NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In what will most certainly be a big test for new VP-Marketing Joel Ewanick, General Motors Co. has begun advertising for one of the most highly anticipated model launches in years.
Regional ads for the Chevrolet Volt started last week in Texas and New York, where the mostly electric vehicles are expected to be rolled out first later this year. While some have described the Volt as a hybrid, GM does not consider the car to be a true hybrid like the Toyota Prius, in which a small electric motor takes over the when car runs at a slower speed. In the Volt, the electric motor is the bigger motor; the gasoline motor is only used to power the vehicle when the electricity is low.
"There's no doubt it's probably one of the biggest, most critical launches for them -- not just from a marketing standpoint but manufacturing, too," said automotive analyst Laurie Harbour, president of Berkley, Mich.-based Harbour Results. "Their ability to launch it to the public and get people excited to buy it is going to be key."
GM will soon be taking the company, majority owned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, public again, perhaps as soon as the fourth quarter but more likely in early 2011, and a domino effect is in play -- Mr. Ewanick must settle GM's unstable marketing situation and produce good advertising that lures new car buyers, which in turn will help persuade a skeptical public to invest in the company again.
"There's no question that Ed Whitacre wants Joel to get marketing fixed. It's been the glaring problem for General Motors for going on a decade," said Peter DeLorenzo, a longtime automotive advertising and marketing executive who runs AutoExtremist.com. "Now that they have their product act together, they need the marketing part fixed. It may not be part and parcel of getting ready for the IPO, but it helps. Ed Whitacre has certainly told Joel, 'Do what you have to do.'"
The launch of the Volt, expected to roll out in California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Washington, D.C., by the end of the year, is vital to that effort.
GM declined to comment for this story, but it is believed Austin, Texas, and New York City will be among the first two areas to receive the vehicles, and teaser ads have begun appearing in those markets. GM took out a print ad in the New York Times, a simple execution heavy on text and featuring only the Volt logo and not a picture of the car.
The 30-second TV ad has no voice-over, only the image that a driver would see and hear while driving along a highway, with text that reads, "Listen. That's the sound of the status quo crumbling. Breathtaking, isn't it?" The Volt logo then appears with the tagline "It's electrifying. And it's coming this winter."
The ads are from San Francisco's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which was named to the $670 million Chevrolet business in June without a review, just weeks after Mr. Ewanick took over at GM.
The Volt will be in competition with another version of an electric vehicle, the Leaf from Nissan -- ironically, where Mr. Ewanick worked for five weeks in between leaving Hyundai in March and assuming his new role at GM in May.
Nissan has already rolled out ads for the Leaf, including a nifty iAd for the iPhone. Asked if GM plans on a larger, flashier campaign for the Volt, Tony DiSalle, marketing director, told the blog gm-volt.com (which has no affiliation with GM and is actually run by a New York physician who is an advocate for alternative energy and petroleum displacement) that more ads will appear as the late November/early December launch date draws closer.
"You will absolutely see messaging from us from an advertising and marketing perspective to try to get the word out as well," Mr. DiSalle told the blog. "And I'll also tell you we have a saying here that there is no better marketing told for the Volt than the Volt. Getting people in the car is going to be very, very important. ... Keep in mind we're still five months away from launch. As we get closer you'll obviously see more and more from an advertising perspective from us."