Tuesday, May 20, 2014

General Motors’ “Deathtrap” List

Here’s a lesson in marketing and law of attraction. You’ve heard about that internal General Motors document that listed 69 “judgmental” words that workers were encouraged not to mention when describing the automaker’s defective products, right? Employees were told not to describe GM cars using words and phrases like “grenade” and “you’re toast.” It’s all good advice from a marketing point of view, but the problem, of course, is that the “banned” words were all written down in one place and, of course, that document eventually leaked. That, in turn, made possible John Oliver’s fake General Motors commercial, which can be seen at the end of the clip below.

The marketing experts at General Motors were, I am sure, just trying to present product defects in the most favorable light possible and thus having to make a case against negativity. It didn’t work because they bought into the negativity. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, you can’t make the case for positivity by encapsulating and celebrating the negativity. If you must mention the negative patterns in order to argue against them, find a way to obscure the negative message in some way so that the message of positivity that you present in contrast comes across more clearly and vividly. Using this case as an example, which phrase is more catchy, and more likely to be remembered: “does not perform to design” . . . or “life-threatening”?