By on August 31, 2010

In recent interviews with Automotive News [sub] and AutoObserver, GM’s recently-hired marketing boss Joel Ewanick dished out some of the insights that have earned him the reputation for being an ace image guy. He tells AN [sub] that

Consumers don’t buy General Motors. General Motors sells nothing

Oh, really? Because GM decided to remove the GM Mark of Excellence from its vehicles right around the time it emerged from bankruptcy, the better part of a year before Ewanick was brought on board. Since the first Government Motors joke emerged on the internet, GM has sought to distance itself from its corporate umbrella’s brand… and this is the insight Ewanick is bringing to the organization? Hell, Automotive News [sub] suggested that “Stop mentioning General Motors” when he was hired in June of this year. Which leaves Ewanick only one choice: don’t talk about General Motors more than anyone might imagine.

AutoObserver notes

Ewanick even has been insisting lately on saying “the parent company” instead of “General Motors” or “GM.” He simply doesn’t want to give any quarter, any more, anywhere, to the notion of a corporate brand, because he believes it’s meaningless in helping sell vehicles and only gets in the way of the vehicle brands that must become clearer to American consumers.

Of course, there’s a fine line between emphasizing consumer brands and using the corporate brand to sponge up consumers’ righteous anger at GM’s bailout. Does Ewanick really want Americans to think of Chevy and Buick as truly independent brands, or does he just want everyone to stop talking about GM’s decades of failure?

We’re moving sheet metal instead of telling our story. We’ve got to get back to telling our story. What do we want to tell people about Chevrolet? We’re going to remind you from time to time that we’re part of the fabric of society

So Ewanick is against talking about GM, so he’s going to present Chevrolet’s “story” as being somehow authentically American? How does one separate Chevrolet’s contribution to “the fabric of society” without mentioning GM’s government ownership, bailout-bankruptcy, mass layoffs and dependence on overseas product development? According to AN [sub]

Ewanick said that to relax, he likes to watch auto auctions on cable TV. The shows reinforce for him the visceral connection that millions of Americans feel for specific brands of automobiles.

He said he noticed that most of the cars auctioned are GM products, and a lot are Chevrolets. He said he was surprised that one Chevrolet station wagon from the ’60s sold for $35,000. That’s the kind of feeling that GM’s four brands must tap into.

But there’s more to Ewanick’s vision than just charging more money based on emotional appeals. He tells AutoObserver
If you ask someone to build a ‘collage’ of the Chevy brand as researchers often do, you’ll see them include rational things like performance and quality, but they’ll always layer on the feelings that Chevy brings out. That’s the strength of Chevy, and you’ll see us take advantage of this.

Rational, emotional… Chevy can do it all. As long as it never mentions its parent company… or tries to do it all.

We made a conscious decision not to get too fancy about the brand as we launch these vehicles. We don’t want to get in the way of ourselves

In fairness to Ewanick, it can be tough to outline a vision… perhaps he should start with explaining the problem he was brought in to fix.

My boss, Mark Reuss, asked me to bring people into the organization that will challenge the way we look at things. As you go through a war and you get too close to things, you forget. You forget to see things through the eyes of the consumer

Wait, are we sure Ewanick wasn’t hired to be GM’s corporate PR boss? Because his ability to hide the truth about GM seem far more compelling than his ideas about selling GM’s cars or rebuilding its brands. In fact, his first truly innovative move in terms of selling GM’s products was just announced [via AN [sub]]: for the launch of the Chevrolet Cruze, GM is encouraging dealers to offer comparison test drives in Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas. Getting customers into those two market-dominating but aged competitors should help change perceptions about Chevrolet the way Ewanick was able to change perceptions about Hyundai, but goosing test drives has little to do with Chevrolet’s contribution to “the fabric of society.”

It’s nice to see Ewanick getting some of the “walk” right, but he might have waited a bit before so publicly talking the talk. After all, his interviews give the impression that GM has changed him more than the other way around.

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19 Comments on “Joel Ewanick On “The Parent Company”...”


  • avatar
    MikeAR

    After reading this, I wonder, was Ewanick in the right place at the right time with Hyundai, or is he the marketing genius that GM thought they hired? That was a terrible interview from him. He sounded like Ron Zarella, the marketing man who probably hurried GM into bankruptcy 5 years early he was so bad.

    When Ewanick was at Hyundai the cars got much better and sold themselves on price and value. I think that he maybe got credit that he didn’t deserve out of all that. He looks and sounds like a hack who has been promoted well beyond his ability. Or else he just doesn’t understand just how deeply a lot of people dislike everything about GM.

    I have to add this too, after looking at his picture, what is it with the facial hair? He is the marketing manager of GM but he looks like a fresh divorced middle aged insurance saleman ready to cruise the bars looking for a hookup. He comes across as cliche spouting moron.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    “… the way Ewanick was able to change perceptions about Hyundai.”

    Unless Ewanick came up with the warranty program, return program if you lose your job or was instrumental on the engineering side for turning Hyundai around, I’m confused as to how he changed the perception of Hyundai.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I’m praying “fabric of society” doesn’t mean more “Apple pie and Chevrolet” ads.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Joel is right. GM has run hot and cold on the idea of pitching the GM brand name to consumers or not for decades now. Back in GM’s golden years, customers identified themselves as “Chevy Men”, “Cadillac Buyer”, “Pontiac Lovers”, etc. Real customers have never identified with General Motors. Songs were never written about General Motors, but even rap gave many a shout out to Escalades and Cadillacs.

    Toyota doesn’t hide the relationship between Toyota and Lexus, but you will never, ever see a Toyota badge on a Lexus. Likewise you don’t see VW branding on Audis, Bentleys, Skodas and so on.

    So, Joel is right. Marketing of GM’s products has zip, nada, nothing to do with marketing the GM name. There is still much to be done, but at least he seems to understand that one basic fact of life.

  • avatar
    dave-the-rave

    The only thing that’s going to save GM is making better cars— that’s what’s working for Ford and Hyundai. The only people who give a crap about Chevy heritage are the dwindling number who buy American on principle or still think it’s 1956.

    College-educated people who live on both coasts and who grew up with POS American cars in the family have walked away from GM, Chrysler and Ford. Ford is making inroads by producing better cars. If Chevy is looking for conquest sales, they’d better have a very competitive product, and they’d better show and tell how it’s better in their advertising and promotion; all Chevy heritage is going to do is drive these people away.

    BTW, how many times in the past 25 years has GM launched a new car saying, “We understand. We listened. We heard you, and this is the new car you’ve been waiting for,” only to launch a Corsica and Beretta? So we’ve been burned plenty, making it that much harder for us to give GM another chance.

    • 0 avatar

      You give Ford credit for making better vehicles but not GM? GM’s vehicles have drastically changed the past five years if not longer, many of them garnered positive reviews on this very site. GM just can’t catch a break.

      Heritage is important to any brand, especially brands like Ford and Chevrolet. They rich and stylish heritages to draw from that should help focus the brands today and give designers and engineers something to live up to instead of copying Toyota and Hyundai. Because we can all already buy Toyota and Hyundai products.

      Heritage doesn’t drive people away, it draws them in and gives the brand something to live up to, something different than saying “Hey, we build a good appliance too!” Chevys and Fords should never be appliances, they should be proudly American cars.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      GM’s problem is that it still has too many clunkers in the line-up. This is where Ford’s smaller line-up and fewer divisions give it an advantage.

      Among Chevrolet passenger cars, only the Malibu, Camaro and the Corvette are really competitive. Two of those three are speciality models that sell to a very limited audience.

      The Aveo, Cobalt and Impala are all remnants of the “old” GM, and sell either to fleet buyers or customers interested in the deal more than the vehicle itself. Those three laggards drag down the perception of Chevrolet.

      Ford, meanwhile, has thoroughly revamped its line-up, to the point where only the Focus really lags behind the competition. From the perspective of the average customer, Ford has a more cohesive, modern passenger car line-up than Chevrolet.

      Buick as the new LaCrosse, but it shares showroom space with the old-school Lucerne. The Regal is new, but it competes with the LaCrosse as much as anything else, and it really doesn’t fit with the image of Buick. Ford has bit the bullet and axed Mercury, eliminating that distraction.

      Ford’s marketing efforts have also been much better than GM’s. The intial campaign to get word out about the Fiesta – which relied heavily on “new” media – was brilliant. The revamped Fusion was introduced with the hybrid version immediately, and Ford kept hyping it as the most fuel-efficient midsize sedan, which spilled over to the regular Fusions, and got people interested.

      Finally, Ford has made greater strides in improving quality than GM has. It’s quality gains have been more consistent, and more evenly distributed throughout the line-up. GM has some good cars, but too many that are not-so-good.

      And let’s not reference the cheerleading at gminsidenews.com or CheersandGears.com. The average consumer doesn’t care that a bunch of GM fans think that their 2003 Cavalier is great. They go by what is published in Consumer Reports…whether GM fans think that those survey results are flawed is irrelevant.

  • avatar
    dave-the-rave

    Which reminds me, ten years ago Jay Leno said the following:

    Every new Chevrolet comes with a theft deterrent system— it’s the GM logo on the side of the car.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Ewanick said that to relax, he likes to watch auto auctions on cable TV.

    Olds-Mobile? What the hell is that?

    Reading this, I get the feeling that Mr. Ewanick doesn’t completely understand why that 1960 Chevrolet sold for $35K.

    ______________________

    Also, the Cruze test drive thing is stupid. First, it has been done to death. Second, I don’t think people avoid GM brands these days because of their initial shortcomings- the company has a good job on improvement there. It’s the fears about long-term reliability and cost of ownership that keeps people away.

    As a result, there will be people who like the Cruze more than the Corolla or Civic, but still don’t go with the Chevy.

    The best way to combat this problem would be with a bigger bumper-to-bumper warranty.

  • avatar

    All this Ewanick episode is just cheap marketing which will, at best, annoy and, at worst, unnerve the consumers.

    “We’re moving sheet metal instead of telling our story”

    There were too many stories told in the last 40 years, right now the best thing to do is to move the sheet metal, in the right direction, without alienating the people.

    “My boss, Mark Reuss, asked me to bring people into the organization that will challenge the way we look at things”

    These people existed in the organization before bankruptcy, they were called “loose canons” and pushed on the sides. Around the bankruptcy most were layed-off. By the same leadership.
    There are still too many pieces broken in the corporation and propaganda, like in the past, will not help. GM had a quality and design revival in the last 4-5 years, they should keep the momentum instead of getting distracted by demagoguery.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Auto industry marketing is drowning in “story”. After being involved in the business for two years, I’ve heard more stories than a 130 year old Massai tribesman. Takeaways, stories, product truths (‘product truths’ really gets me; the specs are truths; everything else…), messaging… It’s all either calculated brilliance or blinkered lunacy.

      And from where I’m standing it looks like it’s selling cars, whatever it is – reassuring for my bank account but less so for my soul.

  • avatar
    TokyoPlumber

    Joel Ewanick’s words are a byproduct of the toxic cocktail of politics and business. As General Motors is now a government owned entity it follows that the image it seeks to project (and the manner in which it seeks to project this image) will be influenced by politics. Ewanick is attempting to twist facts and refocus attention like a senator out stumping.

    He doesn’t want to talk about General Motors as he knows the GM “brand” is politically contaminated. Many of GM’s loyal buyers are the kind of people who detest the creeping influence of government (ie, socialists don’t drive Camaros). To remain viable GM needs its loyal customers. Consequently, Ewanick is attempting to disassociate the negative perception of GM from the brands it sells. He’ll then play on the emotions of GM’s core customer base by linking the brands (Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC) to well-worn notions of Americana.

    I wish I could say that this propaganda scheme will fail. My sense, though, is that it will likely achieve some measure of success.

  • avatar
    kincaid

    Hopefully the difference between Ewanick and Zarella will be that Zarella did not think the car mattered. He marketed cars like it was faceless toothpaste inside a tube and the tube was the only thing that mattered. Marketing plays a key role at GM in determining the type of products and content in them. They have been a clueless distraction to the ‘car’ people for decades. Hopefully some seat changing will shape up that end of the business. GM is a fabulously talented and well equipped group of people who have been led by weak talent that is more political than understanding of automobiles or the constantly changing world we live in. New blood at the top is the best news possible.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Here we go about the cars of the sixties again, specifically, Chevrolets. Of course, there’s a reason for that – those cars had STYLE – something you took pride in and wanted to be seen in. Not all of them, of course, but owning an Impala ( or some other model ) meant something back then – it could be a relative base model like my dad’s 1966 – 250 6 cyl powerglide, a four-door hardtop, fire-engine red, bright side trim, THREE TAIL LIGHTS ON EACH SIDE, Impala script and emblems proudly displayed where people could read them, black cloth bench seat interior, AM radio, power steering, brakes, no air, but that was such a sharp car that he (and I) was proud of it. Put the pride of ownership back in a car and you don’t have to load it up with do-dads and useless gadgets. Anyway, you get my drift.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      No I don’t get your drift. GM has tried style. The HHR, the SSR, the Buick Regal two seater, the current Buick Regal/Opel Insignia, and the Pontiac/Saturn roadsters. The Caddies. The Holden based Pontiacs.
      People still aren’t flocking to those models.
      Those cars must have the modern gadgets that don’t interest some of us or people call them “strippers”. People expect gimmicks like iPod interfaces and steering wheel controls for the cellphone, stereo and so forth. People expect ABS and traction control. They expect 37 airbags in a car.
      The yachts of the 60s and 70s are gone. So is all the chrome – even if we do like it. What makes a 60s car desirable? Chrome, interesting seat covers, and trim. That long low and wide shape.
      The mechanical aspects of that era have been exceeded by the modern cars we have today. TopGear and FifthGear both have done episodes where they flogged vintage cars (including the General Lee and the Starsky & Hutch car) around the track only to have small modern grocery-getter cars better them. We generally get better brakes, better engines and better suspensions in even the most pedestrian cars than we did with the 60s/70s cars.
      Only thing left is the style and girth and I think the modern American consumer is not going to line up to buy a long wide car from the 60s – especially after safety regs removes a great deal of brightwork and adds another 900 lbs of safety gear. The closest we have to that era is the Panther platform and the bubble Caprice from the 90s and neither platform gets alot of love from the average consumer.

      I hope that GM keeps up the quality push for a decade or more and wins back people’s trust. I still don’t want hardly anything they sell based on size/style/weight/powerplant/tranny combos but I’d consider one more if I could trust it to last 200K miles and the examples family and friends around me aren’t doing that yet very well. In short build me an Opel Insignia WAGON with a turbo diesel four cylinder and a manual six speed tranny and we’ll talk. Since they won’t do that here (but will in Europe) I’ll look to VW which has been pretty good for me.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    I can’t slag the guy for any of this. At least he’s bright enough to recognize that the GM brand is worthless at best for selling cars, unlike the fools before him who thought that sticking the GM logo on Saabs would be something other than a $5000-off coupon. As for how to represent the actual brands: what the hell would you say about Chevrolet? He can’t tell the truth – that they’ve been pushing total shite since the Vega era – so he’s gotta come up with an alternative approach that alienates neither the public nor his company. And meanwhile, we all have to hope the product itself continues to improve.

  • avatar
    mjz

    If Ewanick were truly a marketing genius he would get Toyota and Honda dealers to provide Cruzes for comparison! Now that would be news.

    • 0 avatar

      Unlikel, of course. Despite their current woes, neither Honda nor Toyota are desperate for credibility, and have no reason to even acknowledge the competition… particularly this laughable “rival” that combines the worst of Detroit and Daewoo.

      Government Motors, on the other hand, is desperate. Ewanick best pray his dealers keep those comparison Civics and Corollas absolutely filthy, with under-inflated tires and other performance subtractors.

      That’s really the Cruze’s only hope.


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