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General Motors has upped the ante in its efforts to woo its regional dealer groups away from local agencies and into the arms of its national agencies.

GM's Chevrolet division is now adding some financial sweeteners to help bring about switches to longtime national Chevy agency Lintas Campbell-Ewald by its 197 regional dealer groups.

The effort probably makes economic sense, and it does allow Chevy to present a more consistent brand image. But when we look back on those leaner years for U.S. automakers, when Japanese marketers were eating Detroit's lunch, we can't help but think about what GM may be losing.

While the Big 3 struggled to get back on track, it was local agencies that helped many hard-pressed dealer groups stem the import tide. Especially notable were Vic Olesen & Partners' campaigns on the West Coast to get California drivers back into Chevies.

And around the country, meanwhile, auto dealer group campaigns were winning advertising awards. Effective auto dealer ads grace the reels of such agencies as Deutsch in New York, Eisaman, Johns & Laws in Chicago and Stein Robaire Helm in Los Angeles.

Right now auto industry marketers seem to be riding a centralization trend, trying to get regional dealer groups into the national agency's tent. In today's tough advertising climate, the big agencies are naturally pushing hard for this added business. But this movement threatens the fiscal health of a lot of good local agencies.

We hope they can hang on until the inevitable countertrend kicks in, and automakers again realize the value of local and regional agencies that are best able to take advantage of local celebrities, local preferences and changing local market conditions.

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