How Bob Lutz Plans to Recapture America's Attention

Vision for GM: Product-Driven Ads, Viral Marketing and Bigger Role for Designers

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Bob Lutz
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Bob Lutz told Automotive News he is looking toward more product-driven advertising, and will rely more on PR and viral marketing.

DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- If six months from now, "GM ads look the same as they did six months ago," said Bob Lutz, "then somebody really needs to ask, 'Why is Lutz here?'"

The 77-year-old vice chairman and chief marketer of General Motors wants to "recapture the attention of the American public" and to achieve that, he told Automotive News, he's looking toward more product-driven advertising in which designers will have a greater hand, and he will rely more on PR and viral marketing. He also plans to take an early and active role in shaping creative work, and said that while he doesn't plan any agency shakeups, shops that don't come through will be put up for review.

To decide budgets and spark marketing ideas, Mr. Lutz will also conduct high-level weekly meetings. The meetings will include Ed Welburn, global design chief; Chris Preuss, head of PR; Betsy Lazar, executive director of advertising and media operations; brand leaders; and a top finance executive.

Also sitting in on the weekly advertising and communications strategy meetings, according to Automotive News, will be Bryan Nesbitt, who was GM's chief of North American design before being tapped last month to run Cadillac.

"Design guys know good illustrations, and they know good composition," Mr. Lutz said, noting he is often frustrated by print ads in which vehicles have been photographed at unattractive angles and with the wrong lighting. "That is so unprofessional," he said. "I say: 'Who the hell did the visual on this ad?' I'm told: 'Well, it had to be fast, and we had to use stuff off the shelf.'"

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Mr. Lutz added: "Ed Welburn's guys can do computer-graphic photographs where every vehicle is at the same angle, on the same plane, at the right scale. That's not rocket science."

Big changes ahead
In GM's product-development culture, Lutz empowered design. Now he is pushing the vehicle stylists to new frontiers. Designers are "going to have their fingers in everything," he said. "Ed has been one of the sharpest critics on how our vehicles are presented in ads."

The weekly strategy meetings will aim at getting concurrence on GM's message and deciding the best way to get it out. "Getting that message out would take $350 million if we try to do it through paid advertising," Mr. Lutz said. "But if we give Chris Preuss $25 million, he can do such and such a thing. In the past, that's never been possible."

Another big change: Mr. Lutz plans to take a hands-on role with ad agencies. In the past, he said, most top-level GM executives never saw an advertising campaign before it ran. He promises to give agencies clear direction for all campaigns, and, if after months, an agency still fails to deliver memorable advertising, he said he will put the account up for review.

The agencies are not talking. "That is not something we'll be willing to comment on because of our relationship with GM," said Mark Benner, spokesman for Campbell-Ewald, which handles Chevrolet advertising.

Mr. Lutz also has big ideas for viral advertising. "We will be doing a whole lot more with the social media and with webpage stuff," he said, "including clever YouTube stuff that's good enough to where it gets passed on." He cited a GM video that features the Corvette ZR1 at Germany's famous Nurburgring race track. A camera is mounted in the car's cockpit as the ZR1 zips around the track at well over 100 miles per hour. Mr. Lutz said that video was extensively downloaded and forwarded.

To that end, Mr. Lutz has challenged GM's advertising agencies to come up with viral ideas to recharge marketing. Whatever those end up to be, he said, GM won't play it safe. "Safe stuff just doesn't break through," he said. "It can't be business as usual in terms of our marketing, because business as usual has not worked."

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