Stand

Driving in Chicago one fine summer day, I had the radio tuned to a sports talk station. Sandwiched between ads hawking strip clubs and herbal Viagra alternatives (the demographics of sports radio are another column entirely) was a spot that caught my attention.

It featured a man who was so proud of his product that he was willing to give out his direct phone line and e-mail address so listeners could call and talk about it. No fake 555 prefix here; this contact info is purported to be the real McCoy.

The product? Oldsmobile.

That’s right. He was standing confidently behind a brand heading for that big junkyard in the sky.

The point of the ads—there are four in all, created by Leo Burnett, each featuring a different executive—is to stress that General Motors remains loyal to the doomed brand, touting its five-year warranty and commitment to service. What struck me was the disarming honesty these executives displayed, captured in the line that ends each spot: “I believe in Oldsmobile that much.”

I’m not naive. I don’t expect Martin Javier (313-568-6100) to pick up the phone when I call or Doug Parks (Dougs@talkolds.com) to respond immediately to my comments. But for the first time in my life, I actually thought about buying an Olds. I’m not even in the market for a car, but if Martin and Doug (I feel like we’re on a first-name basis) are so willing to publicly stand behind their product, there must be something to it.

This goes beyond traditional testimonials. These people have devoted years (according to the spots) developing these products, and they truly believe in them. They appeal to my American ethic that hard work leads to lasting success (even if, in Oldsmobile’s case, it didn’t).

I wasn’t one of the many wringing his hands when GM announced it was disbanding the “venerable” brand. I’d thought about the car for a total of about 10 minutes in my entire life. The oft-quoted “Not your father’s Oldsmobile” didn’t apply to me. My youth was filled with Hondas and Volkswagens. It took years for my family to buy an American-made car.

But there I was in my Jeep Grand Cherokee (I’m unwilling to admit I need a minivan), thinking that perhaps there was something to this Oldsmobile. After years of shifting strategies and taglines, developing and abandoning new models and creative approaches, Oldsmobile had finally found a way to appeal to that most important of demographics: me.

I resisted a slight urge to head to an Olds dealer. But I did e-mail Doug last week and phoned Martin. I wanted to know if they had always been this committed to Oldsmobile. And if so, why hadn’t I known about it before?

Though the romantic in me imagines a Hollywood ending for Oldsmobile, the realist knows it’s too late. No sales jump is going to save the brand, but other marketers might want to take note of the strategy. Kellogg’s could use it for Corn Flakes. For that matter, Polaroid could ease its financial woes by killing off its core product, too.

As of this writing, Doug and Martin haven’t responded, but I’ve been assured (via e-mail) that they will. I can’t wait to hear from them.