Sunday, February 22, 2009
In the early 2000s General Motors Corporation (GM) found itself the victim of its own success. Improved quality in its vehicles had resulted in less warranty work for the service centers of GM dealerships, which very much depended on the revenues. All of GM’s 7,400 dealers were brought under the Goodwrench program (a national chain of GM dealer repair shops), and the ad agency chemistri (later called Leo Burnett Detroit) was given the task of building up the brand to attract more nonwarranty work to the service centers. The mar-keters decided to revive the Mr. Goodwrench character, not seen in GM ads for almost a generation but still alive as a cultural icon. The result was the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign.
Rather than portray Mr. Goodwrench as an actual person, as was done from 1975 to 1985, chemistri revis-ited the concept by creating an oblivious reporter char-acter, played by comedian Stephen Colbert, known for a similar role on Comedy Central’s program The Daily Show. He set off on a never-ending quest to find the one and only Mr. Goodwrench, never quite able to comprehend that every one of GM’s 80,000 technicians was, in essence, Mr. Goodwrench. In addition to 30-second TV spots, the campaign consisted of radio spots and print ads, supplemented by an updated website. In the first year GM spent $50 million on the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign, which began in March 2003 and succeeded in elevating the Goodwrench brand in the minds of consumers. Colbert’s rising stardom also helped the campaign, and he was retained for a second set of TV spots, launched in October 2004, and for a third in 2005.
To promote its network of dealership service centers, in 1975 GM’s Service and Parts Operations (SPO) intro duced Mr. Goodwrench, the everyman of General Motors technicians, along with the slogan ‘‘Keep that great GM feeling with genuine GM parts.’’ The character remained the focal point of GM SPO ads for a decade. In the ensuing years, however, GM SPO received fewer advertising dollars and produced no memorable cam- paigns. In the meantime the quality of General Motors cars improved, resulting in a significant erosion in income for the shops, which concentrated on performing warranty work. In 2002, for example, GM cars had 130 problems per 100 vehicles, an 11 percent improvement over the prior year, placing the company third in quality behind Toyota and Honda. Because their cars had fewer problems, GM consumers also became lax about taking them in for scheduled maintenance and repairs, adding further to the loss of business at GM repair shops. It was estimated that dealers performed 15 to 20 percent less warranty work in 2002 than in 2001. GM dealers became concerned that the loss of warranty work would reduce the amount of money they could invest in mechanics’ training and service facilities and that this would produce a downward spiral of diminished service
quality, poor reputation, and further erosion of sales. The obvious way to offset the loss of warranty repairs was to boost nonwarranty business. To do this GM decided to beef up its Goodwrench program, in which only about half of the GM dealerships were participating. Starting in January 2003 all of the dealers were required to participate in the program. As a result Goodwrench became the largest automotive service network in the United States and had more financial resources at its disposal. For advertising GM turned to chemistri, an agency based in Troy, Michigan. Chemistri was heir to D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, whose connection to GM dated to 1915, when the agency fashioned ads for Cadillac. In 2002 D’Arcy’s parent company, Bcom3, was acquired by Publicis Groupe SA and disbanded. D’Arcy’s Detroit operation was kept and renamed chemistri, its purpose to focus exclusively on GM clients.
The target market for the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign consisted of both male and female owners of GM vehicles whose ages ranged from 24 to 54. A GM spokesperson quoted by Alice Z. Cuneo in Advertising Age described the coveted demographic as ‘‘Starbucks subur-banites.’’ It was with this type of person in mind that the marketers made their decision about who would represent the brand in the new campaign.
As Goodwrench service centers attempted to expand beyond warranty work, they began competing against a multitude of local mom-and-pop shops. On the national scene Goodwrench had to contend with Ford’s Quality Care service centers, which were in much the same plight, looking to drum up repair work to make up for the loss of business that had resulted from improved vehicle quality. Quality Care was spending about $40 million a year on advertising, as was another national player, Midas Muffler Company, which had been hurt by the introduction of longer-lasting mufflers in the 1990s. Midas was attempting to reposition itself as a general car maintenance center instead of just a muffler shop, and it had the benefit of a well-recognized brand to aid in the effort.
Goodwrench also faced regional competition from smaller muffler shops, such as Meineke Discount Mufflers, which had changed the name of its 900 shops in Canada and the United States to Meineke Car Care Center. Although it lacked the budgets of other compa-nies, Meineke had the advantage of a celebrity pitchman, boxer George Foreman. Another muffler chain stepping into the fray was the 600-unit Monro Muffler and Brake. Moreover, the repair field was crowded with competitors of a different type: auto parts retailers—such as Pep Boys and the northeastern chain Strauss Discount Auto—who were opening supercenters to install the parts they sold.
Given the crowded auto repair field and the diffi-culty of standing out, GM was committed to spending at least as much as Ford and Midas on advertising. ‘‘We want to get this program launched at industry-leading levels,’’ Jon Brancheau, director of brand marketing for GM SPO, told Automotive News’s Dave Guilford.
As the new Goodwrench campaign was being developed, GM requested that chemistri expand its marketing approach beyond creating TV spots. The agency was asked to think in terms of wider marketing plans and to bring in partner agencies with expertise in direct mail, interactive advertising, diversity affairs, and other areas. In crafting the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign, chemistri received significant input from GM’s Dealer Fixed Operations Advisory Board. The agency also got market-ing advice from the Optimization Group, a Detroit con-sulting firm, and hired Six Degrees, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, to provide research assistance.
In an interview with Guilford for Automotive News Brancheau said that the decision to bring back the Mr. Goodwrench character, even though he would be noth-ing more than a phantom, was a ‘‘no-brainer.’’ Research showed that, despite an 18-year absence, Mr. Goodwrench remained firmly entrenched in the mind of consumers.
The marketers elected to use humor, but because it was important to portray the technicians as skilled profession nals, they had to walk a fine line. The challenge, therefore, was to find a way to relay serious information—such as the fact that dealer technicians used the latest in diagnostic tools and had received more then one million hours of combined training in the previous year—and still be funny. Humor also helped to address another potential pitfall: focusing too much on the need for service, which might carry the implication that GM products were not trustworthy. Moreover, humor helped spice up what was a less-than-exciting subject for consumers. Marketing director Beth Grotz told Theresa Howard of USA Today,
‘‘Your typical automotive service ad is a technician or service manager pleading with you to come in. We thought we’d take a little different approach to see if we could get more interest in the category.’’
To serve as the focal point of the new Goodwrench campaign, GM elected to hire a comedian and settled on Stephen Colbert, a reporter on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, a satire of an evening news program. Colbert’s dead-pan delivery and well-honed dimwit persona made him an ideal choice to play the role of a reporter searching to find the one and only Mr. Goodwrench. While many people may not have recognized Colbert at the time, he was well known by the target market.
The ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign was multifaceted. In addition to TV spots, it included radio, print, and Internet elements. Print ads appeared in such magazines as People, Newsweek, Time, Sports Illustrated, Better Homes and Gardens, and Ebony. All ads mentioned theGoodwrench website,where consumers could find addi-tional information and locate their nearest service center. The focus of the campaign was four 30-second tele-vision spots, which aired during both network and cable programs. In addition, chemistri created five spots that dealers could air on their own, and GM established 30 local marketing groups to fund local advertising. The national ads first appeared in March 2003, in time to be shown during telecasts of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. They were also shown during other sporting events, including NASCAR races, a major venue for promoting anything automotive. Moreover, GM Goodwrench sponsored a race car, which would be fea-tured in one of the TV spots.
All four of the first wave of ads in the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign featured Colbert’s clueless reporter attempting to uncover the identity of the man called Goodwrench. The spot called ‘‘Service Bay’’ showed Colbert in a safari vest that would become the character’s trademark. He interviewed three GM service technicians, asking, ‘‘Mr. Goodwrench—who is this one and only GM expert?’’ They all claimed to be Mr. Goodwrench, confusing Colbert, who resorted to a bullhorn to ask the real Mr. Goodwrench to please step forward. The spot closed with the line ‘‘Find Mr. Goodwrench at over 7,000 GM dealerships nation-wide.’’ A second spot, ‘‘Mitre Saw,’’ was broken into two parts. First, when told that Mr. Goodwrench had more than one million hours of training, the disbelieving reporter quipped, ‘‘Doesn’t leave much time for Mrs. Goodwrench now, does it?’’ Colbert then asked a tech-nician what kind of tool Mr. Goodwrench would be if he were a tool. When the bemused technician answered, ‘‘Wrench,’’ Colbert was quick to reply, ‘‘No, the correct answer is mitre saw.’’
The final two spots in the initial ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign took Colbert out of the service center. In ‘‘NASCAR Garage’’ he visited with the driver of the GM Goodwrench-sponsored race car, Kevin Harvick. Colbert was again skeptical when Harvick confirmed that Mr. Goodwrench knew GM cars better than he did and could be found both at the track and at GM dealerships. The spot closed with Harvick expelling Colbert from his race car, where Colbert was pretending to be a driver. In the last spot, ‘‘On the Street,’’ Colbert approached people to question them about Mr. Goodwrench, capping off the interviews by outlandishly asking whether he did root canals as well as service work on GM vehicles.
There was no doubt that Colbert’s work on the TV and radio spots was the cornerstone of the success of the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign. When the ratings of The Daily Show improved dramatically during the U.S. presidential campaign of 2004, Colbert’s visi-bility grew. The show’s ‘‘Indecision 2004’’ coverage was especially popular with a younger demographic, part of which admitted to getting most, if not all, of their real news from the fake news show. GM’s Goodwrench serv-ice centers enjoyed Colbert’s reflected popularity. GM even became a sponsor of The Daily Show’s website. Market research indicated that, after the launch of the campaign, GM experienced significant gains in unaided brand awareness, ad awareness, and brand consideration.
In October 2004, in an attempt to build on the momentum created over the previous year, GM began airing two new spots in the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign. Colbert was again featured, this time joined by a sidekick, comedian Brian Posehn. Together they traveled in a tiny three-wheeled truck with ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ emblazoned on the side. In the spot titled ‘‘Stakeout’’ they tried using high-tech equip-ment in a dealership parking lot to find Mr. Goodwrench. In the second spot, ‘‘APB,’’ Colbert asked a mounted police officer to put out an all points bulletin (APB) for Mr. Goodwrench, noting that Mr. Goodwrench claimed to spend more than a million hours a year training. ‘‘Do you know what that means?’’ he asked. ‘‘Expertise?’’ suggested the officer. ‘‘Two words,’’ replied Colbert, then offered three: ‘‘Labor law infraction.’’
Three new ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ ads appeared in the summer of 2005. While the little truck made an appearance when Colbert challenged Harvick to a race, Posehn did not. Instead, Colbert was solo once again, questioning technicians and customers alike in his ongoing search for Mr. Goodwrench, a concept that continued to provide the copywriters with enough humorous situations to exploit Colbert’s talent and pro-mote the Goodwrench brand.
GM was extremely pleased with the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ ads. As Grotz told the online resource the Auto Channel, ‘‘GM has broken away from the pack . . .Most vehicle service ads feature a technician holding a part in his or her hand, but we moved away from the typical spot and connected with consumers through unique settings in addition to the dealership environment, and through humor.’’ The campaign was recognized by the advertising industry, winning a Bronze EFFIE Award (Automotive Aftermarket Products and Services category) in 2005. Meanwhile, Colbert’s high profile, both in films and on Comedy Central, added luster to the ongoing campaign.