In an interview with Automotive News, Mr. LaNeve said he wants to push Chevrolet cars as a "smart choice" offering a better price than its Asian rivals -- and comparable quality, too.
Communicating brand benefits
"You're paying a premium" with Japanese cars, Mr. LaNeve said. "You're not getting better quality, you're not getting better performance, you're not getting better fuel economy -- you're just paying a premium. We have got to get that communicated."
Mr. LaNeve said he has asked Chevrolet General Manager Ed Peper and Campbell-Ewald to improve the Chevrolet car ads. His comments appear to be raising the pressure on Mr. Peper -- and Bill Ludwig, the agency's chief creative officer.
Through May, Chevrolet sold 333,420 cars, down 0.6% compared with the year-ago period. Through that same period, Chevrolet truck sales were off 4.6%.
Analysts blame the falling truck sales on high gasoline prices and a decline in the truck segment rather than on the brand's truck ads.
Could jolt ad industry
Mr. LaNeve's wake-up call seems likely to send shock waves through the advertising community. Last year Chevrolet spent $756 million on advertising, more than any other GM brand. With that kind of spending comes pressure.
Campbell-Ewald has handled Chevrolet's advertising since 1922. And in recent years it has created such memorable spots as Bob Seger's "Like a Rock" truck ads, "An American Revolution," the "Heartbeat of America" tagline and Chevy's current "This Is Our Country" campaign for the Silverado pickup.
But Mr. LaNeve has proved to be willing to shake up longstanding business relations. Last year Campbell-Ewald lost a piece of its Chevrolet business to Deutsch, Los Angeles. Deutsch handled negotiations for Chevrolet's 2006 Major League Baseball and motorsports ad campaigns.
Interview with agency nixed
Campbell-Ewald's Mr. Ludwig was willing to discuss his agency's work, but Chevrolet vetoed the interview and refused to make any car executives available.
Last June, Mr. LaNeve fired Cadillac's ad agency, Leo Burnett Detroit, and hired Modernista to do Cadillac's creative work. Leo Burnett had held the Cadillac account since 1935.
Burnett created Cadillac's "Breakthrough" spot featuring Led Zeppelin music that fueled Cadillac's turnaround and propelled Mr. LaNeve, then Cadillac's general manager, into the upper reaches of GM management. Yet Mr. LaNeve pulled the plug on Burnett once the Cadillac ads had grown stale.