In 2009 American taxpayers gave General Motors $50 billion. In fact, the American taxpayers dished out a total of approximately $83 billion to the auto industry alone in 2009. This may seem to justify the disdain that the socially and environmentally conscious feel toward the auto giant for its recent, somewhat sophomoric, print ads targeting college bicyclists across the nation.
GM has the right to advertise in anyway they want, but offending its customer base after it was their tax dollars that revived GM, is the wrong move to make.
The advertisements feature college-aged students commuting by bike and foot, who are suddenly faced with embarrassment, one in which a cyclist is laughed at by a girl in the passenger seat of a passing car. Another shows a baffled young woman being splashed by a seemingly elusive motorist speeding by. This all topped off by the words “reality sucks” plastered diagonally across the top, followed by “Luckily the GM College Discount Doesn’t” on the other half.
The ad sparked a string of stinging responses, a number of which that played on the “reality sucks” ti tle. Giant Bicycles, a prominent bike manufacturer in the U.S. insisted, “reality does suck,” with an image of a gridlocked expressway underneath. While The Path Less Pedaled, a movement dedicated to cycling, responded with a “debt sucks” response, mocking GM for the “financial servitude” that they themselves faced and are now imposing on college students.
All considered, should college students and the like really be incited by such an ad? Well, no. Those offended have no more right to be upset at GM than GM has the right to be upset at those very individuals for protesting. GM has the right by law to advertise freely, along the lines of the provisions set forward by the government. While individuals have the right not to buy from any firm, for any, even arbitrary reason if they choose not to. On one hand, you have a company that is just off the brinks of collapsing, but instead received revival by the government, via tax money, in hopes that the company would eventually return to stability to pay the money back.
Any investor would be content with their investment competing in the marketplace in the hopes of earning a larger return. That’s exactly what can be interpreted by GM’s campaign, its competition being bicycle manufacturers and people’s natural right to walk. If an investor wants to dictate the nature in that their investment does business, then it is established prior to an agreement.
On the other hand, you have a large group of people that feel jaded by a company they have a sense of responsibility for and vulnerability with. They feel as though they have this responsibility, let alone right, to avoid any company that they find to be acting irresponsibly. It is for that very reason that GM chose to remove the ads with a swift sincere apology, following that piercing criticism of cyclist and commuters alike. GM knows that although it may have the right to do business the way it sees fit, it must have the responsibility to deliver it the right way. Otherwise, its survival will be short-lived.
Dante Peters can be reached at email@example.com.