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Chevy Should Be Wary of What Happened Last Time GM Celebrated a Centennial

Posted by Dale Buss on October 26, 2011 05:35 PM

Chevrolet has lots of new ads these days celebrating its centennial, with warm images of old and new Chevy trucks, and invocations of that "Made in the U.S.A." feeling. Why, you can almost feel the spirit of Dinah Shore in these spots!

But off the screen, a far more telling activity is going on: General Motors has launched a complete global advertising-agency review for Chevy.

That's a big deal, considering that the brand is second only to Procter & Gamble in terms of advertising spending in the United States. Chevy marketing also comprises most of the spending for GM.

Just remember: The last time GM celebrated a centennial was in 2008, when it marked the first hundred years of the entire company. Only a year or so later, the company faced bankruptcy.

It's not that things are going badly for Chevrolet, sales-wise: The brand posted third-quarter global vehicle sales of 1.2 million vehicles, the best July-to-September results in Chevy's history. And its new Cruze compact has given Chevrolet a worthy entry in the small-car segment for the first time in decades, actually, driving the brand's sales increases in both the United States and Chinese markets.

There are a couple of problems GM is trying to address that will, ultimately, affect its advertising. The first is the challenge of making Chevrolet into a truly global brand, reorganizing its ad-agency relationships around the world to support that effort as well as to save money. The second difficulty is that Chevrolet advertising in the United States just isn't catching fire.

Sure, Chevy's new products have proven up to some of the biggest challenges of today's thorny U.S. car market. Cruze is only the most obvious. The Equinox crossover-utiilty vehicle has been a big seller as well, providing Chevy fans with a great choice for a practical vehicle with excellent fuel economy. And as a statement-maker, the Chevrolet Volt has been a big boon to the brand as well.

But there's still the sense that "Chevy Runs Deep" just isn't going to cut it as long-term positioning for the brand that resonates, at least with American consumers, nor is it the kind of approach that is actually going to really help sell all those well-aimed new vehicles. (Chevy has a new Malibu coming out next year.)

GM executives have said that Omnicom's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which came up with "Chevy Runs Deep," isn't in danger; co-founder Jeff Goodby and GM CMO Joel Ewanick are friends. But Ewanick has said lately he'd like to see more consistently excellent work out of the agency.

So, expect more news imminently about Chevy marketing. If the brand ever gets things lined up exactly the way Ewanick wants them, Chevrolet might really take off, around the world.

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