GM's Malibu: 'Tired of Being a Foreign Car' in U.S.

Three-Phase Blitz for Chevy Brand Likely Will Top $150 Million

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DETROIT ( -- General Motors Corp. is out to bust skeptics who believe that Detroit can't build a competitive car.
Todd Turner, president of consultant CarConcepts, praised the Malibu's interior as 'gorgeous.'
Todd Turner, president of consultant CarConcepts, praised the Malibu's interior as 'gorgeous.'

And it's using the redone 2008 Chevrolet Malibu as a "catalyst to disrupt" that belief, Mark LaNeve, VP-sales, service and marketing for the automaker in North America, said today.

"We're tired of being a foreign car in our own country," reads one print ad launching the bigger, much-improved Malibu next week. The push is part of an estimated $150 million-plus, three-phase blitz from Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., themed "The car you can't ignore."

'Highly skeptical'
Kim Kosak, general director-advertising and sales promotions for Chevrolet, is well-aware of the challenge. Malibu's targets "are highly skeptical of domestic car brands." Toyota's Camry is the best-seller in the midsize segment, followed by Honda's Accord and Nissan's Altima.

That's why, she said, Malibu's launch aims to disrupt consumers. "We're going to shock the system and get their attention because we're not on their radar screen."

The first phase of the campaign includes a digital takeover on a slew of web portals she said aims to give the new Malibu 800 million impressions and generate nearly 5 million unique visitors per day to -- about the same number the site normally gets in a whole month. The massive out-of-home push includes 172 billboards, with spectaculars and building wraps, in 31 markets. There's also a batch of humorous 15-second TV spots.

The second phase, dubbed "Reveal," starts Nov. 7 and goes through Jan. 31. Bill Ludwig, vice chairman-chief creative officer of Campbell-Ewald, said this phase will leverage positive quotes about Malibu from third parties. "Beware Camry," says one print ad, quoting "Car & Driver" magazine.

'Consistent' spending
Ms. Kosak declined to quantify spending but said the Malibu effort will be "very consistent" with GM's outlay that launched the redone Chevrolet Silverado full-size pickup last year. Of the $742 million Chevrolet spent in U.S. measured media for all its models last year, $165 million was for the Silverado, according to TNS Media Intelligence. TNS figures show that Chevrolet spent $292 million in the first half of 2007 on all models vs. $433 million in the first six months of 2006.

Chevrolet hopes to boost sales to women. Half of Malibu buyers are female, and the automaker wants to raise that to 60%. That's one reason the marketer is working with Conde Nast and its fashion titles. A new site tied to Lucky will show off Rafe-designed purses inspired by the new Malibu. The car also will be featured during Conde Nast's 10-city mall tour with fashion shows starting next month. Readers of Vogue and other Conde Nast titles will be able to enter to win a trip to Manhattan to meet songbird Mary J. Blige.

The final phase of the campaign, called "Enroll," will include four national TV commercials and efforts GM won't talk about yet to get consumers to experience the car.

Finally competitive
Todd Turner, president of consultant CarConcepts, said getting consumers to sit in the new Malibu will be key to changing their minds. He praised the Malibu's interior as "gorgeous," saying, "That alone finally puts GM in the competitive arena." He's not as thrilled with the car's back end, however, which he said carries a "certain kind of ungainliness."

Mr. Turner said it easily could take GM two or three years to change perceptions about the Malibu. Getting the car in rental fleets in key vacation markets such as Florida, Hawaii and Southern California could hasten that timetable, he added.

Many Americans think of the Malibu as a rental car, a Chevrolet spokesman said. But Chevy will cut sales to rental-car outfits in half from about 40% of all sales.

Chevrolet said it sold 163,853 Malibus in the U.S. last year and 102,955 through September 2007, down 23% from the same period a year ago.
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