Low-Key CMO Brings Stability, Consistency to Chevrolet Brand

Tim Mahoney Has Overturned Two of the Mercurial Joel Ewanick's More Controversial Decisions

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Since Tim Mahoney was named CMO of the global Chevrolet brand in February, there's been little of the agency upheaval that marked Joel Ewanick's stormy two-year tenure as CMO of General Motors.

Tim Mahoney, chief marketing officer, global Chevrolet
Tim Mahoney, chief marketing officer, global Chevrolet

Instead, the low-key Mr. Mahoney has kept Chevy focused on the "Find New Roads" campaign. And he's overturned two of his predecessor's more controversial decisions. After a one-year absence, Chevy will be back on the Super Bowl in 2014. And Chevy returned to Facebook earlier this year.

Chevrolet invests far more than any other GM brand in advertising; it spent $968 million on U.S. media in 2012, according to Kantar Media.

Still, Mr. Mahoney's living with some controversies that predate him. He inherited GM's decision to split off the $290 million Silverado business from McCann-Erickson's Commonwealth, Detroit, in favor of Leo Burnett, Chicago, last December.

Mr. Mahoney, a former Porsche, Subaru and Volkswagen marketer -- he oversaw VW's "The Force" Super Bowl spot -- is now plotting ad strategy for the new Corvette Stingray and the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

Ad Age: What's the deal now between Chevy and its agencies?

Tim Mahoney: There's a lot of stability. At one time, there were probably more than 40 different creative agencies -- and an equal number of media-buying partners. In the past year, that's been essentially reduced to two global agencies: one for media, which is Carat, and one for creative, which is Commonwealth. ... I am a big believer in consistency and execution. … I hope when I retire, they're still talking about "Find New Roads." As opposed to a series of rapid changes and shifts, zigs and zags.

Ad Age: Will Commonwealth get Silverado back from Leo Burnett?

Mr. Mahoney: For now, the plan is to stay with Leo. On the work, they've done a great job for us. … Commonwealth, actually, did the music and the first spot called "Strong." [The company ran the three-and-a-half minute music video/spot by Nashville artist Will Hoge during the MLB All-Star's Home Run Derby.] … Somebody tweeted me and said, "You know, I started to watch it, I really liked it, I went out and bought a truck -- and it was still on."

Ad Age: Will Commonwealth get more Silverado work? Or will Leo Burnett get a shot at other Chevy vehicles?

Mr. Mahoney: When Commonwealth was being put together, and Goodby [Silverstein & Partners] was leaving the scene, there was a lot on their plate. There were 13 launches. You had Corvette, you had Silverado. The decision was made to parse that out a little bit. Leo does all the work for Buick and GMC. That's a big piece of work for them. Commonwealth has a wide space, supporting the global brand in eight major hubs around the world and 140 different countries. I don't think the idea is that they're going to be blended back and forth. But it is nice to have two strong partners.

Ad Age: What work best captures 'Find New Roads?'

Mr. Mahoney: I like the body language of the kid [in father-son camping spot "Convert" by Leo Burnett] kicking the dirt. "I don't want to be here" -- it says everything about being 12 to 16 years old. … Some of the initial work on "Find New Roads" was incredibly strong on the branding and incredibly strong on the product. It was more rational. What I'm pushing into the communications is this human connection. The emotional piece. ["Convert"] is a good example. The other one, I have to say, we got a lot of positive feedback on was the [female rodeo rider in "Her Horse" by Leo Burnett]. Letters … saying: "You guys really get it."

Ad Age: What's the strategy for Corvette Stingray?

Mr. Mahoney: The car is really spectacular. ... From a communication standpoint, it will be very targeted. We don't expect to do a lot of above-the-line TV advertising. We'll use it as an image halo. There will be a digital play. We're talking about some in-theater work around the fall. A lot of print is under development.

Ad Age: Will Stingray get its own tagline?

Mr. Mahoney: It's definitely going to sit under the "Find New Roads" umbrella. It's too easy to say, "For this one, we're going to go over there, for that one, we're going to go over there." Everything we do, almost like a bank account, has to make a deposit into the Chevy brand bank. It has to feed and strengthen Chevrolet. … I spent seven years at Porsche. So this feels like comfortable ground for me. It's a fun, aspirational vehicle. We want to make it aspirational for a large group of buyers. Speaking to the core, but letting new people listen in and be part of it.

Ad Age: Any celebrity endorsers for Stingray?

Mr. Mahoney: Nope. [Actor] John Cusack is the voice of all of our work. We need to have brand consistency underneath.

Ad Age: What vehicles will you feature during NBC's Olympic coverage?

Mr. Mahoney: We want to focus on a core model strategy. … It's the usual suspects: Malibu, Cruze, Equinox, Traverse and Silverado. Those five vehicles represent about 75% of our sales.

Ad Age: What about your Super Bowl ads on Fox?

Mr. Mahoney: I feel good, in terms of where we're going. The question came up yesterday: Does it really make sense? My response is always: What's the one media placement a year where people actually tune in to watch the commercials?

Yes, it's U.S. football. But I can tell you people in Europe and Asia also wait to see what commercials appear on Super Bowl.

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