Much has been written about President-elect Obama’s opportunity to globally rebrand America. I propose it’s not the “brand” that tens of millions of Americans voted to change, but rather how the brand is expressed and operationalized at home and abroad. One of new management’s first challenges is to determine whether one of the country’s most cherished sub brands, namely the American automobile industry, can create and market products that reflect this new brand expression. History suggests they can.
Yesterday’s New York Times featured an interesting look at the “divergent paths” of the iconic Swedish auto brands Saab and Volvo. Both were orphaned by their parent companies, GM and Ford respectively, during the global economic downturn.
New mobile applications from automakers GM, Mercedes, Ford and BMW advance the concept of branded utility in profound ways. Recent apps from these brands blur the lines between branded utilities and pure product features. And there are important implications in the auto industry and beyond.
A fairly brilliant spoof of GM’s “re: invention” spot is making its way around the Net. It’s easy enough to make fun of GM from A to Z (A is for Aztec...B is for Buick...C is for Cimarron...), but this spoof points to something broader: a complete distrust of GM’s voice, message and methods. Any advertisement that begins with “let’s be completely honest” is setting itself up for mockery (and failure), especially in a networked world. Shame on IPG’s Deutsch and McCann agencies for letting that line make the spot, much less lead it.
Alfred P. Sloan’s famous quote epitomized the strategy that built GM into what was once the largest company on the planet. And while an entire laundry list of problems led to GM’s bankruptcy, the mismanagement or gross misinterpretation of Sloan’s strategy is what ultimately led to the behemoth’s demise.
This week, as debate over the Detroit bailout rages on, we look back at the Big Three’s record of foresight and innovation... The 2006 Apprentice/Tahoe user-generated culturejam gives a voice to more and more Americans who no longer self-identify with the worldview promoted in Detroit’s advertising.
In a letter to employees, General Motors CEO Mary Barra wrote the company's "reputation" won't be determined by the ongoing recall of 1.6 million vehicles with potentially fatal ignition switch problems -- but how it addresses the "problem going forward." Effort Gets Mixed Reviews From Crisis Experts.
Imagine that you were just named to a CEO position at a top corporation. This has to be one of the most thrilling adventures of your life. But after only a few weeks on the job, you learn that the company has been hiding information for over a decade about a product defect that cost the lives of 13 people, and you will need to recall millions of units from consumers. Mary Barra, CEO of GM, doesn’t have to imagine the situation; she is living it.
Nearly every automaker is working on some form of autonomous vehicle technology, but according to a new study, consumers are more interested in a self-driving car from Google than General Motors.
Canadian publication Maclean’s this week announced a study from the Advertising Research Foundation in New York City. The article states the respected Foundation recently tested a “blank” ad on Facebook whose click-thru rate performed only .01% less well than regular Facebook ads.
Auto makers are deeply concerned that Millennials don’t care about vehicles nearly as much as they do about the next iPhone. So the companies have become decidedly more intent on roping in these car-reluctant twenty-somethings. That’s one big reason why, for instance, Ford has decided to set up shop, literally, in Silicon Valley, and why General Motors has turned for marketing advice to MTV.
When Ridley Scott created Apple's iconic "1984," the company's board didn't want it to air. Newly hired CEO John Sculley, veteran of many a Super Bowl ad as CEO of Pepsi-Cola Co., agreed with the consensus: It's a waste to run an ad that doesn't even show the product. Apple ended up selling off some of its planned Super Bowl ad time and ran "1984" in the 60-second slot it couldn't unload. The rest, as they say, is history. The Macintosh did change the world as Steve Jobs said it would, and Apple is the most valuable company on the planet. The commercial also ushered in an era in Super Bowl advertising that we still inhabit: the ad as entertainment. That we expect ads during the Super Bowl to be as entertaining as the game itself can largely be traced back to "1984." But if that were the end of the story, we'd all still be watching high-concept minimovies directed by auteurs that made us think or feel different
When Ridley Scott created Apple's iconic "1984," the company's board didn't want it to air. Newly hired CEO John Sculley, veteran of many a Super Bowl ad as CEO of Pepsi-Cola Co., agreed with the consensus: It's a waste to run an ad that doesn't even show the product. Apple ended up selling off some of its planned Super Bowl ad time and ran "1984" in the 60-second slot it couldn't unload. The rest, as they say, is history. The Macintosh did change the world as Steve Jobs said it would, and Apple is the most valuable company on the planet.
The brand new Land Rover Range Rover Evoque started 2012 off right – with a prestigious North American Truck of the Year win at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan. This topped off a terrific 2011 for the Tata Motors-owned brand, with Land Rover sales up an impressive 19.6% to 38,099 in a new car market that grew by 10.6%. The success of this off-road brand is in stark contrast to its former competitor, GM’s Hummer, which logged no new sales last year and like so many Hollywood marriages, failed to survive to the 10-year anniversary it would have celebrated this year. As you may recall, on February 24, 2010, eight months into its post-bankruptcy life, and nearly eight years after debuting the H2, GM officially announced they would begin the wind-down process for the Hummer brand. The last Hummer rolled off the Shreveport production line in 2010. So how did these two brands with arguably analogous products end up with such different fortunes?
In the 20th century, a select group of leaders — General Motor's Alfred Sloan, HP's David Packard and Bill Hewlett, and GE's Jack Welch — set the standard for the way corporations are run. In the 21st century only IBM's Sam Palmisano has done so. When Palmisano retired this month, the media chronicled his success by focusing on IBM's 21% annual growth in earnings per share and its increase in market capitalization to $218 billion. But IBM hasn't flourished because it kowtows to Wall Street. In fact, five years after Palmisano took over, IBM stock was stuck where it had been when his tenure began.
With familiar and storied brands like Saturn, Pontiac, Hummer and Mercury recently heading for the automotive graveyard, the idea of bringing back Italian brand Fiat to U.S. showrooms this month after a 27-year hiatus may seem like fool's errand. But don't tell that to Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, who is also CEO of Chrysler.
First it was bye-bye, Oldsmobile. Then General Motors deep-sixed the Saturn, Saab, Pontiac and Hummer brands as part of its cataclysmic government bailout last year. And now, GM is kicking one more old friend to the curb: Mr. Goodwrench.
Many North Americans would scarcely believe their ears if they heard what Gina Burton has done. A Toronto mother of two in her early 50s, Ms Burton drove a Volvo for 10 years. But, she says, “I just don’t think that the last Volvo drove as well as the others.” So in August, she traded in her Cross Country estate for a Buick Enclave, one of GM’s upscale crossover sport-utility vehicles.
Nissan's new marketing boss, Jon Brancheau, has only been in his job for three months, but he has been a car marketer for a lifetime. He grew up around the business, his father having worked at General Motors in a Cadillac assembly plant during the 1950s and 1960s. Mr. Brancheau followed in his father's footsteps for a time, leading marketing for Saab and later running GM's international media operations, before jumping over to Nissan Motor America in 2008 to oversee global marketing for Nissan's Infiniti division. Two years later -- after the abrupt departure of his predecessor, Joel Ewanick -- he was made VP-marketing for Nissan.
Repositioning your company can be an invigorating move — it's exciting to take a fresh approach and go after new opportunities. But change is also risky and over time, the momentum behind it can wane. When that happens, it's not uncommon for individuals, units, or entire organizations to default to the old strategy. If your team relapses, how can you get things back on track and people re-focused on the new direction?
GM plans to make a big splash on next year's Super Bowl, which I find surprising and disappointing. It's a surprise because it's such a dumb idea. Ads on the Super Bowl are a rarefied group intended to one-up one another with creative and/or sleaze (or both). It's a big viewership event, for sure, but brands have to pay big time for the privilege of exposure while dumbing down the marketing content so there's any hope of breaking through the clutter. Super Bowl ads are reviewed and remembered as advertising, not meaningful communication. GM use to waste money on it back when it used to waste money on everything. It was a dumb idea then, and it's still a dumb idea now...for any brand.
If there's one thing Joel Ewanick has made clear since joining General Motors Co. three months ago, it's that he doesn't let grass grow under his feet. And the company's VP-marketing isn't slowing down anytime soon: In a wide-ranging interview with Ad Age today, Mr. Ewanick let drop that the automaker will return to the Super Bowl in 2011; that an ad campaign will break next month for Chevy Camaro; and that there's a new tagline coming for Cadillac, "The new standard for the world."
The absurd move by General Motors to force the use of the name "Chevrolet," over the popular "Chevy" -- whether a PR stunt or not -- is growing evidence of the invisible cognitive force that keeps marketers confused and wavering. Want to know what that force is?
The upfront market, the annual mating dance in which ad buyers and major broadcast networks haggle over ad time for the new TV season, is heating up, and could be sold out in a matter of weeks, ad buyers and marketers say. It's a major reversal from last year when talks dragged on through much of the summer in a harsh economic climate.
Less than a week after stepping into his role as top marketer at General Motors, Joel Ewanick is striking fear along GM's entire ad agency roster by prepping his first big change: shifting creative duties on the $600 million Chevrolet account to Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners only weeks after it was consolidated at Publicis Groupe's Publicis.
We blog a lot about Ford around here, mostly because they’ve done a stellar job of integrating social media both into their marketing campaigns and into their vehicles. But as of today, there’s a new sheriff in town: Chevrolet. With the Volt, Chevrolet’s new electric vehicle, the company is rolling out an excellent integration with the Android OS and OnStar that will allow for voice-activated features and mobile-to-car communication.
General Motors Co. earned $865 million in the first quarter as strengthening sales and savings won through bankruptcy helped drive to auto maker to its first quarterly profit since 2007. The auto maker made an operating profit of $1.2 billion and generated $1 billion in cash. Global revenue grew 40% from a year ago to $31.5 billion, as the auto maker increased production 57% world-wide from a year ago.
General Motors Co. wanted Joel Ewanick so badly that it twice made a run at him -- and only won out after giving in to his biggest demand: autonomy. Mr. Ewanick, a veritable rock star in the auto-marketing world, shocked the industry last week when he left Nissan -- where he was VP-marketing for just five weeks after having left Hyundai Motor America in March -- to become the new VP-U.S. marketing for GM.
General Motors Co. removed a recently named marketing chief Wednesday and replaced her with an executive known in the car industry for a clever campaign that helped Hyundai Motor Co. bolster its U.S. sales. The move reflects the urgency Chairman and Chief Executive Edward E. Whitacre Jr. places on winning customers and increasing sales in the critical U.S. market. Since becoming chairman last summer, Mr. Whitacre has made it no secret that he expects GM to gain share in the U.S. market, and sees raising sales as critical to its turnaround.
Mr. Clean is a car wash in Texas. Gerber sells baby life insurance. Caterpillar makes flashlights. I think the brand extension business is just a little crazy. I get why it should work, and I certainly know why businesses want it to. Any survey or focus group will tell you that consumers associate brands with purposes. GM makes cars. Apple makes computers. They also attach emotions to them, however unfairly and unevenly. GM cars aren't any good, while Apple's computers are cool. Comcast is a service nightmare. These internal states of brand awareness have value that should be transferrable to other products and services, especially if they keep within the constraints of that knowledge. Gillette should be able to sell men's grooming products because its brand is already all about razors. Microsoft sells computer hardware because it’s already in the software business. Such "extending" isn't a reach because the new products are easier to embrace and buy due to the power of the brands. Selling them that way is cheaper than trying to invent awareness from scratch. Is it really that easy?
Ford Motor Co. surpassed General Motors Co. in sales last month for the first time in at least 50 years, presenting a new headache for the government-owned car maker as it struggles to return to profitability. Hours after the sales results were disclosed Tuesday, GM announced an overhaul of its top managers—the second executive shuffle in three months. The news underscored the impatience of GM Chief Executive Edward E. Whitacre Jr. and the heat the company is feeling from a resurgent Ford.
The seemingly continuous commercials during the coverage of the Winter Games on the networks of NBC Universal gave a new meaning to the term “snow job.” It was as if every spot showed snow, or ice, or both, in which skiers, skaters and snowboarders cavorted. That made it difficult for ad-weary, ad-bleary viewers to distinguish the commercials from the actual coverage of the Vancouver Olympics. Perhaps that was the sponsors’ fiendish intent: to perpetrate the ultimate blurring of the line between advertising and content.
The Ford Motor Company earned $2.7 billion in 2009 and said Thursday that it now expected to be profitable in 2010 as well. The profit for 2009, equal to 86 cents a share, was a swing of $17.5 billion from 2008, when the company lost $14.8 billion. It is Ford’s first full-year profit since 2005. The company ended 2009 with $25.5 billion in cash reserves, nearly twice the $13.4 billion it had at the start of the year. It also expects an operating profit in 2010, which is a year sooner than executives had previously said the company would become consistently profitable.
General Motors is stepping decisively into the future with the announcement that it will design and build its own electric motors within two years. The automaker plans to invest $246 million in a factory that will start producing motors in 2013. GM says the move will ensure it keeps abreast of advancements in technology and delivers the highest quality at the lowest cost. With the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric vehicle coming this year and its next-gen two-mode hybrid vehicles slated for 2013, GM says it must make batteries, motors and the related electronic systems “core technologies.”
Foreign car makers are marketing their vehicles more aggressively in the U.S., and are making the Super Bowl a high-profile part of their strategies for wresting market share from American rivals. On Feb. 7, tens of millions of football fans will see about a half-dozen auto commercials from at least four overseas manufacturers flicker across their TV screens during the big game. Last year, three auto makers, advertised on the Super Bowl broadcast.
U.S. government officials and business leaders were supportive but wary of taking sides in Google Inc.'s battle with China, a sign of the delicate tensions between the growing superpower and the West. The White House said it would wait to comment until China responded to Google's threat to bolt from China, over censorship and alleged cyber spying. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke called Google's charge that it and dozens of companies were hacked "troubling" and encouraged China "to work with Google and other U.S. companies to ensure a climate for secure commercial operations in the Chinese market."
General Motors Co. will make money in 2010, its chairman said Wednesday, a bold and surprising forecast for a business that exited bankruptcy proceedings just last summer and hasn't turned an annual profit since 2004. "My prediction is we will be" profitable in 2010, Edward E. Whitacre Jr. told reporters at GM's Detroit headquarters, a sign of rising confidence that also sets a tough benchmark for the still-struggling car maker's employees. "Do we have obstacles in the way? Yes. But we have a good management team and a good plan in place."
General Motors Co. is offering its dealers hefty incentives to move thousands of leftover vehicles from its discontinued Saturn and Pontiac brands. The unusual tactic could inflate the car maker's December sales and cut the cost to car buyers by as much as 46% off the sticker price.
Last year, most Americans felt as if they had been hit in the head by a 4-iron. Wall Street nearly collapsed. The economy plunged into its deepest recession in decades. As housing prices sank, many homeowners realized that they owed more on their mortgages than their homes were worth. Millions lost their jobs, and even those who didn’t hunkered down, burying their wallets in the backyard. This year — with more than a few bumps along the way — the situation brightened. With that, here’s a look back at five of the biggest business stories of this year — and what to look for in the next 12 months.
General Motors Co. named Microsoft Corp.'s outgoing finance chief, Chris Liddell, as its chief financial officer and vice chairman, the car maker's latest move in an ongoing executive shake-up under its new chairman and chief executive. Mr. Liddell replaces Ray Young, who is moving to the company's international operations in Shanghai. Mr. Liddell, who will take over in early 2010, joins the auto maker about a month after resigning from Microsoft to pursue an opportunity with wider responsibilities—and the potential to ascend to a chief executive post.
General Motors Co. said it had received several new inquiries about its Saab business—including another bid from Dutch sports-car maker Spyker Cars NV—but that it still was making preparations to wind down the Swedish auto maker. Spyker tried to resurrect a deal with a new offer it hopes will overcome the obstacles that caused its talks with GM to collapse. The U.S. auto maker Friday said that unidentified and unsolvable issues had arisen in plans to sell Saab to Spyker and it would shut the business.
General Motors Co will wind down operations at Saab, its money-losing Swedish unit, after a last-ditch attempt to sell it to small Dutch luxury carmaker Spyker Cars failed, the automaker said on Friday.
NBC has joined the immortals of marketing stupidity. This year the molting peacock network and president Jeff “Have They Fired Me Yet?” Zucker decided to turn five of the primest pieces of prime-time real estate — the hour between 10 and 11 PM from Monday through Friday — into the Jay Leno hour. The result? A 28% drop in viewership (through mid-November). This has not only killed network revenues but done in affiliates who have no lead-in for their late news casts.
General Motors’ new chief executive said the carmaker was “looking at the possibility” of paying back its US government bail-out loans from its cash reserves. Ed Whitacre made the comments on Monday in response to a question posed during a webchat, his first meeting with the media since adding the chief executive job to his role as chairman of GM last week.
Gone are the days of relying solely on boasts about towing capacities and horsepower to move the metal. Ford and Chevy dealers soon will start talking more about fuel economy and iPod outlets as the companies roll out new compact and subcompact cars.
General Motors has shaken up its management team just three days after Fritz Henderson was sacked as chief executive. Ed Whitacre, GM’s chairman and acting CEO, put his stamp further on the majority US government-owned carmaker by announcing a new management line-up. Nick Reilly, head of GM’s international operations, was sent to Europe to finish the contentious restructuring of Opel and Vauxhall that has taken nearly a year, and 77-year-old industry legend Bob Lutz has moved into an advisory role.
Spyker, the Netherlands-based maker of supercars, confirmed it was in talks with General Motors about buying its Saab brand. This came as Merbanco, a Wyoming-based merchant bank leading a group of US investors bidding for Saab, said the consortium had dropped out of the running to buy it.
General Motors ousted Fritz Henderson as chief executive on Tuesday night in a surprise move that will see ailing US government-controlled carmaker get its second new boss in less than a year. GM directors – who include Ed Whitacre, chairman and now interim chief executive, and David Bonderman, co-founder of private equity firm TPG – decided that the company would be better going into its intial public offering with a different chief executive, according to people familiar with the situation.
A few weeks ago, Marc Fitten, editor of the Chattahoochee Review, wrote an op-ed called "Our Cars, Ourselves" in The New York Times that said this: "GM left its Atlanta plant to rot. So I left my GM loyalty behind." GM is an example of how branding is changing in this post-economic era. The field of brand strategy needs to change as much as the derivative business because the market is changing, the climate is changing, technology is changing, and the customer is changing.
Heeding the wisdom of Peter Drucker might have helped us avoid—and will help us solve—numerous challenges plaguing communities around the world: restoring trust in business in the wake of accounting scandals and the global financial crisis; attracting and motivating the best talent without creating crippling financial commitments; addressing societal problems such as climate change, health care, and public education; dealing with trouble spots in central Asia and the Middle East. If Peter Drucker were here today, what would he have to say about such pressing matters?
During General Motors' financial meltdown this year, politicians, corporate executives and journalists piled on to gripe about the auto-maker's business. Most of the chatter was expected, admits Christopher Preuss, GM's vice president of communications. What surprised company execs was the number of bloggers and social media hounds who chimed in to grouse about the car-maker and its vehicles.
Detroit's year of bad news just got worse: the car industry isn't only losing sales from current buyers depressed by the economy -- it's losing the future. A new J.D. Power report says teens and twenty-somethings lack what was once thought to be the genetic desire to own a car. The study, which analyzed hundreds of thousands of conversations on blogs and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, showed young people have a poor image of the auto industry. The bad economy and high gas prices could be to blame. But J.D. Power blames social media itself: "with the advent of social media and other forms of electronic communities, teens perceive less of a need to physically congregate, and less of a need for a mode of transportation.”
It's doubly depressing to see Saturn make its final bow. Depressing, because it's always hard to watch loyal employees lose their jobs. Depressing, too, because many of the brand's newly written obituaries completely miss the real reasons behind Saturn's demise, and the real damage the brand did to GM. To understand why Saturn was destined to fail you must travel back to a freezing cold January day in 1985 in Warren, Michigan.
General Motors Corp. said it wasn't going to do corporate ads -- and then it put Chairman Ed Whitacre in its multiple-model "May the Best Car Win" campaign. The automaker also said it was going to create distinctive advertising for its four remaining vehicle brands, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC -- but tell that to subscribers of Newsweek and BusinessWeek.
It's the end of the road for Saturn, as General Motors Co. pulls the plug on the iconic car brand following an11th-hour breakdown in talks with would-be buyer Roger Penske. The deal to sell the brand to the race car legend turned successful businessman was to have closed this month -- perhaps as early as this week. But GM President-CEO Fritz Henderson said late today that Penske Automotive Group "has decided to terminate discussions with General Motors to acquire Saturn," which he called "very disappointing news" following "months of hard work by hundreds of dedicated employees and Saturn retailers who tried to make the new Saturn a reality." He said the decision was not based on interactions with GM or Saturn dealers; rather, Penske terminated the deal because it was unable to secure a source of new product beyond what GM would build on contract.
Watching football last weekend, I saw a commercial for the new 2010 Buick LaCrosse. I couldn’t tell you what the commercial said, because I was in shock looking at a car that I found hard to believe was a Buick. All car commercials are basically the same, but, despite the droning ad speak, this car was something new. At least it appeared to be. Now, for decades Buick has produced cars that I imagine were designed by a committee of tired, old, white, golfing buddies who never actually worked in the same room at the same time. The cars looked more like adequate results rather than ambitious, intensely focused statements. So where did THIS car come from?
I really like the spirit of GM's "May the Best Car Win" campaign, even before seeing the execution. The concept itself is brilliantly simple and direct: comparison shop, even if you hadn't originally planned on it. And it comes with a 60-day satisfaction guarantee (full refund, no questions asked). Here's how I would do it.
In an effort to win back the trust of American consumers, General Motors has started offering a 60-day "Satisfaction Guarantee" to eligible buyers of new Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles. The new promotion, part of GM’s "May the Best Car Win" campaign, fronted by the company’s new chairman Ed Whitacre, allows customers to return a vehicle to their dealer between 31 and 60 days of purchase and receive a refund. The program runs from Sept. 14 through Nov. 30, although the company left open the possibility it may be extended. In a conference call, Bob Lutz, GM vice chairman, marketing and communications, did not reveal the level of marketing support behind the effort. However, he said that on an index basis the auto company is matching spending levels of its closest competitor in the U.S., Toyota, and will out-spend the Japanese company in this current initiative.
It’s easy to blame a brand bankruptcy on the economy, but it may be more complicated than that. “The brutality of this economy is not only exposing toxic assets, but poorly differentiated brands,” says John Gerzema, author of the best-selling book The Brand Bubble. “Many had a common inability to build strong brand differentiation and lead the consumer forward. Deficits that became that much more apparent in times like these”. Gerzema’s point is well taken. In his book, Gerzema addresses the changing role of the consumer when it comes to assessing brands. He says consumers “are increasingly acting like investors. They have heightened expectations for brands to continuously surprise, adapt, and evolve.” Brands that go bankrupt, Gerzema says, “aren’t evolving, or aren’t different enough to begin with.”
Chevy worked overtime to produce a lot of buzz for the estimated 230 miles/gallon for its Volt EREV, and I'm not sure anybody cared. It wasn't as auspicious coming out party for the "new" GM. It's too bad, because the Volt EREV (for Extended-Range Electric Vehicle) deserves the attention...and GM should get the credit.
An effort to sell General Motors Co. cars through eBay Inc.'s online market is generating some leads for participating auto dealers but hasn't yet sparked a spurt in sales, dealers said. The companies rolled out the four-week pilot program for California customers Aug. 11. Under it, shoppers using special eBay sites can purchase GM cars at a "buy it now" price, or bargain online with a dealer. GM and eBay said they would measure success based on the degree of customer interaction with the sites and the program's ability to generate leads, but also said they expected customers to "complete quite a few transactions."
General Motors’ new advertising and marketing czar is Bob Lutz, who until April of this year headed global product development. According to CEO Fritz Henderson: “Bob’s responsibilities beyond creative design will include brands, marketing, advertising and communications.” (I can visualize Bob at his first meeting with one of GM’s agencies: “I’m not a marketing expert, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”)
General Motors Co. doesn't appear to be learning from its mistakes: The trimmed-down, "new" GM still looks a lot like the old one, with too many vehicle brands and too many overlapping U.S. models.
GM is continuing to push ahead with a company reinvention and in an unprecedented move, has created The Lab blog to post concept work from the design studios online. Two concepts have just been added which are results of an ECOinitiative project aimed at understanding and developing greener transportation alternatives. The two concepts explore the theme of the ‘Bare Necessity’ which as GM Designer Therese Tant writes is a back-to basics approach, less is more, less cost, less complexity = efficiency.
Fritz Henderson, CEO of General Motors Co., admitted this morning in a live webcast that the automaker was indeed behind the mysterious, unbranded website whatis230.com, as first reported here last week. The number's significance, Mr. Henderson said, is that the Chevrolet Volt plug-in car due later this year is expected to get city fuel economy of at least 230 miles per gallon, or 25 kilowatt hours per 100 miles.
The deep recession and financial meltdown we are experiencing have put consumer-goods marketers into an enterprise-threatening economic environment. How long it will last, of course, is anyone's guess. As we well know, a market for a product must meet three conditions before consumer spending occurs. First, there must be a need or want in the consumer's mind. Marketers are trained to stimulate existing wants and create new ones.
If six months from now, "GM ads look the same as they did six months ago," said Bob Lutz, "then somebody really needs to ask, 'Why is Lutz here?'" The 77-year-old vice chairman and chief marketer of General Motors wants to "recapture the attention of the American public" and to achieve that, he told Automotive News, he's looking toward more product-driven advertising in which designers will have a greater hand, and he will rely more on PR and viral marketing.
My ex-partner Al Ries and I rarely disagree, but we do part company on his column titled "GM's Lutz Appointment Shows No Respect for Marketing." In my estimation this move supports what Dave Packard of Hewlett-Packard once said: "Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing people."
General Motors' new advertising and marketing czar is Bob Lutz, who until April of this year headed global product development. According to CEO Fritz Henderson: "Bob's responsibilities beyond creative design will include brands, marketing, advertising and communications." (I can visualize Bob at his first meeting with one of GM's agencies: "I'm not a marketing expert, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.")
GM's new marketing top gun, Bob Lutz, met with the automaker's brand teams on July 14, spent 10 to 20 minutes critiquing the work for each brand and, in the words of someone in the know, "crapped all over the advertising." Then he jetted off to the Caribbean island of Montserrat on holiday, leaving some scared individuals in his wake.
As if the recession pummeling the industry wasn't enough, the business is starting to feel besieged by the Beltway. There are efforts to strip the $4.7 billion direct-to-consumer-drug category of its tax deductibility; congressional concern over consumer tracking on the internet, endangering the $23.4 billion online-ad market; Food and Drug Administration scrutiny of such household names as Cheerios and Tylenol; proposed guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission seeking disclosure for paid blog posts, even tweets; and, of course, the federal government's strong hand in setting -- and sitting on -- ad budgets at Chrysler and General Motors. With a new Congress and an administration seeking funding for health care and other programs, marketing has become an unpopular and easy target ripe for regulation and shakedown to fund the federal piggy bank.
Two items in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye today. Both show us the American corporation as it struggles to divine the mysteries of American culture.
Much, and I mean much, has been written about the General Motors crisis. Some claim it’s hopeless. Others say there’s a chance that things will work out in time. No one writes about the fact that success or failure will not revolve around the GM brand. (No one walks into a car dealership and asks for a GM car.) Their future depends on how well their remaining brands are positioned and how well each strategy is executed. In some ways it is a replay of Alfred Sloan’s eliminating a number of GM brands, and building a gigantic business around five brands that became a “car for every purse and purpose”. But that was then. What’s available in today’s highly saturated and wildly competitive automobile market?
General Motors Co. Chief Executive Frederick "Fritz" Henderson is launching a public-relations salvo this week, activating an online suggestion box called Tell Fritz. The initiative, part of a wider assault the auto maker is waging to repair its tattered image, is designed to enable the 50-year-old executive to further distance himself from what has become known as the Old GM, or the auto maker that existed before Mr. Henderson steered the company through bankruptcy court in about 40 days.
GM's CMO Robert Lutz was recently told an awful truth: "In my group it is just uncool to drive a GM car -- even if they are as good as the imports." He replied: "I guess it depends whether you have your own personality or whether you are a lemming-like follower of current trends. I think an audacious and bold person with a mind of his or her own would go to a dealership and see that our new vehicles easily trounce the foreign competition. . . . It's uncool to drive an import." It's hard to assess how many ways this violates the marketer's handbook...but I'm going to try.
General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz says one of the first things he plans to do as the new head of marketing is make "drastic" changes in the "tone and content" of all of GM's advertising, according to Automotive News.
Now that GM is 'out' of bankruptcy (whatever that means), it's still spending approximately $50 million per month to run its "Reinvention" spots. If the recent emergence took 9 months to accomplish, the branding campaign presumes to close the door on 100 years of history in 30 seconds.
We are now seeing conferences dedicated solely to Twitter—the latest was Jeff Pulver's 140Char held in NYC. Like many others who were not at the event, I was able to attend virtually through following tweets. After a while I thought to myself—wait a minute, we're still just talking about "social media" in silos. What about the bigger picture? And what do you ask is the big picture?
Aiming to please too many different types of customers can be a fatal flaw. Focus on your core audience and don't waste money on the rest.
General Motors Corp. is looking to sell three brands and kill off one, Pontiac. And which brand was overwhelmingly named by consumers in a recent survey as the one they'd like to live on? Pontiac.
ValuJet was reborn as AirTran. Philip Morris rechristened itself Altria. Blackwater became Xe. Would a name change work for beleaguered General Motors? It would mean casting aside a brand that stood for almost a century as a symbol of American industrial might, but some marketing experts say it might be just the thing to help the once-mighty automaker make a fresh start.
The former VP-marketing and advertising at General Motors Corp. believes its culture is "so bureaucratic it stifles all passion and creativity" with bloated processes, woeful inefficiencies and an approach to its agencies that is threatening rather than productive. So says Mike Jackson, who left GM two years ago after seven years, pulling no punches in a recent guest column in Automotive News entitled "GM Must Overhaul Marketing."
How does unnovation happen, anyways? Why does the zombieconomy churn out unnovation as reliably as Lady Gaga churns out bad outfits?
GM says it is reinventing itself. And what makes them or the government think they can do that on top of old infrastructure and old ways even with our billions? Good fucking luck.
GM's financial quagmire and bizarre labor and bureaucratic practices notwithstanding, branding (or lack thereof) was a big part of their problem.
Can General Motors make up for decades of mistakes and misfires in a minute? That is the ambitious goal of a 60-second commercial to begin running on television on Wednesday. The spot is already available on a Web site (gmreinvention.com) and on YouTube.
Ford chief executive Alan Mulally is famous for one of the first decisions he made after joining the automotive company in 2006. Barely three months into his tenure, Mulally borrowed big, using his company as collateral. At the time, the decision raised eyebrows, but it is now widely regarded as a masterstroke. The $26bn he raised, when financing was still cheap and available, has enabled Ford to avoid bankruptcy or the need to seek government handouts. It has also led to a growing recognition that, compared with ailing rivals Chrysler and General Motors, Ford is in much better financial shape for the long haul.
There are many ads today from our imperiled banks, insurance companies and automakers telling us that we can still trust them and should still buy their products. But there's one word consumers haven't heard much that might serve these companies better than their current dirges: sorry.
The new owners of Saturn – whoever they are – will get a franchise that offers a fresh array of products and a dealer network well versed in providing a superior retail customer experience. What the new Saturn owners will not get, though, is a brand with a demonstrated ability to capture a substantial share of the U.S. market.
It’s no secret that American car companies are in trouble these days. With those troubles comes a huge spike in buzz for each respective company. Some would argue, despite the bad news, this increased public focus is an opportunity for auto brands to reposition in the market. Here is a quick look at how the bad news out of Detroit is playing out and who is making strides.
I hear that executive search firm Spencer Stuart is looking for recruits to repopulate GM's board of directors. Here is my application for their consideration: Dear Selection Committee, You need me. Well, not necessarily me, personally, but certainly you need someone like me.
The breakdown of two of Detroit's Big Three is bringing urgency to the scramble among the world's automakers to forge alliances with former rivals, carve inroads into new markets and shop for well-known brands.
General Motors plans to sell Saab, Saturn and Hummer by the end of the year and eliminate Pontiac entirely by the end of 2010. The timetable is part of a new viability plan that General Motor's new CEO, Fritz Henderson, presented to a media scrum in Detroit Monday. Henderson said the new plan reflects the government's insistence that GM move aggressively toward right-sizing, a point emphasized with the Administration's dismissal of CEO Rick Wagoner last month.
Detroit has never had a Chief Culture Officer, someone who could help the GM, Ford and Chrysler manage the opportunities and dangers that come from culture. (By "culture" I do not mean the corporate culture of Detroit. I mean the "software" with which we run the hardware of our world, the shared understandings, assumptions, rules and practices that inform how we see and act. This culture is rich, complicated and changeable. It needs someone standing watch all the time.)
U.S. News & World Report’s interview with Susan Docherty, North American Vice President for General Motors provided some valuable insight into the troubled car company. Her comments made it clear that GM is operating from a reactive, backward looking stance.
General Motors has all but bet its future on the Chevrolet Volt, but the government says the range-extended electric vehicle won't save the beleaguered automaker. "While the Volt holds promise, it likely will be too expensive to be commercially successful in the short term," President Obama's auto task force said in its assessment of GM's restructuring plan.
Some companies are in the steel business, some are in the cookie business, but General Motors is in the restructuring business. For 30 years, G.M. has been restructuring itself toward long-term viability. For all these years, G.M.’s market share has endured a long, steady slide. But this has not stopped the waves of restructuring. The PowerPoints have flowed, and always there has been the promise that with just one more cost-cutting push, sustainability nirvana will be at hand.
So we're supposed to believe Microsoft actually has a better brand than Apple?
For the first time since the financial difficulties of General Motors began threatening the company’s existence, a G. M. division will run advertising that addresses the effects of the precarious situation.
The biggest challenge in rebranding today is rebuilding consumer confidence.
Beleaguered dealers frustrated with General Motors Corp. for sitting quietly on the sidelines are clamoring for a national ad campaign to counteract the daily drumbeat of negative news about whether the company will go belly up.
In a few weeks we will learn the ultimate fate of GM's Saturn brand. A number of options are on the table, but it is now clear that Saturn is no longer part of GM's long-term future. How did a business-school case study, and a rare moment of GM shining brilliance, fall so far so fast? Yet, while Saturn has lost its trajectory in GM's orbit, it continues to point the way car companies and many other brands need to go in these challenging times.
From everything I can tell, the supposed details of the recovery plans delivered by GM and Chrysler to Washington this week make one thing perfectly clear: all hope is lost. Did anybody hear any reason to think that the Detroit automakers have figured out how to get people to buy their vehicles?
The brand that was once hailed as an important part of the future of General Motors now will be part of its past. G.M. said Tuesday that it would phase out its Saturn brand by 2012. It does not plan to develop any more new vehicles for Saturn, which began 19 years ago as an effort to attract owners of small Japanese cars.
If ever there was a time in which automotive companies needed to figure out how to talk with--not at--customers and voting citizens, this is it.
General Motors Corp. plans to unveil today five concept vehicles starring in the upcoming summer blockbuster sequel "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" -- a marketing move the struggling automaker is hoping will boost its image at a critical time.
Despite its looming demise, the American auto industry dismissed demands for brand reduction in December 2008. Forced by the federal government into a mea culpa that was supposed to include plans for drastic cost-cutting and other reformative measures, GM was expected to agree to eliminate a handful of its brands. But GM went no further than admitting it should streamline Pontiac, keep Hummer for sale and maybe ditch Saab.
Carmakers need to let go of their musty business models and start thinking like 21st century companies—like Google.
Turner is revving up another branded microseries initiative, signing General Motors as the sponsor of a five-part strip bowing Jan. 28.
Automakers want to spend less and target better, so buying advertising, creating content, including video, and getting involved more in social media marketing makes sense.
Chrysler said late today it will shut down all its plants at the end of the last shift on Dec. 19, with factory workers not back to work before Jan. 19. Despite that, the automaker will continue some current marketing efforts. Both Ford and GM have made similar moves.
The Washington hearings that brought automakers Alan Mulally, Robert Nardelli and Rick Wagoner to Capitol Hill to plead their case for bridge loans not only failed to give the loan bill legs in Congress, but has also hurt consumers' consideration of Detroit auto brands, according to a new survey by Synovate Motoresearch.
There was a hint of anticipation in some enthusiast circles last week when the Detroit 3 submitted their plans in Washington, D.C. Long the subject of Internet debate, these plans shed a light on which brands might be heading for the chopping block. Two GM brands seem most in jeopardy—Saab and Saturn—and Ford is reportedly considering selling Volvo. Looking back through old Consumer Reports road tests, you can see the shortcomings in these brands’ line-ups that led to their weaknesses.
After Congress told Detroit's Big Three CEOs to get back on their private jets and come back with a detailed plan the next time they came asking for a $25 billion loan, it was abundantly clear that GM, Ford and Chrysler had all terribly missed the mark from a PR and communications perspective.
On its return visit to a skeptical Congress this week, however, General Motors bowed its head. “G.M. has made mistakes in the past,” Mr. Wagoner told Congress, and named three: agreeing to expensive union contracts, not investing enough in smaller cars and failing to convert its plants so they could build more than one type of vehicle.
Auto makers are a Web-savvy bunch, known for using sophisticated digital-marketing techniques to promote their vehicles. Now, amid an industry crisis, they are using some of the same strategies to lobby for billions of dollars in federal aid.
Saturn was born in hope and hype nearly 25 years ago, but it presents General Motors Corp. with tough choices today as the automaker must scale back its money-losing operations and focus on other brands. GM's statement that it will "explore alternatives for the brand," leaves Saturn's 211 dealers -- who operate 425 sales outlets --facing an uncertain future. Most observers expect GM to either close or sell Saturn, but even those options present challenges.
General Motors has promised Congress that it can recreate itself as a different kind of car company — smaller, with a more cooperative relationship with its union, and a lineup of fuel-efficient cars to compete with the best of the foreign brands. At least G.M. knows how difficult the challenge will be. A quarter-century ago, G.M. started Project Saturn with the same goals.
As the Big Three U.S. automakers today unveiled business plans they promised to Congress to secure government funding, specifics on marketing and advertising spending went largely unaddressed by Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler -- though General Motors Corp. outlined a program to slash $600 million in spending by 2012 and support only half of its eight brands.
When the most respected business publication in the world writes a 2,000-word article on the problems of the U.S. automobile industry, you have to assume it knows what it's writing about. I wonder.
Organizations want to change our perceptions rapidly, through communication, rather than by the hard work of shaping our memories and feelings through experience. And they're increasingly finding that they can't.
The Detroit automakers have been lumped together for decades as the Big Three, and for good reason; their goals have usually been aligned. But this week, as the automakers take a second run at Congress, hoping to persuade lawmakers to give them $25 billion in federal aid, their agendas are diverging as they contemplate futures as drastically different car companies.
It looks as if Pontiac, Saab and Saturn could be on the General Motors endangered-brand list -- and with them some $300 million in measured-media spending.
2009 will be different: many great brands will fall, and so they should, because this is the way of the jungle. This is the game of capitalism and the rule by which it is played.
In many ways the story of General Motors since the 1960s is a tale of accelerating irrelevance. Customer preferences changed, competition tightened, technology made big leaps, and GM was always driving a lap behind.
This year's barrage of year-end auto clearance sale ads will be a little kinder and gentler.