GM's Super Bowl Robot Ad Draws Criticism

The Associated Press
Thursday, February 8, 2007; 7:15 PM

DETROIT -- A Super Bowl ad showing a quality-obsessed General Motors Corp. robot jumping off a bridge in a dream sequence after screwing up on the job is drawing criticism from a suicide prevention group.

But the world's largest automaker is defending the ad and says it has no plans to change the spot, which is making the rounds online and is featured on GM's Web site after making its broadcast debut during Sunday's big game.

The ad, called "Robot," opens with the machine in question dropping a screw while working on a GM assembly line. It's kicked out of the plant and finds work waving a "Condos for Sale" sign and holding up a speaker at a fast-food joint, all the while appearing saddened by watching shiny, new GM vehicles drive by.

As the Eric Carmen song "All By Myself" plays in the background, the despondent robot leaps off a bridge into the water below, only to wake up inside the darkened factory _ waking up from its dream.

The New York-based American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says it started getting complaints the day after the ad aired and as of Thursday had fielded more than 250 e-mails or calls. It wants GM to pull the ad from its Web site, try to get it off video-sharing Web sites such as YouTube and apologize.

"It was inappropriate to use depression and suicide as a way to sell cars," said Robert Gebbia, the foundation's executive director.

The ad is the latest from the Super Bowl to come under fire. Earlier this week, a commercial for Snickers candy bars was benched after complaints that it was homophobic. And aspiring rapper Kevin Federline apologized after a restaurant trade group said it was insulted by an ad that starred him as a fast-food worker.

GM says the robot ad was designed to show the company's obsession with quality, highlighting its enhanced powertrain warranty of five years or 100,000 miles on all new light-duty vehicles starting with 2007 models.

Mark LaNeve, GM's vice president of sales, service and marketing, said the automaker had no plans to stop airing the ad. It had a relatively small number of runs scheduled after the Super Bowl, and those will continue, he said.

The ad was screened by focus groups for insensitivity, and all found it amusing and effective in conveying the message about GM's quality, LaNeve said.

"It's a dream sequence. It's not a person, and it's a robot that is a fantasy. I mean, that robot doesn't move around. C'mon," LaNeve said.

In a statement, GM said, "Advertising during the Super Bowl brings instant critiques, both positive and negative," GM said in a statement."

The ad has only aired once, but the online buzz has continued. The company didn't have details on how many times the ad had been watched on its Web site, but on YouTube alone it has drawn more than 350,000 views.

But Lisamarie Miller, 39, of Palatine, Ill., said she'll never buy a GM vehicle after seeing the ad online. The member of a the Chicago-area chapter of AFSP found out about it from the foundation _ and has been sharing her disgust online as well as with friends, family and co-workers.

"I was completely outraged," said Miller, whose 21-year-old brother battled depression before killing himself in 1993. "GM is not being a responsible citizen by airing something that so closely imitates life."


On the Net:

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American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

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