How Advertisers Would Sell GM and Chrysler

When General Motors executives heard the pitch for a mea culpa TV commercial titled "Reinvention"—which is airing now and ends with the line "The only chapter we're focused on is chapter one"—the brass needed convincing. "They had to man up and own their mistakes," says Eric Hirshberg, president of ad maker Deutsch LA. For GM and Chrysler, getting people to buy their cars is a marketing challenge for the ages. Here's how a few advertising gurus would go about it.

SELL THE CARS, NOT THE COMPANIES: The GM and Chrysler logos smack of failure, but some of the cars still have cachet. "Push Cadillac," says Crispin Porter + Bogusky's Chuck Porter. "Push minivans. Chrysler invented them."

STOP SUGARCOATING: Prior to "Reinvention," GM ran a cringeworthy ad that said, "America needs a comeback. Let's put on our rally caps." Rally caps? "That's dangerous," says Euro RSCG's Andrew Benett. "It evokes pity."

GIVE US REAL PEOPLE: If you take the misty-eyed approach, focus on people whom we'd actually root for. "Show me plants shutting down; let me hear from the workers," says Element79 CCO Dennis Ryan. "That story's powerful."

EMBRACE CHANGING HABITS: Car ads don't get us into the dealer anymore, they make us feel good after we've left. "People seek the ads to justify the purchase," says Interbrand's David Martin. So remind us why we love your cars.

BE THE FUTURE: Automakers need to talk about next-wave strategies: building from the buyer's specs, no more one-car-fits-all. "What they're doing feels very 1970s, like gray-haired marketing," says Anne Bologna, CEO of Toy.