It's a wedge that could turn into a windfall for the Warren, Mich., agency, while paring smaller shops from the Chevy roster. Lintas has its sights on eventually winning over all or most of the General Motors Corp. division's 197 regional ad groups, with estimated total annual ad spending of $300 million.
The regional marketing test comes at a crucial juncture for Chevrolet. The division will use the Academy Awards broadcast March 28 to unveil a new campaign, themed "Genuine Chevrolet," to succeed "The heartbeat of America," which was phased out last fall after seven years.
The new brand positioning will help introduce a redesigned Lumina sedan and a new Monte Carlo coupe, part of a slew of upcoming new products. After several years of neglect, GM is pouring resources into Chevrolet to boost the unit that accounts for about half of the company's U.S. sales.
"We've got a lot of new products coming to market," said Jeff Hurlbert, Chevrolet general marketing manager. The regional marketing test is aimed at developing a more consistent brand image from all Chevrolet's advertising, he said.
"We're combining resources to test whether we can become more efficient through a more coordinated marketing approach," Mr. Hurlbert said.
For the test, one dealer ad group in each of Chevrolet's regional sales territories can volunteer to hire Campbell-Ewald, and in so doing qualify for bonus funds that Chevrolet will contribute to the ad group. The bonus money is on top of the ad funds raised by a 1%-of-invoice assessment that all Chevy dealers pay for regional advertising.
In an unusual move that indicates how serious Chevrolet is about the project, the division's director of area marketing, Frank Raine, will be "loaned" to Campbell-Ewald to help oversee the test, expected to last at least a year. Mr. Raine will technically remain a GM employee, but the agency will reimburse Chevy for his salary.
The precedent for that arrangement was set in 1990, when Candace Robbins, manager of Chevrolet's truck advertising, moved to the agency side as general manager of McCann-Erickson/SAS, Troy, Mich., agency for GMC Truck. Ms. Robbins has also remained a GM employee.
How much money an individual dealer ad group qualifies for would depend on market size and the competitive situation, Mr. Raine said. The goal is to provide a 10% increase in Chevrolet's "share of voice" in a market.
As an example, Mr. Raine said, the program would contribute an extra $500,000-plus to a major market like Atlanta to raise "share of voice" from 15% to 16.5%.
GM Chairman John Smale is said to be a major behind-the-scenes influence in pushing the company's divisions to better coordinate national and regional advertising. Mr. Smale and others have been concerned that regional advertising too often undercuts the brand image that the national marketer tries to build.
As a result of the recent attention to regional advertising, D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Bloomfield Hills, has taken over some Pontiac ad groups. And Oldsmobile is working with its dealers to consolidate the number of shops on its roster of regional agencies, a process that so far has reduced the total from 80 to about 55 agencies.
Chevrolet is the first GM division to use a financial inducement to get dealer groups to switch to the national agency, but it's not a new strategy. Chrysler Corp. provides matching funds to all its dealer ad groups but only under condition that they use the brand's national agency, BBDO Worldwide, Southfield, for Dodge and Bozell for Chrysler/Plymouth and Jeep/Eagle.
Some of GM's dealers have resisted the move to using a national agency because of conviction that a local, retail-oriented shop can better understand their needs.
Campbell-Ewald was rebuffed last year when it pitched the $2 million Orlando dealers account, with the group keeping the Ad Team.
But last fall, Chevrolet and its national dealer council gave their blessings as the agency formed a retail automotive division to go after regional business.