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THE STORM AT GENERAL MOTORS

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THE STORM AT GENERAL MOTORS

Ewanick must restore order -- but still drive creativity -- at marketing operations buffeted by change

Chrissie Thompson

Automotive News -- May 31, 2010 - 12:01 am ET

DETROIT -- New U.S. marketing chief Joel Ewanick is accelerating the churn of advertising messages at General Motors Co.

Ewanick has scrapped Chevrolet's weeks-old print advertising tag line, "Excellence for All." And the "Mark of Leadership" slogan on Cadillac's new commercials will probably miss the cut for the next round of ads.

In the past year, at least 17 GM marketing leaders have changed jobs or left the company. Three of GM's four remaining U.S. brands underwent major ad campaign changes -- Buick more than once. Ewanick is the fourth U.S. marketing chief in the last year.

The turmoil has spooked marketing staffers and sent inconsistent messages to consumers when post-bankruptcy GM's brands are desperate for clear identities to spark sales.

Ewanick's top priority now is to make compelling changes that last, cementing order and purpose for GM's brands.

Wide review

Ewanick, the 49-year-old marketer behind the Hyundai Assurance campaign, arrived this month at GM after less than two months at Nissan North America.

Ewanick's operating style was formed largely as general marketing manager at nimble Porsche Cars North America -- a far cry from bureaucratic, cautious GM. At GM, he has shown himself decisive and open to reviewing every facet of GM marketing.

GM declined to make Ewanick available for an interview. Four people familiar with his work at GM spoke with Automotive News, but declined to be identified.

Right away at GM, he told staffers that "he needed the freedom to do his own thing," one source says. "So that's what he's doing. There's a clear understanding that if things aren't working, things are going to change."

GM marketers already had spent a year reeling from change before Ewanick arrived.

Mark LaNeve, vice president of U.S. sales, service and marketing, lost control of U.S. marketing in July and left GM in October. Next came then-Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, whose marketing tenure lasted five months, and then-U.S. sales and marketing boss Susan Docherty, who lasted five months and now is transferring to GM's Shanghai office.

They wrestled with the fallout from GM's bankruptcy last year while the automaker focused on restructuring and generating cash. Now, the sources say, Ewanick is concentrating on strategies for each brand. He wants to turn away from marketing the whole corporation.

At Cadillac, for instance, he is keeping the positioning that GM's marketers had already chosen, targeting German luxury brands. But the next round of advertising, due in late summer or early fall, will inaugurate a new campaign instead of continuing the one launched this month, two sources say.

The new commercials likely will omit the "Mark of Leadership" tag line that has appeared at the end of this month's new TV spots and may have another slogan in its place, one of the sources says.

Ewanick's primary focus is Chevrolet, two sources say, which has accounted for 72 percent of GM's U.S. light-vehicle 2010 sales through April.

Two weeks after GM announced Ewanick's appointment, the automaker said Chevrolet would change advertising agencies for the second time in a month. Publicis Worldwide was out, despite having won the account in April over 91-year Chevrolet ad partner Campbell-Ewald. The San Francisco shop Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which took Ewanick's Hyundai Assurance campaign from concept to air in 37 days, was in.

Ewanick has also nixed the print-only "Excellence for All" tag line."It's not something you're going to see for much longer," says Chevrolet spokesman Klaus-Peter Martin.

Ewanick also will try to improve GM's use of social media -- connecting customers through online campaigns that use blogs, Facebook and YouTube. That's an area where GM trails Ford Motor Co. and other competitors.

"We are light-years behind," one insider says. "That's where we need help."

Churning ad messages

Ewanick must avoid the miscues that plagued his predecessors.

Take Buick, for instance. While Hyundai was riding the momentum of Hyundai Assurance, which allows customers to return their car if they lose their income, Buick last June launched its "Take a look at me now" campaign and tag line.

When the spots, which portrayed vehicles as supermodels and featured a stuck-up Hollywood director, missed their mark, a new tag line and campaign debuted in September. Buick now stands for "The new class of world class."

Chevrolet similarly has decided to switch marketing messages twice in the last year. After the "American Revolution" tag line was declared dead in July, the brand ran a few commercials created both by Campbell-Ewald and Publicis. The new campaign was officially launched last week, with commercials from Publicis touting Chevrolet's "Red X" quality engineers. But Chevrolet is changing messages again, with Goodby on board and "Excellence for All" in the wastebasket.

The turmoil at least requires a fresh round of bonding between GM marketing staffers and new brand chiefs. Chevrolet, Cadillac and Buick-GMC each have had at least three head marketers in the past 12 months.

"It's like a clean slate, since all our leaders on the brand are new," one insider says. "We're trying to work with them and trying to understand them.

"Everybody here in GM wants to be successful, but all the turmoil of management changes makes it very difficult."

With so many ideas and managers canned in recent months, some sources say GM's marketing staff is nervous or "hunkered down."

"We were told a week before we knew Joel was coming that 'this is our team; now, let's go,'" one insider says. "But the latest changes have cut the wind out of everybody's sails. Now we have to climb the mountain again to the new leader, scrap stuff and start over."

But others say staffers finally feel they're free to move forward and build brand strategies that last.

"I'm pretty comfortable that this is the last change," one person says. "Now if we have problems with executions, we'll do what we need to do. But we're going forward."

Jean Halliday and Jamie LaReau contributed to this report

OUT WITH THE OLD, OUT WITH THE NEW

Since May 2009, GM has churned marketing executives, ad agencies and ad campaigns. Here is a sampling.

U.S. marketing chiefs' revolving door

Mark LaNeve: 2005 to July 2009

Bob Lutz: July to December

Susan Docherty: December to May

Joel Ewanick: Arrived from Nissan in May

Churn among Cadillac marketing heads

Mark McNabb: 2008 until June 1, 2009.our story said he'd "leave on June 1"

Steve Hill: Interim had that specific title in June 1 and July 31 2009.

Bryan Nesbitt: August 1 to March 2

Don Butler: Took over in March

Musical chairs at ad agencies

Old New

Chevrolet Campbell-Ewald, Publicis Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

Cadillac Modernista Bartle Bogle Hegarty

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100531/RETAIL03/305319963/1018#ixzz0pVlHUL2X

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