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New GM Marketing Chief Eyes Brand Ad Agency Review

Declines to Identify Vehicle Line

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NEW YORK ( -– General Motors Corp. may soon put the advertising creative of one or more of its vehicle brands in review, said Mark LaNeve, the new vice president for sales, service and marketing.

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Speaking at this week's New York International Auto Show at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, Mr. LaNeve declined to discuss which brands could go into review, saying only that the auto giant has been with several of its agencies for decades. He also said the company was taking measures to improve sales.

Newly promoted
Three weeks ago Mr. LaNeve, who was vice president of corporate advertising for North America, was promoted to his current post in a move was part of a broader corporate executive suite reorganization carried out in the wake of GM's continuing market share losses.

Mr. LaNeve's comments at the show came against a background of industry criticism and concern for GM's worsening condition. Last week it announced it expected to lose $850 million in North America in the first quarter. A story in the March 21 print edition of Advertising Age detailed how the company has been hampered by ineffective marketing policies and practices, massive incentive programs that have undermined its brand building efforts, and products that have failed to excite either consumers or dealers.

Kill Pontiac or Buick?
In a separate appearance at a Morgan Stanley conference, GM's vice chairman, Robert A. Lutz, is reported to have said the company is considering the elmination of either the Pontiac or Buick line if products sales don't improve.

Mr. LaNeve said GM plans to better define each of its eight vehicle brands and believed that "middle of the road [product] is not a winning strategy."

He said he believed that several brands are improving and cited Cadillac, Chevrolet, Hummer and GMC. "We're still working on how to position Pontiac and Buick," he said. GM's other brands are Saturn and Saab.

Missed sales projections
Over the last several years, GM executives have promised to develop "gotta-have products" but consumer response indicates they have consistently fallen short of their goal. The first wave of those models, including the new Pontiac G6 and Buick Lacrosse sedans, aren't meeting sales projections.

Mr. LaNeve hopes to bring a fresh eye to the effort to turn around the marketer's fortunes in the U.S.; he received good grades for the progress he made while heading Cadillac as general marketing manager.

"We have to reignite Pontiac the way we did with advertising in the '60s," he said, referring to the original hot GTO muscle car. Pontiac's brand positioning is anchored in the athletic design of its cars as well as their performance. "We've got a lot to work with on Pontiac, but we really have to tighten it up." He said he'd rather have "five great Pontiacs with true street cred than eight indistinguishable products" in the brand's lineup.

Chemistri ad agency
Publicis Groupe's Chemistri, Troy, Mich., is the advertising agency for Pontiac and Cadillac.

Regarding Buick, he said he believes the nameplate has "better quality than Toyota" -- a sentiment that appears to be out of sync with the general perceptions of industry watchers. He noted that Buick vehicles also have very quiet interior cabins, adding, "We're going to get the word out on that."

McCann Erickson
Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson, Troy, is Buick's advertising agency.

However, Mr. LaNeve cautioned, "We're not going to get this done overnight."

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