General Motors Co. Vice Chairman Bob Lutz promises to get combative with the competition in upcoming advertising.
During a recent product preview at GM's proving grounds here, Lutz says “the gloves will come off,” with the auto maker's print, television and Internet spending taking on the competition directly. Where GM has a decided advantage, he says the company will spell it out to consumers.
“We're going to have to get much more aggressive in the way we advertise,” says Lutz, who called off his planned retirement to lead creative elements of GM's product and customer relationships.
“The ad is actually going to have to say something — tell a story about the car. And the viewer of the ad (will) come away saying, ‘Gosh, I didn't know that. Maybe I'd better go check that out.’ Or, ‘I didn't think that GM cars had better fuel economy than Honda. I'll have to look into that.’”
Lutz jokes some of the auto maker's past ads have been too heavy on the fluff, leaving consumers more pleased with a cute dog than the featured GM product.
The goal, he says, is to familiarize one set of consumers with GM's products, improve the perception of GM cars and trucks among others, and then forget about those people whose opinions of the auto maker will never change.
“The ads have to have a message, and after viewing the ad the person has to have a favorably changed perception of a GM product, or least it must raise a question in the person's mind,” he says, adding he expects a measurable improvement in familiarity, opinion and consideration by the end of the year.
And if some consumers still object to GM products? “Well, that we can't do anything about,” Lutz says.
Also, he says the auto maker must forget about trying to sway public opinion about GM, itself, and focus instead on the four core brands.
“We're not going to do a lot of GM advertising — it's going to be Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Buick,” he says.
The four surviving brands also will see more advertising dollars with the death of Pontiac and the pending sale of Saturn, Saab and Hummer. In fact, GM will increase its nearly $2 billion annual ad budget, with hopes of avoiding disastrous launches such as the '07 Saturn Aura three years ago.
Despite winning North American Car of The Year in 2007, sales of the Aura have not lived up to expectations, and Lutz blames conservative media spending because GM never had enough money for all eight brands.
The Aura received about $11 million of initial advertising spending, whereas a nearly identical Chevy Malibu launching two years later received in excess of $100 million.
“When spending that low an amount, you might as well save your money,” he says. “No one is going to see (the car).”
By jettisoning brands, that won't happen again. “There just was not enough advertising budget. There's not enough advertising budget in any corporation to be able to adequately fund the necessary launch media expense for eight brands,” Lutz says.
“So getting rid of four, while it pains me deeply — Pontiac was a personal favorite of mine — means even if our total media spend were up, and it will be up, each brand gets twice as much as before.”