October 26, 2011
GM Marketing's tall order: Taking Chevy global.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 10/25, 7:30 p.m.) Detroit. All the buzz in marketing these days (automotive or otherwise) is global efficiency. In automotive, especially in automotive, it’s what the way of the world has come to. When a company is seeking out efficiencies in vehicle architectures that will work on a global scale, spreading out the costs of vehicle research and development across a spectrum of markets, and buying parts and pieces with an equally global eye on costs, it’s easy to see why the last bastion of cost – automotive marketing and advertising – is now squarely in the crosshairs of enthusiastic efficiency minions at car companies around the globe.
As for the domestic auto companies, Ford embarked on this trip years ago, when Alan Mulally began preaching his “One Ford” mantra internally at the Dearborn-based automaker. Winnowing vehicle architectures, reducing duplication in parts and pieces, consolidating R & D costs whenever possible, and generally turning Ford into a leaner, meaner automotive machine that operates with a much lower cost structure and a laser-like focus, Ford bears little resemblance to the company he took over.
And now, Jim Farley, Ford’s global marketing chief, has been applying that same mindset to Ford marketing and advertising across the globe. Keeping this discussion with the domestic players, Ford has at least a three-year head start on GM and Chevrolet in their quest to gain global marketing efficiencies. We’ll leave Fiat-Chrysler out of this discussion because 1. It’s no longer a domestic automaker, and 2. The interminable handwringing over its product portfolio will prevent the enterprise from even considering global marketing efficiencies any time soon.
Farley and his Ford marketing team have learned that in general the overall quality of the advertising across the globe can be raised with concerted effort. Regions that suffered from weak advertising strategies and executions can generally be helped and the overall bar can be raised. But I think they’ve also discovered that even with the quality of the advertising raised, in some instances the overall impact of the advertising can be diluted if certain regional opportunities are ignored or left unexploited because they didn’t quite “fit” the agreed-upon global message.
GM and its largest division – Chevrolet – are now jumping into this same arena with both feet. As you read this, Joel Ewanick, GM’s global marketing honcho, is receiving pitches from four global advertising holding companies, all of which are salivating at the prospect of landing one of the biggest advertising accounts in the world. The names of these advertising holding companies aren’t important (for the record they are Cheil Worldwide from Korea, Interpublic Group, Omnicom Group and Publicis Group) in this forum, but the end result that Ewanick is looking for is. GM is absolutely hell-bent on turning Chevrolet into a globally recognized, powerhouse brand. That takes outstanding products, first and foremost, but it also requires a clear, concise, consistent and unified message, which is exactly what Ford has been projecting around the world with its “One Ford” and “Drive One” signatures, and what Chevrolet is hoping to do with its “Chevy Runs Deep” tagline.
Except there are subtle differences between what Ford has been doing and what Chevrolet wants to do.
Ford started out with solid name recognition around the world because of its historical automotive legacy and because Ford has simply been more active in more places around the globe as Ford. And they’ve been doing it for much longer as well.
Conversely, though Chevrolet is indeed part of the American fabric, around the rest of the world the brand is in a decidedly introductory mode, thus Ewanick’s imperative to have a global thrust for the brand.
But there are issues that will come into play while projecting Chevrolet’s image around the world that Ford doesn’t have to deal with. I’ve already stated that Chevy vehicles have to be distinctive and desirable, that goes without saying (almost anyway, it seems that some people in this business still need to be reminded of that fact).
But on top of that, “Chevy Runs Deep” won’t work globally. It barely works here. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Chevrolet’s ad agency of record in the U.S., a position they’re expected to keep despite the global review (as we like to say around here, “we’ll see”), has tried extremely hard to “seed” the line in the American consumer consciousness, but they’ve succeeded only inconsistently and at best, intermittently.
Part of the reason for that is that the work itself has been inconsistent and only intermittently stellar. The bigger issue is that “Chevy Runs Deep” has always come off as a positioning line to me (in agency speak a line that an ad agency is given to work against while doing their creative executions, but not the one to be actually used). This happens in advertising all the time, but it seems to happen in automotive advertising quite a lot. Too much, in fact.
I am absolutely convinced that’s why Chevrolet’s advertising has been so inconsistent. “Chevy Runs Deep” is either too limiting or it doesn’t speak to the true essence of Chevrolet enough, take your pick. And that’s an unfortunate dichotomy. When it works, it seems to work more for those predisposed to liking Chevrolet, or at least those who know what a Chevy is to begin with and have a memory of one.
When it doesn’t work? It’s an exercise in ambivalence, akin to sitting at a railroad crossing watching a freight train go by, and only occasionally noticing a few of the cars because of their more interesting paint schemes. That’s clearly not going to cut it when it comes to major league advertising, and it’s especially problematic when you’re trying to establish a global presence for a brand.
If “Chevy Runs Deep” is only intermittently successful here you can be assured that it will be essentially meaningless in other markets around the world. With no connection based on a shared heritage and in a lot of cases just being stone cold new to a market, Chevrolet will have an uphill battle in establishing its image around the globe. And the existing “Chevy Runs Deep” tagline just isn’t going to cut it.
My message to the competing advertising holding companies? Be careful what you wish for and want so badly.
Zeroing in on what Chevrolet means here is one thing. That’s pretty much nailed.
Projecting Chevrolet and what it means around the globe is an entirely different task altogether.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
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