Friday, May 7, 2010

Free Idea Friday

Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. Every Friday I will share an idea that's been rolling around in my head that I have neither the time nor the where-with-all to execute. Remember, it's free, so take it for what it's worth. 

Welcome to GM, Joel
I don't know you, but you seem like a bright guy. Your work with Goodby Silverstein on Hyundai created some of the best marketing and advertising programs in the automotive industry recently. You're going to need all that and more to help guide the Titanic that is General Motors and keep it away from the icebergs.

That said, I thought I'd give you my thoughts from 400 miles Northwest of Detroit.

First and foremost, define your brands in real terms that can guide not just marketing, but also product development activities. Chevy, Buick, Cadillac and GMC all need strong, separate identities. No gray lines between divisions. Find a word or phrase for each and own it.

And no weasel words or cost-of-entry benefits like quality or performance.

Second. The goal of your marketing programs should be to get people into the cars. Don't expect to sell a vehicle with a print ad, 30-second TV spot, Tweet or Facebook page. You can't convince people that GM cars are suddenly different with words and images alone. Only the experience of driving will convince someone that a CTS-V is superior to a BMW M5, that a LaCrosse is at least the equal of a Lexus, that a Malibu is every bit as good as a Camry.

Finally, this is a passion business. You know it as well as anyone. If the people on your accounts at the various agencies aren't fanatical about your brands, get people who are.

I'm not talking about brand apologists, but people who love cars and love the challenge of making GM great again. You don't want people working on your business who drive a GM car to work but a BMW or Audi on the weekend. You need people who drive your products and are willing to tell the truth about them, to you and all the people they're creating ads for.

This is GM's last stand and you're the guy leading the charge. If someone tells you there's an easy or fast way to turn the ship around, they're either lying or sucking up. Get rid of them. This is the toughest and most important marketing challenge in American history. Our country needs a strong GM not just for a healthy economy and but our national ego.

I wish you nothing but success.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

It's time to grill Weber


You have a product that's the standard of your category, has a history of bringing families and friends together in backyards and at tailgate parties across the country, and this is the best you can do?

Forget for a moment the cliché imagery and derivative music. Where's the idea?

I can just see the presentation now.

"So, you know how much people love to grill, and how popular Dancing with the Stars is. Well, this spot is 'Dancing with the Weber!'"

The Weber brand has so much more depth than this spot gives it credit for. I'm not talking about functional features either. There's no need to talk about BTUs and all the patented blah, blah, blah that you typically find in this category. But find the real emotional connection.

"Have fun with it" is so generic. Replace the Weber with just about anything – a car, a riding mower, a pair of sunglasses – and the spot still works (badly, but it still works).

When I first got into advertising someone told me; When the British don't have an idea, they tell a joke. When the French don't have an idea, they take their clothes off. And when the American's don't have an idea, they sing a song.

After seeing this spot, I really wish I lived in France.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Oh behave!

Congress released a first draft of the Online Privacy Bill and it has some interesting implications for how people can collect and use information online for marketing purposes.

If passed, this bill will prevent websites from collecting and using traditionally sensitive data like medical records, bank account, social security and driver's license numbers for marketing purposes. That's all good.

It goes on to state that additional information including your first and last name, address, telephone, email and a "persistent unique identifier" like a username or IP address cannot be used for anything other than "transactional or operational" purposes without your expressed consent.

What does this mean?

Essentially it means that your behavior on the web will no longer be available without your active consent.

Of course the ad industry is in a tizzy over this. Behavioral tracking is all the rage on the web, and this bill makes it harder because now I need your permission to follow you on the web and smartphone and share information with others who do so.

Sounds fair to me.

I don't like being stalked in real life. And I don't like it on the web. If you want to follow me and use the breadcrumbs I leave behind to help sell me products, get my permission first. Be open and transparent about it.

The best marketers have always been permission based in their actions, respecting the privacy of their customers and prospects. But there have always been those who have sought to abuse new technologies, thus the Do Not Call lists to rein in telemarketers, and bills like this.

So instead of fighting this legislation, the ad and e-commerce industries should try to add real value to their online activities so we'll want to give them permission to use our data.

Otherwise, it's just another form of interrupting me at the dinner table.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Are you ready?

Fifteen years ago I spoke at a conference about how the fragmentation of media would affect the conversations between brands and consumers while changing the economics of the advertising and entertainment industries.

Now to be honest, calling that one was like predicting that the sun will set in the West this evening. But it appears the message has finally taken hold with the behemoths of packaged goods marketing.

According to Ad Age, Unilever, P&G and others are using new media as leverage this year against the networks to lower costs, expand their reach and interact more with potential customers.

By expanding beyond traditional media to online video, social networks and mobile marketing, however, the marketer needs to create a relevant message for each contact point, or else what's the point?

So now instead of producing one 30-second commercial and running it thousands of times, P&G and the others need to create thousands of messages that may just run a few times. This completely changes the economics of production because you can't justify spending half a million dollars on a spot meant for a very specific and potentially narrow target.

It also changes the conversation. Messaging is now context dependent. Your viewer is no longer sitting on the couch waiting for your message to waft over him. You have to actively engage people or click, they're gone. TIVO, interactive cable, web-based viewing, mobile video don't just change where and when we see the message, they change how we see it and what we can do with it.

This change has been happening slowly over the past 15 years, but I expect it to accelerate rapidly now that the big boys are on board. And the old models for advertising and entertainment will look like relics in the very near future.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Would you buy a new car from this man?

GM stepped in another big pile of "uh oh" last week, when they trotted out Ed Whitacre to tell the world they'd repaid their government loan, "in full, with interest, five years ahead of schedule."

Thanks Ed.

Yes, you repaid the $6.7 billion loan, but not out of operating profits because there weren't any. Instead the loan was paid out of the $52 billion in funds received from the government that were not considered a loan. In essence you paid us back with the money we gave you and then spent a couple of million bucks to produce and air a television spot to try to make us feel good about your magical powers of accounting.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about today.

Why is "Big" Ed being featured in GM commercials at all? How does trotting out a 70 year old multi-millionaire help GM connect with the millions of Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Lexus, BMW and Audi drivers in a way that might make them want to consider a Chevrolet, Buick or Cadillac for their next car?

Ask people to personify the GM brand and they'll say it's an older white male who loves to golf and drinks martinis. Even though I'm starting to resemble that description, I'm not sure that's the personality the "New" GM wants to project.

My guess is GM would like to be seen as a younger man or woman who's innovative, energetic, ecologically focused, multi cultural, and enjoys active outdoor sports like kayaking or mountain biking.

Using Mr. Whitacre as a spokesperson is not going to change peoples' perception of GM. In fact, it only reinforces that notion that it's an insular company run by guys who couldn't spell clue if you spotted them the c, l, and e. That may not be true, but that's the perception and until GM decides to communicate differently, people will continue to discount GM as a viable option to replace their import brand.