NEW YORK -- Quick: What’s Chevrolet’s most important unveiling this week?
You’d be forgiven if you answered the redesigned 2016 Malibu that debuted here today, the car that General Motors execs believe finally will put the midsize sedan on the shopping lists of Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion buyers.
But you’d be wrong.
The major Chevy brand advertising campaign that rolls out starting today is more important than any single vehicle. Because without being compelled to look at Chevy in a different light -- as an innovative, stylish car brand rather than an apple-pie relic of America’s past -- fickle car buyers won’t be any more likely to notice the Malibu than they were before.
Just ask the guys at Cadillac.
GM execs and dealers have been frustrated that the arrival of the ATS and CTS sedans -- both lauded as on a par with German rivals -- haven’t attracted more import-leaning buyers.
In the 2½ years since the arrival of the ATS, I’ve heard many dealers say a version of this: “They’ve done the hard part: The products are great. Now why can’t they just fix the marketing?”
Turns out product development wasn’t the hard part. Those billions spent on a new ATS-CTS platform, scorching V-series models and head-snapping V-6 twin turbo engines was just the price of entry.
Transforming the brand’s image so that a BMW 5 series shopper might also think to pull up Cadillac’s website to check out the new CT6 luxury sedan is the hard part. And that task is just beginning.
Back to Chevy. The “Real People, Not Actors” campaign uses the natural reactions of non-Chevy buyers to spotlight the gap between the mainstream perception of Chevy and its vastly improved vehicle lineup.
Chevy is betting big on the campaign. U.S. marketing vice president Paul Edwards told me that it will span virtually all of Chevy’s vehicles and last 18 months to two years.
In an appearance here today, GM President Dan Ammann said focus groups loved the new spots (yes, Chevy focus-grouped the focus-group-themed stuff). Before seeing the commercials, they used words like “tough” and “traditional” to describe Chevrolet, Ammann said. Afterward, they were more likely to use “changing,” “innovative” or “leading.”
The next-gen Malibu is also important in Chevy’s quest to elevate the brand. But the ad campaign is bigger.