Ad Age Sits Down With GM's Joel Ewanick

Marketing Chief Puts Automaker Back in the Bowl, Readies New Ad for Camaro and New Tag for Caddy

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NEW YORK ( -- If there's one thing Joel Ewanick has made clear since joining General Motors Co. three months ago, it's that he doesn't let grass grow under his feet. And the company's VP-marketing isn't slowing down anytime soon: In a wide-ranging interview with Ad Age today, Mr. Ewanick let drop that the automaker will return to the Super Bowl in 2011; that an ad campaign will break next month for the Chevy Camaro; and that there's a new tagline coming for Cadillac, "The new standard for the world."

Joel Ewanick
Joel Ewanick
"We have so many projects in the works right now," he said. "I can't tell you specifically, but we have projects going with each of the brands."

Acknowledging that his lightning-fast moves so far haven't always been well-received, Mr. Ewanick admitted the company "messed up" the transition of its the $600 million Chevrolet account to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners without first speaking with Publicis Groupe, something it quickly remedied weeks later when he then tapped Fallon to take over the $270 million Cadillac business from Publicis sibling Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

"We messed up the handling of how we were going to release the information to the folks at Publicis. And that was our doing," Mr. Ewanick said. "I'm kind of disappointed about this, but it also taught me a lesson about what happens at Chevrolet. There's a sequence about how these things should be announced. We were trying to make telephone calls and get to them and talk to [holding company CEO] Maurice [Levy] and talk to [Publicis USA Chairman-CEO] Susan [Gianinno] and let them know what was going on. Someone on our side, internally, leaked it. ... Maurice and I are fine."

Asked why he made the moves to Goodby and Fallon, respectively, Mr. Ewanick cited the friendship and knowledge of their work. "Jeff [Goodby] and Rich [Silverstein] are the best agency in America; some would argue the best agency in the world," Mr. Ewanick said. He added: "We picked an agency like Fallon because Fallon has 17 years of luxury-car experience. There's not an agency in America that has 17 years of luxury-car experience in the United States. Look it up. They had 10 years with BMW and six-and-a-half, seven years with Porsche -- some of that with me. So I know what they're good at, I know what their strengths and weaknesses are, and Pat Fallon is a great advertising person."

He also said that GM would be back in the Super Bowl next February for the first time since bowing out after 2008 when it was trimming its advertising and moving toward a 2009 bankruptcy reorganization.

"The interesting thing is, that's the right thing to do for car brands like we have, specifically Chevrolet. So yes, we will be in the Super Bowl," he said. "I won't tell you how much or what we're doing, but I will tell you it will all be about Chevrolet."

Asked if it would include the new Chevy Volt electric vehicle, set to hit the market just eight weeks before the Super Bowl, Mr. Ewanick laughed and said, "I can't tell you that either."

No matter which models are featured, the work will come from Goodby. Fallon came up with the new tagline for Cadillac, which will start appearing next month. "We think that's where we're going to take this brand," Mr. Ewanick said, noting he was not impressed with the earlier tagline "The mark of leadership."

"I don't know what that means. 'The new standard of the world,' that was our theme line for a new generation of cars. It's a line that I think makes much more sense to the consumer."

Mr. Ewanick said Chevrolet will also have a new tagline later this year, closer to the holidays, but would not say what it was, only that "Excellence for all" is out.

"'Excellence for all' -- it's a great title for Stephen Covey's next book. It's also something I could find on every one of our competitors and one that I could put on every airline and everything else," he said. "It's not specific to who we are and where we're taking Chevrolet, and I thought that was important. We took a step back and said, 'What do we have? We have a soul.' People have deep feelings and passion about that."

Finally, next month will also bring a new ad campaign for another of Chevy's macho sports cars, the Camaro. "The Corvette [ads are] a great example of what we're doing on the performance side," Mr. Ewanick said. "We're going to make a big push on the Camaro because we think that's another way to elevate the brand and make another statement about what Chevrolet stands for."

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