Why GM Is Parting Ways With Mr. Goodwrench

After 38 years, GM is sending its iconic “Mr. Goodwrench” to the junkyard. The automaker plans to discontinue the long-running campaign in February, as part of a de-emphasis on GM as a brand and a greater focus on the “new GM”—meaning its roster of brands that include Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC.

Despite the fact that GM is in the midst of a road show with institutional investors to promote its initial public offering this month, there is little appetite at GM for any marketing activity around the GM corporate brand outside of investor relations.

“It is ironic that most companies doing an IPO would do anything they could to promote their corporate brand, but GM is . . . [calling] attention to the stock and the IPO, and then changing the subject as quickly as possible to Chevy and Cadillac,” said independent marketing consultant Dennis Keene.

Dating back to 1972, the idea behind Mr. Goodwrench was to embody in a single character a set of standards that all GM dealerships adhered to in providing good service with GM certified parts. The tactic was born out of an advertising tradition of conveying a product or service attribute through a fictionalized character. (Other examples are Mr. Clean, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and Mrs. Butterworth.)

The original Mr. Goodwrench was a bald, nerdy guy with black-rimmed glasses; he looked more like a high school science teacher than a mechanic. The idea in the early 1970s was to use an image that would engender trust—a father-figure who looked like he had knowledge and would never hoodwink a customer or take advantage of a woman. The campaign surrounding Mr. Goodwrench gained significant awareness among consumers throughout the decades.

The current embodiment of Mr. Goodwrench on the Goodwrench.com website is a buff-looking younger man, holding up a clipboard that displays completed service on a vehicle. For reasons beyond knowing, Mr. Goodwrench is on his knees. He also has shockingly clean and manicured hands, despite his profession.

But that’s also part of the reason why Mr. Goodwrench is out of favor. There isn’t actually a lot of grease and wrench-work going on with new cars today. If something goes wrong on a vehicle, it usually requires fixes to the on-board computer. “Goodwrench” doesn’t quite reflect the technical sophistication of today’s vehicles. Maybe “Mr. Goodchip” would be more appropriate.

Starting in September, each of GM’s brands will advertise its own branded certified repair work with no connection to GM. De-emphasizing GM has been an ongoing campaign for the last few years. Small GM badges on the outside of cars, inside cars, on safety-belt buckles and keys have been disappearing.

The company’s bankruptcy and government bailout last year is most associated with the GM brand, not with the individual brands, according to the automaker’s research. It’s no wonder GM wants to steer clear of that tarnished image.

Except for this month, when the company starts trading shares again. It’s ticker symbol will be GM.