Ailing GM Rethinks Its Old Ad Habits

Change appears constant at General Motors these days, as the Big 3 automaker attempts to slash expenses and ignite sales in the face of a huge loss. Its ad assignments are no exception, sources said, with GM mulling big shifts in how it deploys its creative agencies.

On the table is a consolidation of a third—or possibly all—of its dealer work at a single shop, said sources. GM also is said to be looking to expand its creative options on national assignments, as it did this month when it shifted half the Cadillac business at Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett to independent Modernista!, which also handles Hummer.

On the dealer front, the automaker this month acknowledged a review involving creative duties on its GMC, Buick and Pontiac brands, which together spent more than $200 million in measured media last year, or nearly a third of GM’s $660 million total dealer spend, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. But sources said additional brands could shift amid the review.

In fact, Interpublic Group is said to be offering to create a dedicated unit in Detroit for dealer ads in hopes of landing more than the three brands, two of which are now at IPG shops: Lowe and Jay Advertising share duties on GMC, while McCann Erickson and Jay handle Buick. Pontiac is split between Burnett and its Martin Retail Group affiliate.

On factory business, the client historically has employed a single agency on each brand. But with top marketing execs inviting all roster shops to Detroit next month, some sources expect GM to unveil a new strategy akin to the Burnett-Modernista! model on Cadillac, namely using more than one shop on each of its eight nameplates. The agencies declined comment, and a client rep had no immediate comment.