Why GM Made the Right Decision Hiring Ewanick

Viewpoint: Hyundai's Ex-Marketer Brings an Outsider's Perspective to Detroit

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Cameron McNaughton
Cameron McNaughton
It's been a roller-coaster week for General Motors.

GM's latest TV ad in which it touts that it paid back government loans had been widely slammed for being tone deaf. Things got worse when a complaint was filed with the Federal Trade Commission stating that the commercial was misleading and charged GM with deceptive advertising based on the actual source of funds. The critics have a point. Touting in a commercial that you've paid back a $6.7 billion loan when most of us recognize that the company has been given more than $50 billion in taxpayer dollars does seem disingenuous.

There's no doubt that the commercial will go down as a major marketing misstep, but I'm also not cynical enough to conclude that the folks at GM set out to mislead us. It seems to me the company was simply trying to demonstrate to Americans that it is making progress.

GM has a better opportunity to demonstrate genuine progress with its decision to hire Joel Ewanick. The announcement this week that it had snagged Mr. Ewanick to serve as its U.S. marketing head some six weeks into his new post at Nissan sent shock waves through the industry. So while many might have thought it was yet another leadership change at the automaker, it was one of the smartest decisions GM has made.

Mr. Ewanick has a solid track record of success in automotive marketing, and as the chief architect behind Hyundai's "Assurance Program" he created an innovative program that helped the company (and its customers) to cruise through a very deep recession. In addition to his auto experience he's also worked on the agency side and has a good understanding of what it takes to get the best out of an agency team.

His resume isn't the real reason he's such a smart pick, though. It's because he is an outsider -- a marketer who didn't grow up professionally at GM, and for that matter, has never been part of the auto culture of Detroit.

Of course, that's also why it's not going to be easy for Mr. Ewanick to make the adjustment. But every one of us, as taxpayers who are part-owners of GM, should be pulling for him to succeed and hope that he is allowed the freedom to make the necessary marketing decisions to help the company rebuild itself.

With the hiring of Mr. Ewanick, GM is showing signs that it's interested in bringing in new perspectives to shape the way it thinks about branding, marketing and communications. Only time will tell if the hire is a harbinger of great advertising that results in iconic brands such as Chevrolet and Cadillac becoming strong assets again. But GM's move to put an outsider in its most influential marketing position is the best sign of progress yet.

Cameron McNaughton is president of McNaughton Automotive Perspectives, an independent automotive marketing consultant (the company does not work with GM). He can be reached at mcnaughton@autoperspectives.com.
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