Last week’s widely-publicized and surprising departure of GM Chief Marketing Officer Joel Ewanick is understood to have been the result of several high-profile controversial decisions, including the discontinuation of Facebook ads days ahead of the social media company’s IPO, withdrawal from Super Bowl advertising, and the sponsorship of two U.K. soccer teams. But all that is now history, as GM has appointed an interim CMO and is continuing with the execution of the strategies set out by Ewanick.
Conveniently, the folks at Car & Driver have recently interviewed Alan Batey, the interim chief of marketing whose primary role is the VP of sales and service. The 30-year GM vet first started at Vauxhall in the U.K. and has since worked for the automaker in Germany, Dubai, Korea, and Australia.
During the interview, Batey confirms that there will be no change in marketing direction and sheds light on several other interesting items, including the reasoning for the decision to not advertise during next year’s Super Bowl as it relates to the new sponsorships of Machester United and Liverpool, the lag between the company’s products and public perception, and the automaker’s opportunities in the BRIC markets, among other things. Here’s the transcript of the C&D interview:
C/D: Can you confirm what’s in the newspapers—GM isn’t changing marketing strategies?
Alan Batey: That’s right. There’s no change in direction.
C/D: So still no Super Bowl?
Alan Batey: Here in the U.S., we have 100-percent unaided awareness of Chevrolet and other GM brands. We don’t necessarily need to be present there, and remember that the Chevrolet brand is still a huge sponsor of other sports, like baseball.
C/D: What needs to be done for Chevrolet ads and marketing in the U.S., then?
Alan Batey: I’ll be honest: In the past, our brand was weakened. Product was just not the most competitive. Now, the product really is competitive. But the brand is still not at the strength it needs to be. There’s a lag between perception and where our products actually are.
C/D: This is sounding a lot like something we would have heard a decade ago from Bob Lutz and others, that there’s a perception gap GM has to overcome. How are you going to succeed where others didn’t?
Alan Batey: I’m a big believer in facts. When we went from the Cobalt to the Cruze, we made a quantum leap. We’re marketing some fantastic products now.
C/D: So why is GM paying hundreds of millions of dollars to put Chevrolet on the jerseys and stadiums of English soccer teams Manchester United and Liverpool? Chevy is outranked even by SEAT in U.K. sales—and SEAT’s sales are so bad, VW wants to kill it.
Alan Batey: Manchester United and Liverpool are two of the most popular sports teams in the world, and they’re on TV screens everywhere. This is a powerful global platform for the Chevrolet brand to raise awareness in places we’re not as known. So this really isn’t Alan Bateyout the U.K.
C/D: If the idea is to expand Chevrolet as a global brand, like VW or Toyota, what Alan Bateyout Opel and Daewoo and Holden, which rebadge and sell many Chevy models in markets where the Chevy brand does not exist?
Alan Batey: We’re really looking at places that will grow, especially the so-called BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India, and China] countries. These are opportunities for Chevrolet, and from a marketing standpoint, places where there is less unaided awareness Alan Bateyout the brand. Sport is a great way to reach out to these markets.
The GM Authority Take
The fact that GM isn’t changing the direction of its marketing operations may be proof positive that the strategy set forth by Ewanick holds water, and that something outside the man’s on-the-job performance was the reason for his resignation. In fact, the decision to substitute next year’s Super Bowl advertisements with the sponsorships of two European football teams makes that much more sense once one realized the colossal opportunity the Chevrolet brand faces in growth markets such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
But we do find Batey’s elusive answer to the Opel/Holden/Daewoo question rather troubling, as GM does not seem to have a clear strategy of Chevrolet in the markets where Opel (and Vauxhall) are sold. And the longer it remains this way, the worse for GM.