Category Archives: GM

GM shares the social love

If you just got back from Mars, last year candy Skittles and agency Crispin Porter and a host of other corporate entities began sharing social media chatter on their web portals, sort of a glowing, selfless way to brag while not bragging, you see, because other people are talking about us. GM has now stepped into the “why that’s so nice” wink-wink game with a Moment of Truth site that aggregates comments on the new Buick Regal from the site itself, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, or other social media sources. GM professed that it would not edit out negative comments, and sure enough, we did find a few hints of consumer dissatisfaction on the site (gas mileage and Obama bailouts were not admired). But it’s mostly raves.

Sharing social love is an intriguing idea in breaking through consumer resistance. Statistically it’s wildly invalid, of course, because what are 100 positive comments out of the universe of 16 million cars sold in the U.S. annually? But still, those happy people do tug at your mind. We’re not going to buy your Buick, GM, but we now kinda like the people who do.

Dead breakfast cereals, or how to survive the coming brand contraction

Remember Yummy Mummy? Gunaxin has a nice ode to discontinued breakfast cereals, which reminds us of the current brand collapse going on inside consumers’ heads.

Product brands today are under tremendous pressure to survive, and it’s not driven by companies like GM desperately seeking to cut back. The root cause is the decline in consumer consumption and the corresponding lack of interest in brand options. Decades ago Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote the brilliant book Positioning, explaining that consumers (even back in the 1970s) faced information overload and so defended themselves by creating little ladders of product consideration in their heads. If a person is only moderately interested in a product — say watches — she might be able to rattle off Casio, Timex, Swiss Army and Rolex. In her mind, she only has four rungs on the watch brand ladder. By comparison, a guy who loves watches might think of scores of brands: Accurist, Adriatica, Alpina, Aviator, Baume et Mercier, Bell & Ross, Breitling, Bulgari, Bulova … with lots more rungs in his head.

The goal of brand managers is to grab a rung in that mental positioning ladder, and the classic strategy is to “position” your brand vs. someone else. If Hertz is No. 1 in car rentals, Avis tries harder. This positioning strategy was hot in the 1980s and early ’90s — think of the Coke vs. Pepsi wars or Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” — but has cooled off recently, with far fewer brands attacking others or deliberately taking position against a competitor’s attributes. It’s time to reconsider. As consumers retrench in this severe recession, their mental consideration set of potential consumption options is way down. There are fewer rungs in their heads. Someone may love Saabs, but what about Saturns and Pontiacs? And if some brands will fade from these mental ladders, shouldn’t you try to make sure it’s your competitor, and not you?

The point for marketers is you now need to be aware, more than any time in the past two decades, of how your brand is positioned against other options. Consumers are backing away from the cereal aisle, and some sweet brands are about to get taken off the shelf.

Via Make the Logo Bigger and Graham English.

Chevy Vegas and Dodge Darts: Consumers remember when you’re bad

When we were a teenager learning to drive, our father told us of a Dodge Dart he once owned where the shift lever came off in his hand. We laughed as he recalled the f***-ing crappy design and how it almost killed him, as he went down a hill across an intersection with the rod waving in the air … it was in fact the first time we heard our dad drop the F bomb.

More than 25 years later we still think of American cars as substandard, even though some, especially Ford, have improved quality and come forth with innovative, efficient designs.The ad above, for the 72 Chevy Vega, may represent the worst automobile of all time, according to a U.S. consumer survey. That car was littered with design defects; pistons were mismatched to cylinders, the carburetor tended to catch fire, the body oozed rust. Bob Eicholz of Hollywood, Calif., commented “after 20,000 miles of gentle driving, it needed a valve job, and possibly a new engine, a new clutch, a new transmission sync gear and new tires.”

The irony of marketing is that consumers need incredible stimuli to think differently about a product tomorrow, but they carry word-of-mouth opinions from yesterday for decades. Once a person’s mind is set against a product, it’s almost impossible to change. The recoil of Americans as they ponder a vast bailout for the U.S. auto industry is almost amazingly unpatriotic, until you consider the pent-up anger consumers feel based on decades of automotive design incompetence. Yes, U.S. cars have improved dramatically … but buyers still remember.

As you head into the new year it might be worth mapping what customers think about your past products. Like a therapist trying to improve a relationship, you can’t move people forward until you address the sins of the past.

4 marketing lessons from death on stage

Live theater is dying. The sweet blue-haired ladies who once filled theater seats are moving on to the big stage in the sky, and as younger generations fill basements with big-screen TVs, the arts community is reeling. Pay attention, because shifts in demos and consumption are rocking industries from automotive to zoo attendance, and you too will need to respond.

Eric Smith, marketing director at Westport Country Playhouse, has launched a new blog that pinpoints the challenges of the entertainment industry as audiences shift and change.

“For many theatres the answer seems to fall on ‘we need to bring in younger audiences’, writes Eric. “… but here is the thing: younger audiences are merely a demographic that we have identified who are currently not attending theatre in large numbers. It would be like saying, ‘there are a billion people in China who don’t come to our theatre, how do we get them here?’ “

Eric suggests a deeper look at the marketing process is required, beyond just shifting the demo target. To build upon his post,

1. Reframe the goal.
First, your business target has to reflect the new reality. Has the recession or oil prices changed your customers’ behavior? Does your basic business goal reflect what new level of success is required? How would GM do next year if it maintained a goal to sell X number of trucks as the metric of success?

Theater marketers can do this by refocusing from subscription sales, the past ideal goal, to “multi-ticket buyers” — a nod that consumer behavior has changed, and that people now need more flexibility.

2. Map common pathways to sales.
This means analysis: reviewing customer account histories, looking for patterns among the best customers, and then defining the touchpoints and needs that can increase such behavior among future prospects.

3. Target diversity, not demos. It’s not enough to shift advertising to working female professionals age 35-44. Advertising media plans can target multiple audiences, say, professionals who commute, stay-at-home moms, long-time loyalists, and new movers into the market.

4. Test, refine, redeploy. Advertising plans almost always have unexpected results. Tracking performance by media channel is critical (say, the cost per inquiry from Newspaper A vs. Insert B). As lower-cost lead generators emerge, shifting funds can yield 30% to 40% more customers from the same advertising budget.

Footnote: Eric is a client of Mediassociates. We usually avoid promoting our clients on this news blog, but the thought process he presents is worth watching.

Marketing lag, or why it’s now safe to buy a Ford

Buddy of ours is shopping for a pickup. First words out of our mouth were: Buy a Toyota. Cause we all know American cars are crap. Like those Ford Explorers that tend to roll over and almost killed two friends of ours in a snow storm or those 7.5 million GM A-Cars that had gas tanks placed dangerously between the rear axle and back bumper perhaps to save costs, ready to rupture if the bumper got tapped …

But wait. We’re wrong! Consumer Reports has just announced Ford SUVs are climbing up the charts in quality, and now greatly outpace those fancy European models. All that bad press Ford and other U.S. automakers got years ago is still stuck in our minds … but CR has recommended not one but six Ford models (Edge, Expedition, Explorer, Explorer Sport Trac, F-150, and Taurus X). Egad!

This is the problem with marketing. CMOs and marketing managers tend to change companies every two years, and when they come in fresh, they immediately launch NEW! IMPROVED! marketing messages trying to establish a name for themselves. But consumers remember. Ford, for one, faces an uphill battle in convincing anyone it can match Toyota in quality — yet Consumer Reports notes that several Ford models are now better than the giant Toyota Tundra 4WD V8.

You can’t change history, but if you work in marketing or advertising, you have to recognize it. While operations works on tomorrow’s quality control, here are a few things to address in your messaging to consumers today:

– What marcom went out in the past 10 years?
– What PR — good or horrible — did your company create in the same period?
– How will prospective customers remember those marketing messages and PR debacles?
– Is your current brand message building upon that history realistically?
– Are you gradually migrating your customer base to a new awareness?
– Or, are you making promises that are wildly out of sync with where you’ve been?

Just a thought. P.S. Be sure to buckle up.

(Note to lawyers: See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, the debate that Ford may have inflated tire pressures unsafely low to mask high center of gravity here, and the infamous 1973 Edward Ivey “value analysis” memo for GM here.)

Chevy’s curious new bait-and-switch campaign

The new Chevy Volt is not available for sale, it doesn’t exist yet except in theory, and it may or may not be headed for production by 2010. But Chevy is advertising it in magazines such as The New Yorker reaching the educated, affluent and environmentally enlightened. What gives?

The campaign is very curious. If the target is potential GM investors, the ads fail, since the GM name is missing from the copy and appears only in the legal fine print. If the target is consumers, the ads are tripped up with subtlety, since the curious will want to go to the web for more information. The fine print directs you to, where the Volt can’t be found, even under upcoming vehicles. You have to type “Volt” into the site’s search engine to find it.

The main promo at is a button talking about “gas friendly to gas free,” which two clicks later takes you to … a lovely selection of big-ass trucks that can run on an 85% blend of ethanol, with nothing electric in sight. GM actually has a decent web site for the Volt here, but you need Google to find it.

The car is certainly sexy, with an electric-petroleum engine combo that is nothing new, but sheet metal and glass that make grown men drool. Perhaps the goal is to build buzz by teasing us. Chevy, we’ve seen the future and we want it. Too bad it’s not available for sale.