GM Engineers Brand Strategy Overhaul

DETROIT As part of a new image strategy, General Motors plans to accentuate certain words or phrases in describing each of its vehicle brands, said Betzy Lazar, GM’s general director of advertising and media operations.

“With Chevy, we’re using ‘expressive value,’ for Cadillac it’s ‘performance luxury,’ Hummer is ‘daring,’ Saab is ‘intelligently inspired,’ Saturn is ‘engaging,’ GMC is ‘professional grade’ and Pontiac is ‘seductive performance,'” said Lazar.

The automaker spends about $3.2 billion annually on U.S. brand and dealer advertising, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. GM last month following a review consolidated its media business with GM Planworks (a unit of Publicis Groupe’s Starcom MediaVest). Interpublic Group’s GM Mediaworks and LCI were the losers in that shootout.

GM last week said it would beef up brand identity for its various divisions by stressing differentiation among models, a policy that could lead to the elimination of some nameplates that are too similar to vehicles in other divisions.

At a speech to the International Motor Press Association in New York, Mark LaNeve, GM’s North American vice president of vehicle sales, service and marketing, said, “Strong brands win, weak brands lose—end of story. Like we did at Cadillac, we have to make every one of our brands more relevant, more competitive, and more profitable. Each brand has to stand for something very clear in the consumer’s mind, consistently.”

LaNeve also said, “I’d rather have four great Pontiacs that really stand for athletic design than eight … Pontiacs that fail to really deliver on the brand’s promise.”

Lazar concurred: “We’ll be carving out more distinctive positions for our brands and how they go to market. Basically we have Cadillac continuing to be our luxury brand, and Chevy has to be our broad, high-volume foundational brand, and we’ll get our other six divisions to be more focused than they have been.”

The change in strategy would likely drive shifts in media spending, she said. “We adjust our spending for every division annually, and a lot of that is driven by new-vehicle launches, so, as we become more focused on differentiating our brands, you will see that play out in the media plans as well. The better we are at differentiating between the brands, and the targets we’re going after, the more different the media plans will become.”

Lazar declined to comment on the amount of the shift in media spending. “I really can’t quantify that, due to the sensitivities of the upfront,” she said. When asked what specific brands or models would be most impacted by the shift in media spending, Lazar said. “Some of the brands are already moving to their new positioning.

“Pontiac is a good example of a brand that is in transition, with a lot of new products,” she said. “So the positioning of the brands are reflective of those changes. The new Pontiac Solstice work is the result of the new positioning, and a brand like Saturn will be evolving into their new positioning with the new products as they come into the portfolio, like the Sky and the Aura.”