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(M)AD MEN AND WOMEN OF THE CAR WORLD

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Thu, Sep 2, 2010

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

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In a new Nissan ad, a polar bear leaves its natural habitat to thank an owner of an electric Leaf vehicle

Following the bouncing ball of automotive marketing always has been a fascinating element of this business. In an industry that sells products locked into a pattern of four or more years of very expensive design and engineering lead-times, plus at least five or more years in showrooms to recoup the massive capital outlay, the impact of marketing sometimes is seen as negligible. After all, if the product is not right the moment it hits the public's radar, there is very little marketing can do to fully salvage the decade worth of investment. As we prepare for the 2011 model year, many companies are taking advantage of this lull to reset their marketing efforts to convey new messages. Beyond the typical "print vs. TV versus digital" budget allocation discussions, new campaigns are being prepared to make consumers see the brands or products in a different way...even if the OEMs are continuing to sell the current 2010 cars and trucks. Interestingly, we hear that General Motors is pulling back from use or promotion of the "GM" brand in its advertising. Just a few years ago, before 2009's bankruptcy and federal investment, the company made a similarly conscious decision to remind consumers that their next Chevy or Pontiac or GMC was a GM at its core. In fact, one of the many ways the company conveyed this was with a small GM badge on the fender just behind the front wheel. Now going into 2011, GM has a new marketer-in-chief (Joel Ewanick, previously of Hyundai fame), and he is touting a philosophy that removes mention of GM and redirects attention onto the specific model or brand. Meanwhile, at Nissan where sales are up over 2009 and market share is growing, there will be a new focus off of specific models and back onto the overall brand. Nissan is about to launch a new campaign aimed at tying such successful individual strengths into the company’s full line-up of vehicles. In essence, Nissan’s new marketing program is the complete opposite of GM's new marketing program. And when Ford's Jim Farley was asked about the impact of marketing in Ford's 2011 plans, in an odd yet honest reply for a marketer himself, he said "Customers will determine how many cars we sell, not advertising." No matter the creativity or strategy presented with every new campaign, marketing must make a huge contribution to the manufacturer's effort to "move the metal" and help avoid boom and bust patterns seen so many times in big close-out sales or national promotions that focus on the "deal" as opposed to the values and virtues of the vehicles themselves. As mentioned by Ford’s Farley, the consumer will ultimately decide if a certain vehicle or brand is right for them and how it lines up with their personal situation or self-perception. Ultimately, this is a product-led business that marketers ride like a bucking bull at a rodeo...hoping they can hold on long enough to the winners and slide quietly and graciously off the losers. James Bell, Executive Market Analyst Kelley Blue Book

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