GMC's Words and Imagery Lack Capable Capabilities
Aaron Perlut | Partner

“Think premium can’t be capable? Think again!”

These are words from a confusing GMC commercial (at least to me) for the brand’s new lineup of AT4 trucks and SUVs. I’ve struggled with the campaign’s narrative since it came out, and considering we will hear and hear and hear this phrase over the next few years (GMC repurposes TV ads like no one’s business), I wish the creatives behind the campaign had used more effective messaging and imagery. This is also ironic for me as I’m the proud owner of an AT4 truck.

Why am I perplexed?

It begins with messaging as I’m a word guy. I struggle with the lead that is repeated throughout and meant to be the core message: “Think premium can’t be capable?”

Well, of course. I imagine premium can be, in fact, capable. Rhetorical questions aside, isn’t that the point? If you purchase a premium item for something, you expect it to be capable of whatever it is you are purchasing it to do (in my case, it’s to make up for deep and pathetic insecurities, as well as to haul non-burnable trash from a cabin in the woods to a dumpster).

Now, perhaps the word “premium” is not typically associated with “rugged.” Is that, perchance, what GMC is attempting to articulate? Because that would make sense. And if so, why not say, “Think premium can’t be rugged?” Or maybe, “Think premium can’t crush your mortal enemy’s skull?” Then I get it (and watch out, Carrot Top!).

Bentley and Jaguar are premium vehicles, but we don’t envision those brands as selling rugged products. A GMC or even Ford —- those are both rugged and can be premium (no joke, a macked-out Ford F-150 can sell for more than $70,000 today).

“‘Think premium can’t be rugged?’ would probably be a better tagline to get across the point that they’re trying to make,” said Sujeet Patel, the publisher of the popular online publication Guys Gab that frequently features new vehicle reviews. “But regardless, I think people understand what’s being said here, that the AT4 is a premium or luxury line that can still get down and dirty.”

OK. I’ll take Patel’s semi-half-sort of-agreement.

But I’m also confused by the ad’s introductory visuals showing ultra-premium sports cars and sedans in compromising scenarios. And this totally makes sense, right? I mean, who doesn’t roll their Ferrari through desert sand dunes? Would it not be more appropriate to start the commercial by showing, say, a Range Rover or Porsche Cayenne?  Premium brands that have been ideally outfitted for rugged confines, right?

Perhaps I’m being petty, picky or pissy because I have an AT4 and I’m a word guy. But to me, GMC simply seems to have missed the mark with weak messaging and a perplexing visual narrative for what is truly a remarkable truck line.

So a message to GMC: When you get around to filming your next set of ads (should be some 3 – 4 years or so), be more capably capable in choosing words and imagery. They matter.

Aaron Perlut
Aaron Perlut is a cofounding partner of Elasticity with some 30 years of diverse experience in journalism, public relations and digital marketing. He is a former senior reputation management counselor at Omnicom-company FleishmanHillard, as well as a communications executive for two of the nation's largest energy companies. Throughout his career, Perlut has counseled a range of organizations---Fortune 500s, state governments, professional sports franchises, economic development authorities, well-funded startups and large non-profits---helping manage reputation and market brands across diverse channels in an evolving media environment.
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