Tim Mahoney has kept a low profile since taking the newly created job of chief marketing officer for global Chevrolet on April 1. He has been overseeing the launch of Chevy's global marketing campaign, "Find New Roads," partly by visiting Brazil, Russia, the Middle East and other markets.
Mahoney, 57, believes the campaign -- he calls it a marketing platform -- will give Chevrolet sorely needed consistency in its marketing message. He also wants to inject more emotion into its advertising, as seen in a few heart-tugging spots for the redesigned Silverado pickup.
Mahoney, who led marketing at Volkswagen of America and Subaru of America, told Automotive News his long-term success will be measured partly by whether he can help persuade other traditional import buyers like him to give Chevy a look.
He spoke with Staff Reporter Mike Colias and Dave Versical, director of editorial operations.
Q: What attracted you to the job?
A: There's a tremendous opportunity with Chevrolet specifically and with General Motors at large. The products are pretty amazing. Having fought for import brands, being the mercenary my entire life, I thought it was time to become the soldier. The news from a quality perspective is so positive: Chevrolet winning more J.D. Power Initial Quality awards, the strong reception to the Impala. The new Cor-vette is truly a legitimate Porsche 911 competitor. So there's a lot to work with. Also, going on this global odyssey of building a global brand is an exciting challenge to be a part of.
From an outsider's perspective, what has been your impression of Chevy's marketing message?
I think when you look at Chevrolet, it is a brand with a rich heritage. But when you look at building great brands, it's about consistency, right? You don't change your tag line every three years. You don't change creative direction every two years. ... I'm a big believer in consistency and execution. So my outsider perception was one of maybe confusion or lots of changes in terms of tag lines and direction.
What changes can we expect? What's your vision?
One of the visions for sure is to take "Find New Roads" and make that relevant, so it's not just a tag line, but it really is something that can be a bit more timeless. Like "The Ultimate Driving Machine" is for BMW. ... Something that really not only permeates the marketing communications but that also is part of the culture within the organization. Within six months, we've gone to a global tag line.
One of the areas we'll push on is putting some emotion into the brand. Buying a vehicle is an emotional purchase. It's not just a rational and economic purchase. You can see some of that with the Silverado work that we're doing now.
You have done some really creative stuff throughout your career, at Subaru and VW. Any concern that it's tough to pull that off in a company this big?
It is for sure a large organization. But not so much. Let's take Subaru, for example. The insight there was that the consumers love their vehicle. The insight at VW was that people who owned the vehicle had not only a rational appreciation for the power of German engineering but an affinity. Chevy is a brand about hope, optimism. This is a brand that emerged through bankruptcy and everything else. There's a sense of possibility about what can be done. In the midst of all of the difficulties here, we developed a vehicle like the Volt. The Impala that's just on the market now started its life in some of those periods. I think that spirit of optimism and hope is there. And I think there's a humanness to it that people can connect to.
What's the status of your "Under the Blue Arch" retail campaign that is set in Chevy dealerships?
It showcases the dealership. Our dealers and dealer partners and the brand have made a big effort to improve that experience and the look and feel. I took about six weeks off between VW and coming here, and my wife and I took a big road trip. And I got to see a lot of the country. You can feel that the Chevrolet dealerships look different. I think the strength of "Under the Blue Arch" is that it showcases that environment. It humanizes it.
Assuming GM's marketing ranks enjoy some stability that they haven't had in recent years, and that you're here in three or five years, how are you going to judge your success or failure?
I think one of the success points will be, three to five years from now, if people like myself who have never owned a domestic car start to think: "You know what? I better have a reappraisal here and start to take a look at a brand like Chevrolet." I think there's a tremendous opportunity for us to bring people into this brand who want to be part of it. We just need to give them a reason to be part of it.