General Motors is considering an advertising campaign aimed at dispelling the widespread notion that it might go bankrupt.
"As much as I hate to do this, we're probably going to have to do something proactively on the marketing side just to address that issue," GM's marketing boss, Mark LaNeve, told The Wall Street Journal. "How you do that, I don't know. It's a tough thing because you really don't want to go there."
GM doesn't need to go there. What it needs to do, in a forceful and sure-footed way, is trumpet its new vehicles, talk about how it's lowering prices across the board to provide attractive deals without incentives, and in general, act like a winner.
And please, no more whining about how GM must have a "level playing field" to compete.
That's pretty much what GM is doing with its new Chevrolet marketing campaign. It's just what GM needs to get, in LaNeve's words, "America rooting for us again."
But based on past performance, GM can't be expected to stay the course if sales of its redesigned SUVs fail to catch fire.
The problem is that GM has conditioned car buyers to expect fatter and fatter incentives. They know there's no hurry to rush in and buy.
Industry analyst Al Ries contends that GM has more of a marketing problem than a product problem.
He says the eight GM brands aren't different enough to support all those separate badges.
LaNeve seems to acknowledge the problem. He says GM no longer will advertise multiple brands on the same TV show.
For example, LaNeve says, GMC and Chevrolet used to air spots on the same NFL telecast. Now, he says, GMC will run commercials during Monday night games, and Chevrolet and Cadillac will air spots on Sunday night games.
But what makes LaNeve think car buyers won't confuse Chevrolet and Cadillac? You can buy a fancy Chevrolet for almost the same price as an "entry luxe" Cadillac. (Don't you love Detroit-speak?)
If the GM brands were truly distinctive in styling and pricing, as Alfred Sloan intended, it wouldn't matter if they advertised on the same shows.
Some of the moves LaNeve contemplates seem awfully basic for a multibillion-dollar advertiser. For instance, GM wants to do a better job of tailoring its advertising to its target customers.
GM mostly has aired Saturn commercials in prime time, even though many of its buyers are women. Now Saturn will apply more of its ad firepower on such daytime shows as "Ellen" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
And here's another stop-the-presses disclosure: GM is focusing more of its marketing efforts on trend-setting areas such as Southern California. "To meet the challenge, GM has been focusing on obtaining endorsements from tastemakers, such as a stylist, a record company executive or a celebrity," The Wall Street Journal reported.
How's that for cutting-edge marketing? What a daring move - to get an actual celebrity to endorse GM cars. And you won't believe this, but GM also is setting up more opportunities for prospective buyers to see and drive its cars, at such places as sports events.
'Brands are struggling'
"The strategy has worked for Cadillac, but GM's other brands are struggling," The Wall Street Journal said. That's probably because if they've test driven a Cadillac, people think they've already driven all the others.
Since LaNeve seems determined to come up with a we're-still-solvent-so-don't-worry kind of a message, how about lifting a memorable line from GM's recent sales pitches: "If we go bankrupt, you won't pay a penny more."
You can e-mail Rance Crain at [email protected]