Editorial - What GM wants: brave new ideas

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The nation's No. 1 advertiser, General Motors Corp., wants new ideas from current agencies, new agencies, media-anywhere. Let's hope this scares, and inspires, GM shops, and that GM ad chief C.J. Fraleigh bags some big ideas-and executes. What's good for General Motors could be good for the ad business.

Mr. Fraleigh, GM executive director-advertising and corporate marketing, called for innovation in a toughly worded keynote speech at the AdWatch: Outlook 2003 conference in New York last week, sponsored by Advertising Age and TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. He makes a compelling case. GM has fresh product, improved quality and an opportunity to lead-if it can get the attention of, and become the choice of, a new generation.

Skeptics may doubt the former Pepsi whiz kid, in his third year at GM, can reorder its marketing and steer younger drivers to GM brands. But for all it spends on advertising-$4.6 billion globally last year-GM should expect to get the best ideas. What about GM agency relations, some dating to the early 20th century? As we said last week, advertisers don't need agencies with a past; they need agencies with a future.

The Fraleigh speech recalls a similar show-stopper by Coca-Cola Co. President Steven J. Heyer at Ad Age's Madison + Vine conference in February. In it, Mr. Heyer called on media, agencies and Hollywood to change their business models-or risk extinction.

Amid positive signs at AdWatch (TNS Media Intelligence/CMR raised its 2003 ad spending forecast to 4.3% growth), it remained clear the current outlook is not boom or bust, but blah. In this environment, cutting costs is the price of entry. But cutting edge is the point of innovation.

It's great that GM and Coca-Cola are focusing on opportunity and putting the marketing world on notice. Let's see if that world, from Madison to Vine, answers the call. It's up to Messrs. Fraleigh and Heyer to ensure that good ideas get a fair hearing-and then to execute on the best.

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