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CHEVY DEALERS WORRIED ABOUT SHIFTS IN AD GROUPS

By Published on .

Chevrolet, General Motors Corp.'s largest vehicle division, wants to consolidate its 206 U.S. regional dealer marketing groups to under 30 to unify brand messages. Dealers, especially in smaller markets, are worried about the plan, concerned that they'll have less clout in determining how the ad dollars they contribute regionally will be spent.

Chevy told the presidents of the dealer associations about the plans in a Sept. 20 letter, dealers said. The letter doesn't say how long the consolidation would take, though dealers speculated it would take more than a year.

The dealer associations spend about $300 million on advertising annually.

STANDARDIZING AD MESSAGES

Chevrolet executives declined comment. But the division is on a mission to standardize ad messages under GM's new brand management system. Last week, it followed the lead of Oldsmobile, Pontiac-GMC and Buick by naming a group of select agencies to handle the 206 dealer group accounts.

As expected, Chevy's national agency Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., is among the 13 select shops. The others are: The Ad Team, Miami; B.A. Advertising, Dallas; Berline Group, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; Cuneo, Sullivan, Dolbany, Boston; DeMaine, Vickers & Associates, Alexandria, Va.; Fogarty, Klein & Partners, Houston; Gianettino & Meredith, Short Hills, N.J.; Graham Group, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Kragie/Newell, Des Moines; Lois/EJL, Chicago; J.W. Messner, Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Strong Automotive Merchandising, Birmingham, Ala.

NOT THE SAME

A dealer in Connecticut, a state with its own regional marketing group, fears his state will be lumped into a larger region with major markets such as New York City and Boston, and smaller ones in Vermont and New Hampshire.

"You can't tell me in any way, shape or form the New York market is the same as Connecticut's or the rest of New England," he said.

For example, four-wheel-drive Chevy trucks and sport utility vehicles comprise 56% of sales. "On Long Island, people don't even buy pickup trucks," he said.

Joe Self, a Chevy dealer in Wichita, Kansas, agreed that it sounds as if smaller regions will have less control of their regional ad dollars.

"It sounds like Chevy wants a stronger one-voice message throughout the country," Mr. Self said. He said he wants to see more details from the division before he decides whether he's pro or con on the setup.

"It takes the decision-making away from the locals," said dealer Jack Maples, president of the Central Iowa group, "yet there are economies of scale and single-voice issues."

LOCAL INPUT

But, he added, "I'd hate to see us lose the benefit of local input. I'd rather not have to go that way."

Executives of Chevy's new 13 preferred dealer group agencies will meet next week to learn details.

They were culled from a list of 16 semifinalists. Those cut were Associated Advertising, Phoenix; Heathcotte & Associates, Little Rock, Ark.; and Parrish Marketing, Salt Lake City.

Chevy's dealer groups now use 86 ad agencies.

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