GM Can At Least Start With Its Advertising

David Kiley

General Motors is going to make some changes in its advertising. Not that advertising is the biggest source of blame for the automaker's woes. But it's a category of problems that can be fixed the fastest.

Pontiac: This is a brand that has some potential to be a "blue-collar" success brand like DaimlerChrysler's Dodge brand is becoming. The product is starting to show promise. The G6 is a pretty interesting car, and the Solstice roadster looks like a screamer. The GTO doesn't look like much, but it drives like the GTO to which it pays homage. The ads have long been dreadful, lurching from one idiotic, vague positioning to another for years. Chemistri, a Publicis Groupe agency, handles it. The agency, which also handles Cadillac advertising, should lose it immediately and probably will.

Buick: I stopped leaving the porchlight on for a coherent ad campaign for Buick during the Clinton Administration. Interpublic Group's McCann-Erickson has done Buick work for decades. Some Tiger Woods-focused ads have been okay, but the rest has been consistently awful. If GM has a genuine thought of saving this brand, get it out of McCann and into an agency that has no history with the brand. The last effort to save this brand demands new blood. Get some.

Advertising Age reports that a survey of GM's own ad executives rated Buick and Pontiac ads a "3" out of a possible "10."

Saturn: I saw a Saturn TV ad last night. Bleeech! This brand was once the best defined in the auto sector. Today, it has one of the best ad agencies in the business working on it, Goodby Silverstein & Partners. But it doesn't show. I vote the problem here must be at the client. Why can this agency do great work for other brands and not Saturn?

Saab: I have seen the new work, some of which the public hasn't, and it is terrible. Here is a niche brand with some quirks. The ads I saw might as well have been for Buick. The executive who guided the work just left to run liquor marketing at Diageo. Look for Smirnoff ads to take a nose-dive now. Interpublic's Lowe & Partners, which also handles very good GMC ads, does the Saab work. [disclaimer: I once worked for Lowe & Partners as a vice president]. I think the agency can do better work for a smarter client.

Cadillac and Hummer ads are fine. Chevrolet ads, "An American Revolution" are on the right track, but need better executions from IPG's Campbell-Ewald.

GM needs to seed its brands with more exciting product. But that takes years to get right. In the meantime, new ad positionings and agency assignments to help things along can be done within a few months. Get cracking.

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