Is GM Driving Goodby Out of Commonwealth?

Rumors Swirling in Detroit That Automaker May Consolidate All Chevy Advertising at McCann

By Published on .

The foundation is shifting under the house that Joel Ewanick built at General Motors.

'Find New Roads'
'Find New Roads'

During his tenure as CMO at the country's second-largest advertiser, Mr. Ewanick built a historic agency structure for Chevrolet -- a cooperative owned jointly by rival holding companies Omnicom Group and Interpublic Group of Cos. to service Chevrolet's massive global creative account.

Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and McCann became partners in the entity, Commonwealth. But 11 months later, the structure seems to be changing pretty drastically.

According to executives, talks are under way at GM to put McCann in the lead on Chevrolet, effectively cutting Goodby out of the business. Goodby and McCann declined to comment, and Goodby co-founder Jeff Goodby said he has not gotten any word from his client about discussions that may negatively impact his agency. But numerous Detroit executives have been buzzing about the doomed state of this setup, predicting that the end is near for the Omnicom-owned agency's part of the structure.

In the U.S. alone, Chevrolet was supported with $1.03 billion in advertising, according to Ad Age's DataCenter, putting the car among the top 10 brands by U.S. ad spending in 2011.

GM's new road takes it far away from the haphazard marketing decisions that were made by Mr. Ewanick, who was ousted last July amid controversy over a botched sports-marketing deal and use of company funds.

General Motors' interim head of marketing for the past six months, Alan Batey, has been undoing moves made by his predecessor. He scrapped the "Chevy Runs Deep" tagline, which was criticized by consumers, and replaced it with "Find New Roads." He took Silverado trucks out of Commonwealth and handed the account to Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett. Many have been wondering whether cutting Goodby Silverstein would be the next move, given that Mr. Goodby is a longtime friend of Mr. Ewanick.

In January, Mr. Batey told Ad Age that he was happy with the Commonwealth structure. One person close to the situation suggested that Commonwealth would continue as Chevy's global agency but would essentially be fueled by McCann globally. The person noted that these moves are part of GM returning to simplicity in its marketing strategy. If Goodby Silverstein is removed from Commonwealth, it would mean Chevy has a single global agency rather than different shops for U.S. and worldwide work. It also jibes with a goal of GM CEO Dan Akerson, who wants to elevate the Chevy brand into a true global player.

It's worth noting that Tim Mahoney, who is joining GM as global head of Chevy advertising after two years at Volkswagen of America, is used to working with a single shop, Interpublic's Deutsch.

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