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GM Marketing sends a message with the launch of the Chevrolet Cruze.

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GM Marketing sends a message with the launch of the Chevrolet Cruze.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

(Posted 9/7, 4:00PM) Detroit. How important is the launch of the Chevrolet Cruze in the U.S. market to General Motors? It’s only the most pivotal mainstream car launch in GM history, it’s that important. The Chevrolet Volt may be more important in terms of polishing the company’s Green image and establishing GM as an environmental leader, but the success of the Chevrolet Cruze is absolutely crucial in order for GM to remain a mainstream force in this market. And because of this the coming twelve months will be fascinating to watch.

GM, with its Chevy Cruze, and Ford, with its all-new Focus (which arrives next spring), will be redefining what the mainstream American car will look and feel like. Driven by upcoming environmental and fuel economy regulations, the traditional “mid-size” American car will no longer exist. In its place will be the Cruze and Focus, two of the most leading edge, contemporary products the American market has seen from American manufacturers in well, ever.

More than that, the “buzz” associated with these products will be fueled by their marketing campaigns, and in Chevy’s case, GM’s new chief marketing executive, Joel Ewanick, will be watched very closely by industry observers, competitors and by GM upper management alike as he and his team bring the Cruze to market. Ewanick - who made a name for himself by creating big ad splashes for Hyundai on the Super Bowl and in other media avenues - has developed the new advertising for the Cruze using the talents of his handpicked ad agency for Chevrolet: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

But those expecting a big Ewanick-signature ad splash with this new campaign are going to be surprised, because Ewanick and his marketing troops haven’t exactly blown the roof off of the joint with this new work for the Cruze, but then again they haven’t gone stone-cold conservative, either. There are no grandiose pronouncements, none of the relentless hype, and there are no attention-grabbing stunts anywhere to be found in this new work for the Cruze. Instead, the launch work ends-up somewhere in-between, smack dab in the middle of everything else going on in the automobile advertising spectrum at the moment.

Why is that? And will that be enough to get the Cruze launched in this market?

The first question is easy to answer. Until GM gets this IPO business behind it, Ewanick understands that he can ill-afford to come out with guns blazing and a staggeringly expensive ad campaign that falls into the trap of generating too much hype for the spot - and the stars in it - and not enough attention on the Cruze itself. If that happened it would be disastrous and could in fact cripple the launch itself.

No, Ewanick & Company are going to surgically present the Cruze as the quintessential American value. Not wrapping the Cruze in the flag, but rather stressing its impressive content, its even more impressive fuel economy, and its inherent overall goodness at every opportunity. The whole premise of the new Chevrolet Cruze is that you can expect more - of everything - than you thought possible in a car of this overall package size, and the advertising is going to dwell on that, relentlessly.

The actor Tim Allen will do the voiceover work on the spots, not because of his TV and film career, but because he did such a sensational job on the award-winning “Pure Michigan” tourism campaign for the state over the last eighteen months. An interesting choice to be sure, but judging by what I’ve heard, one that will work well and feel exactly right for the campaign.

So in the end, far from taking the lightning-rod approach, which would have guaranteed instant notoriety and provocative headlines about the advertising - but not necessarily the product, Joel Ewanick has signaled that he – and GM marketing – are in this fight for the long haul.

After watching decades of message consistency from Toyota and Honda, which resulted in a laser-focused brand image for both automakers, GM has finally woken up to the realities – thanks to Ewanick – of what competing marketing-wise in this business really means.

It not only means having the right product, it means having the right strategy to bring that product to market. And on top of that, you need the right communications about that product – on every level – to reach consumers in meaningful ways that will resonate with them for a long time to come.

I expect the Cruze – and the Cruze launch – to be formidable in this market. Ewanick is not only savvy enough to tailor the Cruze ad message for all the constituencies involved – when it would have been so easy to err in the wrong direction – he has the war chest to hammer home the Cruze message relentlessly and consistently for many, many months to come.

Which is exactly the way the import competition has approached this market - and grown to dominate it - for years.

Will it be enough? We shall see. The competition isn’t rolling over – Ford in particular will have a lot to say with its new Focus – but for the first time in, oh, 25 years or so GM marketing seems to have its proverbial $h! together.

It’s going to be interesting to watch.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

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