GM driving uphill with new ads
Once upon a time, when $1 million was big money, General Motors spent millions on an advertising campaign on three U.S. television networks featuring the sing-along slogan, “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.”
Powered by the link between Chevrolet and other American loves, GM’s share of U.S. auto sales was 35 percent in 1980. In 2009, GM’s share of the American auto market is a mere 19 percent, as it struggles with a backlash from an unpopular federal bailout and bankruptcy.
Chevrolet is hardly as American as apple pie anymore, but Chevrolet and GM will soon launch an aggressive marketing campaign to change deep-set perceptions of American consumers that GM cars and truck are inferior to imports like Toyota and Honda. The campaign, which will feature new company chairman Ed Whitacre and the slogan, “May the best car win,” will challenge notions of inferior products and will be waged on a myriad of television networks and print publications, but will also employ the Internet.
“This has been a problem for a long time for GM,” said David Cole, who heads the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research. “It’s always the case that perception lags reality — no matter which direction you are heading in. The Japanese companies faced this for years.”
In the early 1970s, the mention of a Japanese car including today’s global sales leader Toyota and of the highly rated Honda , brought snickers from Americans. “Made in Japan,” was a punchline for jokes by American comedians, which reinforced the perception of poor quality.
But within a couple of decades, helped by sharp increases in U.S. gasoline prices in 1973 and 1981, Japanese cars became known for quality and for producing models that got great gas mileage.
GM relinquished the leading global automaker mantle to Toyota last year, mostly because of the perception of poor quality autos developed over several decades. This notion was supporeted by surveys and road tests done by groups like Consumer Reports.
Recently, GM brands Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC Trucks have gotten improving marks from reviewers.
In June, J.D. Power and Associates said its surveys showed that Chevrolet and Ford had almost wiped out the gap with Toyota in new car quality. To back up its faith in its products, GM will next week introduce a 60-day money-back guarantee for its new cars and trucks. It is part of what GM vice chairman Bob Lutz called a “barrage” of advertisements.
Lutz said that while readers of auto publications may be aware of the narrowing quality gap, most American consumers will be much harder to convince that GM has caught up with the likes of Honda and Toyota.
“This is a big bet on the power of communication and effective advertising in changing public perception,” GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said.
A web site set up in advance of the GM ad campaign underscores the hurdle it faces with consumers. The site — www.thebestcarwins.com — invites visitors to rank vehicle brands for fuel economy, safety and quality.
As of Thursday evening, leaders of the survey in the five categories were:
Fuel efficiency – Toyota
Safety – Volvo
Quality – Honda
Performance – BMW
Best car – BMW