New GM Spots Look For Mr. Goodwrench

The good news: Domestic car quality keeps improving. The bad news for U.S. car makers: Fewer car owners lining up at dealership service centers. What’s a massive auto marketer to do?

For General Motors, the solution to this new problem is an old favorite: Mr. Goodwrench. In a national campaign that breaks today, the automaker resuscitates the ad character icon—or, at least, goes looking for him—in an effort to lure GM-car owners into dealer shops for routine maintenance work.

Last year GM cars had 130 problems per 100 vehicles, an 11 percent improvement over 2001, according to the J.D. Powers and Associates Initial Quality Study. The study, which polls people during their first three months of vehicle ownership, put GM third in quality behind Toyota and Honda.

The Troy, Mich., office of D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, now known as Chemistri, created four 30-second spots linked by the new tagline, “Mr. Goodwrench. The one and only GM expert.” The commercials star comedian Stephen Colbert of The Daily Show, who’s on the hunt for Mr. Goodwrench but discovers that everyone at the service centers fits his lofty description of the man.

Two spots start with Colbert standing outside a dealership with a clipboard, quizzing technicians. “Mr. Goodwrench: Who is this one and only GM expert?” he asks. “I gotta find this guy.” A third spot shows Colbert interviewing satisfied Goodwrench customers, and the last includes Kevin Harvick, driver of the GM Goodwrench Chevy race car.

Five dealer spots, with an emphasis on individual services, are also part of the campaign.

“We want to relaunch Goodwrench, take a fresh approach with a different perspective,” said Beth Grotz, brand manager for GM Parts. “Mr. Goodwrench is a trusted name, but we need to remind people and bring it back into the forefront.”

GM introduced Mr. Goodwrench in 1975, and he starred in its ads for a decade. In 1985, GM moved away from the character; one campaign in the late 1980s featured comedian Tim Allen playing a technician.

Kelly O’Neill, manager of GM Parts advertising, said there will be a “substantial increase” in adspend but declined to specify a figure. The last time Goodwrench received significant support was in 1997 with $40 million, according to CMR. Last year, GM spent $25 million on Goodwrench, most of which went toward touting a new initiative under which all GM dealers became affiliated with Goodwrench. (Previously, only about half of the 7,400 dealers participated in the Goodwrench program.)

Nissan spent $3 million in 2002 on parts and service advertising, according to CMR. Toyota spent about $2 million, while Honda recorded no spending.

Chemistri worked with consultancy The Optimization Group, Troy, Mich., launched by former J. Walter Thompson execs Chris Grindem and Jeff Ewald, to test different components of the dealer-Goodwrench program. Six Degrees in Scottsdale, Ariz., also did research.