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Thanks to its car ignition problems, General Motors is recalling 29 million automobiles worldwide. If you’ve ever scanned the price of an auto repair you know the labor is what gets you, not the parts – so you can imagine how that number is going to hit the GM bottom line. Like a 29 million pound tank. GM’s most profitable cars are its huge SUVs. It is reported that a $60,000 Suburban provides $10k in profit while an energy efficient Chevy Cruz yields $1,500 in profit. We all know which car is better for mother earth, but GM, which has the power to move the market away from gas guzzling, likely won’t.  Too much to lose. GM’s share of the SUV market is now up to 70%. (Seen a picture of the smog in China lately?)

Ford’s new aluminum body F-150 pick-up truck is a step in the right direction. SUV loving Chrysler/Dodge/Fiat is bracketing its large car and truck sales with some much better looking Fiat 500s…very cool and efficient cars of the future. My Prius has over 165,000 miles on it, saving me about $9,000 in gas and cutting pounds of carbon into the atmosphere.

Here’s the point. GM, which is about as American and Apple you know what, continues to lose its way. The corporation needs a strategy and a leader. A leader with beyond the dashboard vision. The old gray mare is not too big to fail. Not anymore. American’s love our metal, but we love our amber waves of grain better. Peace.



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Car sales were reported yesterday and they were quite good.  Year over year for the month of September there was a 13% increase.  The New York Times lead story in the business section announced “the best results in 4 years.”  I’ve been blogging about the automobile industry since the beginning of What’s the Idea? mostly because I’ve been so angered by what’s been happening.

People need cars.  People need money. People need to be more responsible to the planet.  These observations drive my points of view.

I have a suggestion for the auto industry, especially GM and Ford the two companies that performed most poorly. Spin off your truck divisions. Divest completely. They need their own leaders, R&D (design with a capital D), manufacturing and marketing. Most times when there is a divestiture it’s government encouraged.  But time it should be market driven.

My second suggestion relates to advertising. Volkswagen, Kia and Audi are doing good work. The brands themselves are strong enough (4Ps-wise) to allow for advertising to work. The marketing officers and executive teams of these companies are on board with investing and pushing ad boundaries. Using good ad shops. (So is Chrysler.)

During the bail-out meetings a couple of years ago, in the picture of with Ford and GM executives sitting around the table with president Obama, had not a smart phone was to be seen. The Q-Tips were running the show (insider car target reference).  We need to drop the leash here too. Peace.

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Not one to throw darts at people I don’t know, I have been known to ding their actions. That’s the fun of blogging.  One marketing person who is a bit of a lightning rod, especially to those in the advertising business is Joel Ewanich, chief marketing officer of General Motors.  Forbes called him “Marketer of the Year” in 2009 and he has done some great marketing putting Hyundai on the map. I’ve written about Hyundai’s smart marketing for years.

But lately, Mr. Ewanich who is nothing of not decisive, has been spending his time shaking up the ad agency roster and tossing grenades. Google “Goodby Silvertein+Ewanich.” While Mr. Ewanich was spending much media time energizing and de-energizing agencies his defining product launch, the Chevy Volt, was going long on glamour and short on engineering. It was reported today that the Volt’s lithium ion battery pack has been found to spark and fire in simulated crashes. 

Marketers, lest we forget, are responsible for product as well as promotion and it seems that the Volt was not adequately tested prior to launch. In all the news about loaner cars and driver safety being job one, I haven’t seen Mr. Ewanich’s name anywhere. Dart time.  Combustion engines go on fire after crashes. Hell, they are filled with gas.  Lithium ion batteries overheat — can you say Dell?  Mr. Ewanich did not design the battery pack or it’s housing, but he is responsible for product readiness.  

A lesson to all marketers: Get the product right first. I understand multi-tasking and readiness, but marketing starts with the product. And ends with the product. Now there’s a marketing trend – product quality. Peace.   

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One of advertising’s roles is to change peoples’ attitudes.  Some might call this image or brand advertising, which is quite different from retail or transactional advertising.  General Motors is really bad at brand advertising.  They try hard and spend money but for some reason it rarely changes attitudes. 

Samsung, using the work of the Arnell Group,  was one of the first corporations to strike me as getting it.  It was back in the 90s when the word Samsung conveyed second tier products, cheap electronics and dollar-store imagery.  Using Peter Arnell’s mind and, I believe, his camera, Samsung displayed its products around NYC on big black, white and gray outdoor posters, alongside sexy human images.  A ripped torso carrying a microwave may sound silly but is was artful.  It burnished then polished the Samsung image.  

Bosch is doing the same today with a product-based image campaign showing off a number of its stylish household appliances. In my mind Bosch was famous for brake shoes and audio products, not refrigerators and dishwashers.  But the print ads I’ve been seeing over the last few months have made me notice how beautifully designed these appliance are.  The consistent advertising tells me they are here to stay and the engineering heritage borrowed from memory compliments the pictures and words.  I would definitely buy a Bosch appliance now. Image.

Without an image transactions are fleeting.  Understand your brand — its past and present. Decide where you want to go and make that part of your brand plan.  Toss out overused words like “innovation” and “remarkable” and “engagement.” Get in touch with your image goal and build a brand plan.  Sales will follow. Peace.

PS.  Image can be built using new digital media.  In fact, it can be build much faster. But it has to be “on plan” and focused.

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I’m not a car guy.  My sister knows more about engines than I do, not that there’s anything sexist in that statement (maybe there is.)  I asked my son recently “What’s a Hemi?”  That’s the context.  But I do know advertising and marketing and have an ear for what consumers will like. And the president and CEO of Dodge, Ralph Gilles, talking about his brand and the tres cool Dodge Challenger (in this video) is a winning piece of marketing.  Shot and (perhaps?) concepted by Cobrandit’s Owen Mack, this piece made me want to go trade in my Prius for a Dodge anything. Great advertising makes you feel something, then do something.  In my case the “do” was post to the blog.

Mr Gilles is the absolute perfect salesman for this car and this brand. Just listen to him.  Not a suit, he.  Just a lover of cars and engines and Dodge and, I can tell, people who love cars.  So they will trust him. He’s black, presumably from the motor city, rocking the bald head thing, styling the clothes.  He is very videogenic. And the cars he’s showing are pulsing with power.  As is he — in a very friendly way.

I worked at McCann for a number of years when they would trot out CEOs to walk through the corporate headquarters and tell America that “the road to the future was paved with GM” or some such.  It was suits selling suity cars. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Mr. Gilles can bring back Dodge as long as the cars are good and he keeps talking to the people like this.  Get him on TV and radio.  Show these car designs, spin some Detroit magic, mint some money.  His next Job? The new US Fiats. Peace. 


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 “We want the government out. Period.” was the powerful quote from the powerful CEO of General Motors, Edward E. Whitacre, Jr. in today’s paper.  Nice efin’ bluster Mr. Whitacre.  Dude, you’re not Henry Ford. The American people own 61% of your company and you have the oafishness to pretend otherwise?  We certainly understand the sentiment – you want to be in charge again  – but it was bluster like this that got GM into its mess in the first place. I smell a relapse.

Here’s a thought Mr. Whitacre (and Joel Ewanick, GM’s VP,  Marketing).  How about taking a few million dollars and a trick from the Saturn playbook and reintroduce us to GM with a big “Thank you.” Perhaps a series of low-cost barbecues at local parks across the country.  If need be, do it under tents at your dealerships.  Put your people to work flipping burgers in cut-offs and flip flops — real people stuff.  Be contrite. And don’t buy the real expensive food either, buy store brands and make the potato salad yourselves. Show us you care about our money.  Be resourceful, like most American’s are today.  Sweat for us Mr. Whitacre.  Do something  Americana (roots), not Bloomfield Hills.

Earn back a smidgen of good will, because that quote of yours convinces me you have about as much chance of reforming GM as Lindsay Lohan has of staying away from white wine. Please prove me wrong. (And whatever you do, don’t say mea culpa via a McCann-Erickson :30 spot.)  Peace!

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In Charlene Li’s new book Open Leadership (which I have not yet read, but will), one of the premises is that leaders who really listen to customers are the most informed and prepared to deal with business issues. Because of social media’s prevalence and importance, this notion suggests that leaders who use the new listening channel (the web) are better leaders.  Good advice, for sure.  Those who know the name Andy Grove may remember that the first thing he did every morning upon hitting the office was to listen in on random customer service calls to his 800 number.   It was old school technology, but it was listening.  That’s why Intel succeeded.

General Motors (GM) brand managers and its ad agency strategists at Goodby Silverstein and Partners have decided to stop using the word Chevy in favor of the full, formal name Chevrolet.  This is a strong brand management move. I yike it, as my daughter used to say. I don’t know the Chevrolet strategy, but can imagine this nomenclature move is intended to imbue the brand with a little more up-market sensibility. As GM nameplates are jettisoned, Chevrolet will be attempting to win over consumers who once bought pricier Oldsmobiles, Hummers, Pontiacs and such. Consumers will still say Chevy, but the people managing the brand will polish it with a finer cloth. They are exercising control. They are leading.

Pop marketing pundits are telling us consumers own the brand.  Even the youthfully exuberant at P&G and others wielding great budget power are saying so. But if we cede control of marketing, strategy and leadership to the masses, we are being lazy. Listen yes…but lead. Peace!

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Joel Ewanich landed at GM with guns blazing.  GM’s new marketing head left a similar job at Nissan without having been there long enough to find the coffee machine. And his first act at General Motors was to replace Campbell-Ewald and Publicis with Goodby Silversten and Partners as Chevrolet’s agency of record.

Many of the snarks are saying “Why not hold a review?” and “He never even met with the old agencies” but the reality is Mr. Ewanich knows Goodby from their time together on Hyundai, be wanted Goodby, and he is in a hurry.  If he wants Goodby, why pretend to put the business up for review and waste everbody’s time and money?  Whether this decision turns out to change the market share for Chevrolet is still to be played out but I’ll give Mr. Ewanich credit for strong leadership. He didn’t vacillate publically or do the politically correct thing — he made a decision and is getting to work.

Goodby is a great shop. It knows consumers.  Gareth Kay was the planning leader at Modernista when Hummer was humming.  I don’t know Mr. Ewanich from Adam and though the Hyundai advertising may not have been crazy memorable, it absolutely delivered solid marketing ideas and results.  This move makes sense to me. But as fast as it was done, it can be undone. We learned that already.  Peace!

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The new advertising coming out of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) for General Motors Cadillac Division is quite nice to look at and listen to. It begins and ends with the Cadillac grille emblem, which may or may not have been redesigned for the TV spots. The tagline beneath the emblem at the end of the work read “Mark of Leadership.”

I often snap to judge but since a big fan of BBH I’ll hold off until seeing more of the body of work before I go long form.  That said, anyone who reads What’s The Idea knows I’m an idea guy.   “Mark of Leadership” is an idea. Leadership is an overused marketing concept but it’s rich and doable – if you are a leader. Cadillac is and has been a leader, but the demonstrations will most definitely need to deliver, otherwise it’s just cheese. 

I’ve seen the first three TV spots and must admit the car designs don’t look so hot. The station wagon looking model, the coolest of the bunch, is nice on the eyes but the other two models are best shot at night. 

BBH needs to find its voice, its idea and then not fall into the Detroit compromise trap.  I’m not saying don’t show the boxy angular cars, but just focus on their best body parts. Create an allure for the mark that a parent has for newborn. “Isn’t she beautiful.”

Nice film, nice music, energetic editing – BBH.  Now find an idea with ballast and load it up! Peace!

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penkseI was very sad to read Roger Penske has dropped his plan to buy the Saturn Corporation from General Motors. My bet was that Mr. Penske, who has a record of automotive turnarounds, was going to have great success with Saturn. That bet was placed upon the idea that a lot of NASCAR enthusiasts and “car heads” know and admire Mr. Penske. Admiring someone who actually knows a thing or two about a carburetor, driving at high speeds, and what a garage looks like at 2 A.M. under a hanging light bulb is way different than trying to feel affinity with a company run by “phone guy” walking around a gleaming showroom in a Hermes suit.

One of the reasons I got into brand planning was to answer the question “Why will a rural, head-of-household with an annual earned income of $25,000 spend hard earned cash on premium motor oil for the family truck and then go in and eat chicken gizzards for dinner?” (Fried gizzards are actually quite good, if you must know.) It’s about brands (claims, supports and demonstrations).

There are lots of American’s who trust Mr. Penske. They would buy a car from him sight unseen. He is real. He is an expert. He’s not a paid pitchman. He commands market share.

Mr. Penske will be back. My guess is he will have an electric car offering and it will rock our world. Peace!

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