By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. After writing for this website going on sixteen years now, I’ve come to expect a few things from this business. One of the enduring High-Octane Truths that is as predictable as Michigan’s incredibly horrible roads is the fact that automobile manufacturers make pronouncements about future sales and market share. I mean do they ever. They just can’t help themselves, in fact.
Everybody from CEOs and “brand leaders” to marketing “geniuses” du jour feel they have to step right up to the plate and let it fly, even though when tallied up, all the manufacturer sales and market share boasts amount to a pie that comes in at around 175 percent.
They do it at auto shows, of course, but not exclusively, because the pronouncements seem to roll by all year long too. The latest boast comes from GM, which is placing a big bet on its GMC truck division over the next ten years. GM plans to double its spending on GMC and expects that for that investment they will increase the division’s market share by more than 50 percent. Even though, of course, some of the GMC offerings will rub right up against the Big Daddy Cadillac SUVs in the market. (GM was forced to contract during the bankruptcy and jettison divisions, but it still doesn’t seem to be able to figure out how to differentiate products between the remaining divisions, or keep them from stepping on each other in the market. Another one of this industry’s enduring mysteries.)
Duncan Aldred, vice president of the GMC and Buick brands, speaking at a Monday press event said, "To make that happen, we're going to invest hugely in the brand in marketing… and investing in portfolio options."
“Portfolio options” means product - which he of course wouldn’t comment on - but it also means marketing, so GMC is increasing advertising spending by 50 percent over the previous year. And with that increase in ad spending comes an all-new advertising campaign, with the division finally retiring its “Professional Grade” advertising theme after fifteen long – and tedious - years.
Not one of my favorite automotive ad themes by any stretch, “Professional Grade” had less and less to do with GMC’s move into upscale product executions with each passing year, and it served up one of the biggest disconnects between the advertising and the reality of the products being sold in this business. And it has been that way for a long time, too, so thankfully, “Professional Grade” has finally been buried in the dustbin of forgettable – and regrettable – automotive advertising themes in the sky.
So what, might you ask, is GM going with in terms of an advertising theme that will coincide with this new financial push from its corporate overlords?
Yes, you read that correctly. “Precision.”
Let’s let Aldred describe what it means: “For discerning GMC customers, Professional Grade has evolved to mean exacting attention to detail and fine craftsmanship in everything they do and purchase. Precision is a core attribute of the brand and is reflected in GMC’s continued momentum."
That sounds all well and good, but if you’re going to increase market share by 50 percent I hope Aldred & Co. will be talking to more than just loyalist GMC buyers who have managed to buy GMC products despite that nebulous advertising theme that was in place for fifteen years. Especially given the fact that the only new product in GMC showrooms this year is the new Canyon “mid-size” pickup.
I couldn’t resist, but given the baseball-themed launch spot, which you can watch here, GMC has managed to launch its new direction and ad theme with a spot that swings for the fences – and ends up bouncing one off home plate and trickling it down the first base line.
In one of my stints in my previous advertising life I once worked with one of the advertising industry’s legends – Phil Dusenberry – and his most famous way of registering disgust with an advertising concept presented to him was that he’d look over his half-glasses, pause three beats for effect and whisper in sotto voce, “It’s not very good, is it?”
I could go on and on about this new GMC campaign, how it smacks of heavy-handed client engineering (a Detroit car company specialty), as in “let’s make sure every one of our products appears in the spot,” how the announcer voiceover seems to wander and meander before making a point that doesn’t seem to connect with the product in the least, or how it seems like a really heroic effort at crafting a memorable “Tier 2” spot, but suffice to say the most accurate thing that I can say about it is: It’s not very good, is it?”
I wish the powers that be at GM and GMC best of luck with their super-aggressive goals, because they make some – not all - really desirable products.
When is precision in the name of precision imprecise?
This GMC launch campaign is a huge miss.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.