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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

After years spent sending car-buyers confusing messages, GM aims to find some brand images and stick to them

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The Reselling of General Motors

After years spent sending car-buyers confusing messages, GM aims to find some brand images and stick to them

By David Welch

Typical General Motors. First, the company ditches Buick's new advertising campaign in September after just a couple of months on the airwaves. Then, on Dec. 4, GM promotes Susan Docherty, the former head of Buick who approved the ads, and her replacement leaves after eight days, before the company settles on a new general manager for Buick.

That may be an extreme example, even for GM. But it does show the revolving door of brand general managers and flip-flopping ad campaigns at GM for the past two decades. Consumers are confused by the company's brands because it has changed personnel and direction so many times. "They have got to focus," says Daniel Gorrell, president of AutoStrategem, an automotive marketing consulting firm. "In marketing, it's about bombarding a consumer with a proposition. It's finding a relevant message and staying on that message."

Backed by the advice of retired Coca-Cola (KO) Chairman and CEO Neville Isdell—who sits on GM's board and has a rabbi-like role in marketing—GM is trying to establish consistent leadership, message, and image for its brands. That means getting everything moving in step—from the design of the cars, to advertising, to how dealer showrooms look. "Everything communicates," Isdell said in an interview. "This is a long road, but it needs consistency."

GM hasn't had anything like that in years. Brands such as Saturn and Buick have changed ad campaigns routinely. Saturn's marketing, for example, lurched from cars built around people, to waving the flag with "Rethink American." The change left consumers wondering whether Saturn was still a folksy people's brand or an American alternative to Japanese cars. Only Cadillac and Chevy trucks have stuck to their guns, advertising Cadillac's edgy styling and performance cars and Chevy's brawny, all-American image. Saturn, which GM is winding down, had about a half-dozen different marketing themes this decade. Vice-Chairman Robert A. Lutz says Pontiac, which is also headed for the scrap heap, had as many as six different general managers since he joined GM in 2001.

BUICK'S "WORLD CLASS" MESSAGE

From now on, Lutz wants GM's new brand general managers for Cadillac, Chevrolet, and Buick-GMC—all of whom were named to their posts within the past four months—to stay atop those brands for some time. "I hope for some stability," Lutz said in an e-mail. "It's a major issue in maintaining any sort of consistency."

Strangely, scrapping Buick's campaign in September was a step toward devising a message that GM could carry for the brand in the long run, says Docherty. "Take a Look at Me Now" was meant to show that Buick's new models, such as the Enclave SUV and Lacrosse sedan, were more sophisticated vehicles than the boulevard boats that consumers associate with the brand.

Lutz hated the campaign. He said it didn't focus on the cars and wasted money. "The product must be the hero and you have to make meaningful claims about it," Lutz said in an interview.

Plus, the old theme wasn't a message GM could stick with, says Docherty, who is now GM's vice-president for sales and marketing. Even if it worked, "Take a Look at Me Now" is a temporary comeback story.

GM wanted something that could be used consistently for years in the same way that BMW has used "Ultimate Driving Machine" for years. So Buick and agency Leo Burnett came up with "The New Class of World Class" and changed all of the creative work in 14 days, Docherty says. That theme also matched Lutz's strategy of comparing its models to top-rated imports sold by the likes of Honda (HMC), Toyota ™, BMW (BMWA:GR), and Lexus.

MARKETING IMAGERY

There is some risk, of course. GM has to be careful not to go too far and try to take every car to market the same way. Even if Chevy has an all-American theme or pushes a proposition of good value, "you wouldn't market a Camaro the same way you market a Malibu," says James N. Hall, principal of auto consulting firm 2953 Analytics.

That's why the imagery for each model is so important. In Buick's "Crosswalk" ad, a driver slowly rolls his Lacrosse into the crosswalk of a busy city street. A narrator says, "It's not the new Lexus. It's not the new BMW. It's not the new Audi." Fawning pedestrians start gathering around as a camera pans slowly around the car so viewers can see every angle.

Isdell says the ad is in the sweet spot of where GM should be because it showcases the car's style but also has the audacity to compare a Buick to top-of-the-line rivals. Changing perceptions won't "come from great jingles or women draping themselves over a car," he says. "It's the imagery of the car and the quality of the shoot."

The comparison strategy is showing some early results. According to car shopping site Edmunds.com, GM's four remaining brands are getting more looks from consumers. Since May of this year, when GM was on the edge of bankruptcy, the percentage of shoppers on the Edmunds Web site who looked at Buick models has risen from 1.1% to 2%. The percentage of shoppers considering GMC vehicles has risen from 2.7% to 4%, and Cadillac consideration has grown from 2.2% to 3.2%. Chevy has remained stagnant, at 12% to 13%, in those months.

UPGRADES FOR CHEVY SHOWROOMS

Isdell maintains that he doesn't make strategic decisions for GM's marketing. He leaves that to Lutz, Docherty, and new GM-North America President Mark Reuss. But Isdell does discuss his ideas with Lutz and other executives. He tries to bring lessons from Coke to GM. At Coke, the company tried to stay on message with everything, right down to how the company's delivery trucks look. Similarly, GM is pushing its Chevrolet dealers to upgrade their showrooms. GM is rolling out a plan that will give a fresh, blue-and-white facade to the dealerships. The division wants nicer decor inside with a more comfortable waiting area and wireless Internet connections so people can work or surf the Web while waiting for repairs or maintenance work to be completed, says James Campbell, who was named Chevy general manager on Dec. 9.

Like so much of GM's fix-it plan, the spruce-up will take years to complete. Chevy launched the plan in October. Campbell says 155 dealers have started working on it. GM will offer them stipends for hitting sales targets and improving their showrooms in an effort to defray the costs. But it will still take years to get the work done at more than 3,000 dealers, he says. "It can't hurt," says Hall. "GM is finally in a position to ask its dealers to improve their showrooms."

While Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre isn't known for his patience (he fired CEO Frederick A."Fritz" Henderson after five months on the job), Isdell says the board knows it takes time to really get things turned around.

Even if the marketing is consistent, he says, GM needs time for its products to improve and for dealers to sharpen the retail experience. "The cars are better but there's still a way to go," he says. "Turnarounds really take 10 years."

link:

http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/dec2009/db20091223_637309.htm

Edited by NINETY EIGHT REGENCY
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I'd really like to see Standard of the World return, its a great tag line and for many people it still has instance recognition.

It is a great line, but they need the cars to back it up first. Plus longer warranty, dealership renovations, and actually selling Cadillac in volumes around the world, not just the USA.

GM does need focus, but we've known that for years.

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In less than five years - Dream Up, Beyond Precision, Drive Beautiful, Take A Look At Me Now... and now The New World of World Class

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In less than five years - Dream Up, Beyond Precision, Drive Beautiful, Take A Look At Me Now... and now The New World of World Class

New Class of World Class is leaps and bounds better than the previous ones. I didn't mind 'Beyond Precision', but the other three were forgettable.

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New Class of World Class is leaps and bounds better than the previous ones. I didn't mind 'Beyond Precision', but the other three were forgettable.

I don't like it much, to be honest. It seems like an ad campaign tailored for the Lacrosse relaunch, but IMO it doesn't have staying power and is a bit clunky/wordy.

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I don't like it much, to be honest. It seems like an ad campaign tailored for the Lacrosse relaunch, but IMO it doesn't have staying power and is a bit clunky/wordy.

Agreed. You can't be the "new class of world class" for 10-20 years. At least Beyond Precision is a slogan that they could use for 10 years or more if they wanted to. But anything bout change or "new" or "breakthrough" isn't going to have staying power. That is what makes "the ultimate driving machine" a good slogan, it is what the car is. Even if Buick went with something like "refined, quiet, luxury" that describes the car and could last for 20 years.

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Agreed. You can't be the "new class of world class" for 10-20 years. At least Beyond Precision is a slogan that they could use for 10 years or more if they wanted to. But anything bout change or "new" or "breakthrough" isn't going to have staying power. That is what makes "the ultimate driving machine" a good slogan, it is what the car is. Even if Buick went with something like "refined, quiet, luxury" that describes the car and could last for 20 years.

"Luxurious, Elegant, Refined. Buick." would be a great slogan for the same reasons you mentioned.

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"Luxurious, Elegant, Refined. Buick." would be a great slogan for the same reasons you mentioned.

That works, just without "Buick" in it. The name of the company shouldn't be in the slogan.

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That works, just without "Buick" in it. The name of the company shouldn't be in the slogan.

That could easily be removed in time after the associative link is created.

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It really amazes me that someone had to literally TELL the leadership of GM, once the world's greatest corporation (possibly the greatest corporation in the history of the world) this COMMON SENSE marketing stuff.

I don't even have a degree in marketing (Although I have worked A LOT in non-profit marketing) and I knew all of this right away...

Sigh... If only they had figured this out 10 years ago.

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It really amazes me that someone had to literally TELL the leadership of GM, once the world's greatest corporation (possibly the greatest corporation in the history of the world) this COMMON SENSE marketing stuff.

I don't even have a degree in marketing (Although I have worked A LOT in non-profit marketing) and I knew all of this right away...

Sigh... If only they had figured this out 10 years ago.

This is basics of Marketing. I had Marketing in collage and GM has missed many times. The truth is many companies miss on marketing just they are not as big a comany as GM and not as big of a mistake.

We see it in our own comapny at work. We know the people we deal with and we know where they are but we go marketing in other odd markets because we hired a guy who did household items and not auto part before he came to us.

The fact is many marketing people are not into the items they promote. To them it is a job but not their specialty. Selling cars as we learned is not sold well by people who make tooth paste. You need people who understand the automotive market and the product from top to bottom.

Just because a doctor has a specialty in foot surgery does not mean I want him to do my bypass surgery. Same for cars.

Take a look at the Dec 28 Autoweek and see the GMC ad and the Camaro ad. Both products are well represented. The Camaro just has a partial picture and the statment "Thing to do before you die" While it is not a full car shot the photo shows the curves of the Camaro well that do not always show up in photos.

The GMC ad is a is a May the Best Car Win with a Terrain vs Nissan Murano. It has 6 points that show a advntage to the GMC over the Nissan.

For too many years GM had too many people selling and marketing theri products and often most were in my view not qualified to market these product because they had no idea what they were selling. When things did not work they just threw another thing at it.

Now that GM has so many less model and they are aimed at larger markets it should help make selling them easier and also make it more efficent. Let face it GM has so many different cars they could not afford to sell them all effectivly. How many times we has TV spots with only shots of the entire line but never a single model pointed out?

Right now they just need to get Chevy in the right direction as the rest is pretty well defind. Chevy will account for most of GM sales world wide so this one they have to get right.

They are targeting five "enthusiast markets" for Chevy:

1. Truck

2. Performance

3. Eco

4. Youth

5. Modern Family

All these areas will also be outlined with Value. It will show they will show that while they are not rock bottom piced as some you will get a hell of a lot more for your money with more features that you either would have to pay extra for or could not get at all.

The Eco group here is the new player for Chevy and the lead off will be the Volt, Aveo and Spark. Later look for the Voltec powered Orlando. It will be interesting to see how the market looks at the Spark.

There is a little something here for everyone in the mainstream. It also gives a lot of room to Buick and Cadillac to work their own magic so no toes are steped on.

We just might yet see a GM work as one and not as 15 different enterprises. You would have thought a even a two year business major could have figured that one out when GM didn't too. LOL!

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Agreed. You can't be the "new class of world class" for 10-20 years. At least Beyond Precision is a slogan that they could use for 10 years or more if they wanted to. But anything bout change or "new" or "breakthrough" isn't going to have staying power. That is what makes "the ultimate driving machine" a good slogan, it is what the car is. Even if Buick went with something like "refined, quiet, luxury" that describes the car and could last for 20 years.

Lord GM pisses me off sometimes. What was ever wrong with "Premium American Motorcars?" Does ANYTHING better describe what Buick can and should be?

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Lord GM pisses me off sometimes. What was ever wrong with "Premium American Motorcars?" Does ANYTHING better describe what Buick can and should be?

+1

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