Case Study: OnStar -- the Art of Unspoken Messaging

case studies messaging public relations

Some of the best communication campaigns are those where the company creates and gives away something genuinely useful, and has the courage not to spoil it with commercial messaging. A great example popped up as an Instagram ad recently.

Onstar is the connected technology platform installed in newer General Motors vehicles, which among other things can connect a driver remotely to a human advisor to coordinate with emergency services in the event of a crash.

In this campaign, they partnered with a centre that uses art therapy to help people process and heal from trauma from road accidents. We hear the therapist talking about trauma, and we watch people who have been affected by crashes as they explore how creative expression can mend psychological wounds. It's nicely shot with a gentle touch.

The deeper message from Onstar is that their technology gives their customers peace of mind: that they will get help if they're involved in a crash. Beautifully though — that message is never stated. In fact, the company doesn’t say a single word. The video is purely about people’s healing journey through art therapy. The brand is just present. There’s no sell, and no sense of anything being promoted. That, of course, would have spoiled the whole thing.

It’s an approach that we encourage in communication strategy and media training. Have a clear message, but in cases like this, avoid stating it bluntly. Instead, tell an authentic story that contains it or implies it. Show, don’t tell. Make it useful and relevant. If you can’t find a natural narrative that contains the message without having to crowbar it in, then it's time to change the message.

ISOC course links

This content relates to the following short courses at the International School of Communications, available live online and also face-to-face at our training centres in London and Dubai:

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