General Motors is scrutinized daily by thousands of automotive and business journalists as well as investors and U.S.-government policymakers and a whole host of other people, and yet there remains a mystery about exactly why GM CMO Joel Ewanick became persona non grata so abruptly on July 29th. The latest disclosures, via Bloomberg News, paint a picture of a relationship betweeen Ewanick and his CEO that unraveled in part over lack of decorum.
GM has tried gamely to move on from its stunning dismissal of its rockstar marketing chief, letting it be known that it sees no changes in marketing strategy. It immediately installed on an interim basis Alan Batey, a sales executive who already had been rising through the ranks and recently had been promoted.
It affirmed the relationship with Manchester United, and even added a big-ticket seven-year placement of the Chevy brand on the team's jerseys — even though some aspect of the Man U deal clearly had been involved in Ewanick's departure.
Man U has said that the jersey aspect of its deal with GM will generate $559 million for the team beginning in 2014, when Chevy takes over on the shirts from current sponsor Aon, through 2021. Aon's marketing relationship with Manchester United, meanwhile, will continue and evolve, with its press release announcing its business relationship with Man United slipping in, "Aon would also like to congratulate GM and Chevy on their decision to becoming Manchester United's primary shirt sponsor starting at the end of the 2014 season."
Yet through Batey and GM CEO Dan Akerson, GM also has been pounding the theme that there will be "no change" in its marketing strategy going forward.
For now, in addition to going forward with a Man U deal that they hope will be a game-changer, that apparently means no detente with Facebook over paid advertising on the site, no re-entry into game advertising during the Super Bowl in February, and no turning back on the massive consolidation of creative, media-buying and other parts of GM's mega-marketing budget undertaken by Ewanick.
Of course, that isn't keeping the legions of GM-beaters from trying to get some clues about how Batey, or some successor, and/or Akerson are going to direct GM's marketing now and/or eventually to undo whatever company leadership might not have liked about Ewanick's tenure.
Batey did provide some clues in an interview with Car & Driver that his bosses at GM weren't happy with what Ewanick hadn't been able to do with GM brands. "I'll be honest," Batey commented. "In the past, our brand was weakened. Product was just not the most competitive. Now the product is really competitive. But the brand is still not at the strength it needs to be. There's a lag between perception and where our products actually are."
Meanwhile, forgive Manchester United if they focus only on the fact of the extra publicity that GM's marketing shakeup is bringing the world's biggest soccer brand — just at the time that it's busy staging a U.S. IPO. And oh, yes, such prospects also can't be hurt by the fact that the world's fastest man, newly re-crowned Olympic sprinting demigod Usain Bolt, believes he's also got enough game in "football" to make the team.
As for GM, there probably isn't a lot of agreement in its marketing ranks right now that any publicity is good publicity, especially as it has some lawsuits to deal with, including being sued by Spyker for $3 billion over Saab's bankruptcy.