as a way to sell cars.” General Motors later met with the foundation and decided to take down the commercial, edit out the suicide dream and air the new edited version during the Grammy’s.
By using Eric Carmen’s song, “All By Myself” as a back drop, General Motors’ attempted to used emotional appeals to persuade the viewer into buying a GM vehicle. The song was intended to help portray the emotions that the robot was feeling throughout the commercial up until he woke up from the dream. All the backlash occurred after the viewers saw the robot become depresses enough to decide to jump off a bridge into icy cold water. The AFSP said that “the spot may encourage people to consider suicide as a solution to their problems…” and “Research has shown that graphic, sensationalized or romanticized descriptions of suicide deaths in any medium can contribute to suicide contagion, popularly referred to as copycat’ suicides.” However, according to Mark LaNeeve, GM’s vice president of sales, services and marketing, the commercial was screened by focus groups for insensitivity. The focus groups all found that the advertisement was amusing and effective in conveying the message about GM’s obsession with quality.
In considering the emotional issues with the General Motors commercial, it is not hard to see why it caught so much controversy and backlash after its showing during the Super Bowl. As a step in the right direction, GM decided to edit out the suicide reference but keep the rest of the commercial intact. While they may have had good intentions in using emotional appeals and personification, General Motors’ commercial was flawed due to their inconsideration of emotional and insensitive messages displayed within the ad that affected the viewers.
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