20090602 gm billboard 18
A torn and fading billboard for a recently closed General Motors dealership shows a General Motors truck in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. - 


Kai Ryssdal: There is some cosmic irony in the May car sales numbers that came out today. With the ink barely dry on GM's bankruptcy papers both Ford and General Motors reported their sales last month were the best either company had seen in a long time. To be sure, sales are still way down overall. But today's reports do offer some hope that the bottom is near.

It took decades for General Motors to collapse. The automaker's betting it can jumpstart its comeback with a new national advertising campaign that begins today. It's all about how the company's going to reinvent itself. But as Marketplace's Sarah Gardner reports, it's going to take more than Madison Avenue to get car buyers revved up about GM.

GM AD: Let's be completely honest. No company wants to go through this. But we're not witnessing the end of the American car. We're witnessing the rebirth of the American car.

SARAH GARDNER: That's how GM's new "reinvention" campaign kicked off today. The ad is filled with American victory images -- everything from a lunar landing to boxing champ Joe Louis. GM promises the new GM will be "leaner, greener, faster and smarter." Marissa Gluck of Radar Research, says the campaign is "too little, too late."

MARISSA GLUCK: I think that saying now that GM is ready for change, when they haven't responded to market conditions for the last 10 years feels kind of empty. It feels like a hollow promise.

Gluck says GM's money would be better spent on a P.R. campaign using Web sites like Twitter and Facebook with honest talk about the company's mistakes and future plans. GM in fact has set up a special Web site complete with live chats, Twitter links and even blog posts from GM CEO Fritz Henderson. Scott Lackey at Jugular Advertising in New York, says GM has to answer consumer concerns directly.

SCOTT LACKEY: And the number one consumer concern, and I'm quite sure of this, will be why should I buy a GM vehicle when they may not be in existence, in three, four, five, six months.

Consumers need straight talk, not feel-good images, says Lackey. After all, they're about to own 60 percent of the company.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

Follow Sarah Gardner at @RadioGardner