New sheriff at GM plans to bring 'bretail' to auto behemoth

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W.W. Brent Dewar, promoted in March to General Motors Corp.'s VP-marketing and advertising in North America, faces the biggest challenge of his 27-year career at the auto giant. The general marketing manager of Chevrolet for the past two years will be driving GM's massive shift into diversifying media plans and sharpening the positions of each of its eight vehicle brands even as the corporation struggles to return to profitability.

"There's a new sheriff in town and we're looking for better creativity" from GM's roster of agencies, said the 49-year-old Vancouver native. He's rolling out a new system under which each agency will be judged based on vehicle retail sales performance and brand image.

He's in the midst of "changing the budgets" of the divisions to better reach prospects and keep in touch with owners after they buy. "We do not want to go to market with all the divisions the same way," he said, adding GM plans to make "some dramatic media decisions going forward." While GM won't bail out of national TV, Mr. Dewar said the marketer plans to be very progressive and a pioneer in new media. GM will spend more on marketing, but will allocate funds differently than in the past.

He was on the panel that chose Publicis Groupe's Starcom Media-vest Group to handle GM's $3.5 billion U.S. national and regional media buys. "The traditional media model was about efficiency, but what we are saying to our partners now is we want to be more effective."

Mr. Dewar, the fourth born of five children, gave a hint of what is to come. At Chevrolet, he expanded the brand's Test Drive Challenge event from five markets in 2003 to 22 in 2004 and 55 this year. GM tracks leads from the test drives to sales. Chevrolet, which sells half of all GM vehicles, got 10,000 leads daily at its branded driving experience two years ago during the Daytona 500 races.

`TOTAL VALUE PLAN'

His biggest challenge is to transition GM's marketing to a "total value plan." That plan includes pricing closer to actual transaction prices, simplifying options packages to offer the most popular configurations and selling cars and trucks on their merits-not with industry-leading incentives. For example, GM will make its OnStar system standard on all models by 2007. Another challenge in 2005 are the flawless launches of upcoming key new models, including Chevrolet's HHR tall wagon and Pontiac's Solstice roadster.

"Bretail" is one of his pet buzzwords, which he described as messages that communicate vehicle positioning, product features and vehicle benefits while inviting consumers to try the product. The closest he came to "bretail" at Chevrolet, he said, was a launch TV spot for the subcompact Aveo, which depicted tall basketball players as small inside the car to show its roominess. The spot, which broke during last year's Super Bowl, also showed its attractive low price.

Tommy Brasher, a Texas Chevrolet dealer and member of GM's advisory board, described Mr. Dewar as "brilliant" and "a hands-on super guy." Mr. Dewar, he said, "is very inquisitive," asking questions until he learns what others know. "He's had a great career and using some of the things that worked for him in Brazil, which went through horrible inflation when he was there."

His only weakness? "He works too many hours," Mr. Brasher said. "As long as I've known him he always says we'll get together for a round of golf. Yeah, right."

CLIMBING THE LADDER

Mr. Dewar, whose father was a high-school principal, has steadily moved up the ladder at GM since joining its Canadian operations in 1978, where he held several supervisory and management posts in sales, service, marketing and financial. He first joined Chevrolet in the U.S. in 1988 as strategic planning manager and held several field marketing and sales jobs before being sent to Brazil in 1994 as marketing manager.

In Brazil, he rose to executive director-sales, service and marketing before promoted in spring 2000 to general manager of GM's 15-state Northeast region. After being elevated to head Chevrolet in spring 2003, he introduced the brand's biggest ad campaign, "An American Revolution," at the end of that year.

But ad messages don't supersede products, he said. "Your message has to be congruent to your product and the medium," he said. "When you line that all up, you have a home run."

Just Asking

What are you listening to in your car? Blue Rodeo, Gretchen Wilson and clean versions of Green Day.

Where are you when you're not at GM? I love to play golf, but I don't have the time. I love to read and am always reading a fiction and non-fiction at the same time.

So what's currently on your nightstand? Carlos Ghosn's "Shift: Inside Nissan's Historic Revival" and "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hossein.

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