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General Motors Corp. has run into rough going in its efforts to restructure regional advertising, and nowhere is the infighting more intense than at Chevrolet.

Six agencies that handle some of the division's largest dealer ad groups last week put together an informal consortium that will pool creative work to strengthen their hand against Chevy's national agency, Lintas Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich.

Chevrolet has offered to give bonus marketing funds to as many as 14 dealer associations that will hire Lintas in a test de-signed to develop a more consistent brand identity. The agency group is tentatively called the Retail Advertising Council.

Brand images are at the heart of GM's efforts. About two years ago, a GM study found 48% of regional ad messages were detrimental to the vehicle-line brand images the company was trying to build, people familiar with the study said.

That waste caught the eye of John Smale, the former Procter & Gamble Co. chairman who became GM's chairman in October 1992. Mr. Smale, working behind the scenes with marketing executives, is said to be the driving force behind the sweeping reorganization of an estimated $700 million in regional advertising.

"The buzzword is `one voice,"' said Bill Nicholson, Oldsmobile's director of consumer marketing, who said that translates into "consistency in message."

But changing a system that has been in place for about two decades hasn't been simple. The old system gave dealers significant control over hiring agencies and determining strategy, an authority dealers are reluctant to abandon because they provide the lion's share of funding.

"We knew it was not going to be easy," said Nicholas Popely, senior VP and head of Campbell-Ewald's retail automotive division. The agency has won three groups so far, based in Minneapolis; Portland, Ore.; and Columbus, Ohio.

The agencies banding together in a counter-offensive to Campbell-Ewald are Demaine, Vickers, Alexandria, Va.; Gianettino & Meredith, Short Hills, N.J.; Graham & Associates, Denver; B.A. Advertising, Dallas; CGRW & Associates, Los Angeles; and Messner & Associates, Grand Rapids, Mich. The six handle groups representing 68% of Chevy's 4,500 dealers.

Demaine President Windsor Demaine said the group believes it can answer Chevrolet's concerns about quality of advertising by pooling creative.

Mr. Demaine said the consortium's work would be offered to interested dealer groups; each could keep its own agency while buying a specific campaign.

The pool idea has some similarities with Pontiac division's direction (AA, June 13).

Pontiac is holding a review that will reduce its roster of 63 regional dealer ad group agencies to about a dozen.

The qualifying agencies' ads will be made available to all dealer groups. While an association's agency will be compensated for placing media, another approved agency will earn additional pay if other groups pick up its creative, said Steve Betz, area marketing manager for Pontiac.

National agency D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., is expected to make the cut, but Pontiac won't offer incentives to persuade groups to hire DMBB.

"It's a smart solution, one that allows individual associations to still basically call their own shots," said Donny Deutsch, CEO-executive creative director of Deutsch, New York, agency for the Pontiac dealer ad group in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Mr. Demaine said one difference between the Chevy consortium plan and Pontiac's direction is that the consortium doesn't want to limit the number of agencies working on dealer ad groups.

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