Power Players

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The 30 executives singled out as 2005 Power Players guide the marketing of some of the U.S.'s largest corporations, and topping their ranks is General Motors Corp.'s Brent Dewar. Advertising Age Detroit Bureau Chief Jean Halliday flagged down GM's North American marketing chief to discuss how he wields ad spending that reached $4 billion last year.

ADVERTISING AGE: What are the biggest changes you've made in advertising and marketing since the promotion to your current post in March?

BRENT DEWAR: I would say clearly positioning the GM brand and the eight [vehicle] divisional brands, greatly differentiating not only the products but the advertising and creative.

Ultimately, the last piece is media. We used to be six different car companies, and we were never greater than the sum of our parts. We have dramatically taken a different approach to this. We are utilizing for the GM brand what I call ingredient marketing. One of the key ingredients to making a GM product is it's got OnStar. It's got safety and security.

We're allowing the GM brand to be the foundation that Pontiac, Chevrolet and other brands can build off. When we launched the "Only GM" campaign, we talked about OnStar and Stabilitrak featured on all eight brands. So if I'm the Chevrolet general manager, I can communicate OnStar and get a link to it.

AA: How has GM changed the way it approaches media?

MR. DEWAR: We are not looking for media in the traditional sense. My view of media is it's all about screens and it's about leading to a digital environment. The media of the future is screens, and I can have sight, sound and motion. I can project vehicles in a bunch of different directions-to a phone, to a computer, to broadband, to a film and to a TV.

The old model was about efficiency, where we were looking for costs per thousand and things of that nature. We weren't customizing our messaging to the customer at hand. The challenge today is that media is very fragmented. That's the bad news. From a cost aspect, it's problematic.

But the advantage is it's fragmented so you can be very vertical in your message. So the biggest adjustment we've made, and it started with me and Mark LaNeve [group VP-sales, service and marketing] coming on board, is we are moving dramatically away from an efficiency model of media to an effectiveness model. It's not about eyeballs. It's about linkage of the message to the product and to the media as best you can. I want connectivity to the consumer.

AA: How are you doing events differently?

MR. DEWAR: We have gone from an old model-what I call affinity marketing-to integrated, interactive event marketing. We generally will not do an event for the sake of awareness. There has to be some activation where the person has an emotional or physical activation with the product. If it's just about parking some locked cars at the hockey rink-thanks, we don't need that because that model has passed.

AA: What is GM doing online?

MR. DEWAR: We're going to be as big as anyone out there. It's a major part of what we do. ...We've been working pretty closely with Google and a number of other companies on the search side.

The place we're trying to get to is to make it easier for our customers in the crunch world we live in to get to us easier. We are not looking for banners. That's the past. It's about click-throughs, the speed of the clicks. You have to ... match your technology to your audience.