GM Catches Flack For Suicide Commercials

February 12th, 2007 by William


The Super Bowl is perhaps the single biggest day for commercial watchers of the entire calendar year. Companies spend millions of dollars and months preparing for the chance to impress a massive television audience on hand to watch the game (and commercials). Each year the pressure mounts to out do last years commercials. Whether it is humor or incredible special affects companies strive to have the best commercial come Super Bowl Sunday.

This year was no different. Several companies shelled out big doe to have a few seconds of ad time, and a few actually came through with some creative and funny commercials. General Motors joined the party with a commercial emphasizing GM’s dedication to quality with their 100,000 mile warranty. In the ad, a robot that drops a bolt on the assembly line floor is fired (GM’s obsession with quality). The robotic arm tries other jobs but continues to fail. All the while he keeps seeing nice GM vehicles rolling by and he presumably feels guilty and depressed. Finally he can’t take it any more and jumps off a bridge. In the end the robotic arm wakes up and is still in the factory; turns out it was all a dream.

This commercial has come under heavy fire from the mental health and suicide prevention community, especially after a GM spokesperson announced that the company had received “more than a handful, but not a tsunami” of complaints over the commercial. Michael Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) called the commercial “recklessly irresponsible”. In a letter to General Motors NAMI also pointed out that the rate of suicide increases when unemployment is up and that major restructuring at GM has caused significant job loss, “the irony is unbelievably callous”.

I know people with mental illness, in fact I myself suffer from depression but I also love to laugh. In fact I think laughing is a great tool (speaking for myself of course) for dealing with depression. That being said I thought the commercial was hilarious. I’m pretty outspoken about my views on GM’s lack of quality but this commercial was a great piece of work. The montage shots of the robotic arm trying out different jobs like sign waving and working at a drive through all set to Eric Carmen’s sorrowful song “All By Myself” is brilliant. The fact that the arm wakes up from the terrible dream, reaffirms my opinion that this ad is not all that offensive.

Suicide and mental illnesses are serious and they kill people every day. But I feel like this commercial was clearly fiction. It wasn’t as if it were showing an automotive employee getting laid off and jumping off a skyscraper. It was a robotic arm that has a dream that it gets fired from its job for dropping a bolt, then trying several other menial jobs before jumping off the bridge. Then the robotic arm wakes up from the nightmare safe and sound in the factory. I don’t know about you but to me that is clearly fiction. The news is much more depressing than a spoof GM commercial.

This controversy comes on top of another Super Bowl ad for Snickers depicting two men eating the same snickers bar and beginning to kiss. Mars, Inc. pulled the commercial after receiving complaints from the Gay community. GM originally stuck to its guns saying it planned to continue airing the commercial, but after meeting with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention they softened their stance and announced they would delete the “jump” scene from the commercial.

I think the Super Bowl is an appropriate time for edgy commercials and if this were most other countries it wouldn’t have been a controversy at all. I’ll be curious to see what others have to say on the subject.

-Bill Mertz

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One Response to “GM Catches Flack For Suicide Commercials”

  1. Jon Says:

    I have to agree that viewers should immediately see this as fiction, but I can also understand the objections from the Suicide Prevention people. I also think that commercial would be just as funny and effective (if not more so) without the “jump” shot. Still, I thought this was one of the best commercials this year.

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About William

I am a twenty something car enthusiast. I spend most of my days working in a small restoration shop in Northern California that specializes in vintage Alfa Romeos. I also manage to do some freelance writing for a handful of automotive publications. When I'm not at the shop I can usually be found working on one of my own project cars, out driving on a good windy road or good jeep trail. Despite what my girlfriend says cars aren't what defines me, they are only what I do. When I have a chance I also love to go camping, play sports or generally do any type of outdoor activity. I don't take myself to seriously, so I hope you don't either.

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