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General Motors Corp. has given more power to its divisional ad managers as the automaker's brand management system evolves from its 1996 inception. "We're finding to get consistent advertising that supports divisional advertising, we need this kind of single source of expertise," said John Middlebrook, VP-general manager of vehicle brand marketing, advertising and corporate marketing. Mr. Middlebrook offered other revelations about GM's brand management system in an interview with Advertising Age during Detroit's North American International Auto Show last week:

The carmaker has fewer brand managers, 31 now vs. 39 in 1997. Their ranks will decline more as GM aligns them with the vehicle line executives who handle new-vehicle development. One glitch is that brand managers expected to have more authority over their vehicles than they did. The vehicle line executives who work with engineers and manufacturing types retain more control.

The company is using more divisional advertising to maximize spending.

Mr. Middlebrook, who's been at GM since 1959, indicated that initially he wasn't in full agreement with the automaker's move in the mid-1990s to centralize vehicle divisions in Detroit. That's changed. "I've come around to the way of thinking that the one-team approach is the way to run the company."

When asked which of GM's organizations he liked best over the years, Mr. Middlebrook said, "If you could afford it, having separate divisions is a great way to go to market. But we can't afford to have separate engineering and manufacturing and marketing organizations."

Mr. Middlebrook said he thinks GM didn't focus enough on divisional brands in the early brand management years. "I think we had the pendulum too far over on the individual line brands."

GM's market share was 28.3% at the end of 2001, boosted from the prior year's 28.2% by fourth-quarter no-interest finance deals and a fresh line of trucks. GM's brand management reorganization in 1996 was supposed to help the carmaker better define its vehicles and gain share it had been losing for decades.

Still, Mr. Middlebrook believes brand management has brought positive changes to GM. "We have to realize it's going to evolve to a style that fits with the auto market and not the same approach and process that fits soft goods."

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