GM drives for loyalty with new image ads

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In an age of wavering owner loyalty, General Motors Corp. launches a new corporate image campaign later this month hoping to boost consumer confidence and increase market share.

This is the first corporate effort since the institution of GM's brand management reorganization, in which not only car marques but individual models are being positioned as separate brands.

`HALO OF CONFIDENCE'

"GM can provide a halo of confidence to position the brands," said Philip Guarascio, VP-general manager, marketing and advertising, North American Operations. "If we can retain a portion of defectors, the leverage is huge."

Unlike past corporate drives, the "People in motion"-themed advertising--from N.W. Ayer & Partners, Detroit and New York--plugs various GM brands suited to the targeted consumer as well as GM.

Mr. Guarascio declined to reveal the budget, but said spending will at least match, and could surpass, past years. GM spent $23 million on corporate advertising last year and $19 million in 1994, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

MORE THAN A CAMPAIGN

However, he indicated it could go higher. "We spend millions on advertising but peanuts on the GM brand," Mr. Guarascio said, adding the new initiative is more than an ad campaign. "It's more broad-based," he insisted.

The "brand GM" idea will be maintained in all internal and external communications; at GM venues such as its Walt Disney World Epcot Center exhibit and the Summer Olympics in Atlanta; and on its Web sites.

An eight-page insert of spread ads showing people's different life stages and different needs breaks May 20 in 11 magazines, including the May 27 issues of newsweeklies, Fortune, People and Wired.

A 60-second TV commercial, which breaks May 27 during prime-time programming, parallels the first life stages' spread ad.

Auto market researcher Art Spinella, VP of CNW Marketing/Research, said GM wants to capitalize on the wave of positive momentum it's been riding lately. He said his company's research shows the rate of consumers who would consider buying GM has nearly doubled from its low point in 1987 to this year.

"The GM name is starting to re-emerge as a name people are willing to trust again," he said.

Mr. Guarascio would agree. He and his staff started work on the first phase of this effort in 1993, with extensive consumer research to determine what the GM brand image was and how to manage it.

The most studied question, he said, was "does GM's image affect car and truck sales?"

MAKING PROGRESS

Recent GM research showed consumers believe the company has made progress since it was perceived as uncaring, out-of-touch and unresponsive.

Mr. Spinella calls this era--from the late 1970s well into the '80s--GM's "embarrassing phase."

The multibrand corporate effort might be trouble, said one observer. "Brands are supposed to be different from each other," said Professor David Schmittlein, chairman of the Wharton School's marketing department, adding that GM could find it tricky connecting with all consumers of all ages with a wide variety of needs.

Copyright May 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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