Tuesday, January 27, 2009
When General Motors Corporation (GM) acquired the commercial marketing rights to the Hummer truck, the civilian version of the U.S. Army’s Humvee, it faced the challenge of promoting a vehicle that was never intended to be sold in high numbers. Part of the solution was to design smaller, less-expensive versions, the H2 and H3, but much of the success would have to depend on the marketing. Rather than turning to a roster of ad agencies it usually worked with, GM hired a young Boston creative boutique, Modernista!, in 2000. The initial goal of the $35 million campaign, begun in August 2001, was to establish Hummer as a luxury brand. Thus, images ofmud-splatteredHummers that played up the vehicle’s off-road capabilities were scrapped in favor of shots that made it seem jewel-like. Once the brand was repositioned, the marketers’ goal was to pitch the lower-priced H2 and H3 to a wider market, hopefully to more women. Factors such as rising gas prices and the perception that the Hummer was oversized for most consumers proved to be major hurdles for the marketers. However, by the end of 2003 the campaign had succeeded in redefining the Hummer brand, and with the introduction of the H3 in 2005, the marketers took on a new challenge: selling the Hummer to a mass market.
The Humvee was designed for the U.S. Army in 1979 by AM General Corp., based in South Bend, Indiana. The 3.5-ton vehicle became a star of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, spurring consumer demand for a civilian version, which was introduced in 1992 as the Hummer. It catered to an exclusive market, as demonstrated by the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the first buyers. The vehicle never received much advertising support; AM General spent less than $1 million on marketing the Hummer in 1999, when it sold about 700 of the trucks. Nevertheless, AM General did enough business to attract the attention of General Motors, and in the end bought the Hummer brand in late 1999.
GM signed a seven-year contract with AM General to produce the next generation, GM-designed version, the Hummer H2 sport-utility vehicle (SUV). The agency Modernista! was hired to promote the brand. Prior marketing efforts had played up the military connection and the Hummer’s off-road capabilities, billing the vehicle as ‘‘the world’s most serious 4x4.’’ Modernista! won the account because it was the only agency that attempted to fashion a wider appeal by going beyond the tough-guy, army-truck image.
The principals involved in the campaign did not lack experience in selling cars. Modernista!’s cofounder, Lance Jensen, had worked with Hummer’s advertising director, Liz Vanzura, when she was at Volkswagen of America and he was with the Boston-based ad agency Arnold Communications. Both played key roles in developing Volkswagen’s award-winning ‘‘Drivers Wanted’’ campaign. Vanzura commented that, while the Volkswagen ads were aimed at ‘‘cool, young people,’’ her new mission was to sell Hummers to ‘‘cool, rich people.’’
Even before hiring Modernista!, GM had done a great deal of market research. According to Ted Evanoff, writing for the Indianapolis Star, ‘‘In 1999 researchers stumbled across the notion that an unlikely cross-section of America—surgeons, dot-com millionaires, rock stars, high school students, corporate execs—prized their individuality. And they regarded the rugged Hummer as a symbol of individuality, especially compared with the typical sport-utility common in suburbia.’’ Modernista! was given 2,200 pages of market data to distill into an advertising message. The agency was also handed a brand that skewed very much toward males, averaging 50 years in age and with an annual household income of more than $200,000. The target buyer for the less-expensive H2, while still male, was 42 years old on average and had a household income above $125,000. Vanzura told Chris Reidy of the Boston Globe that the coveted audience included ‘‘rugged individualists, adventurous entrepreneurs, and adrenaline junkies.’’ In other interviews she described the target market as ‘‘successful achievers’’ and ‘‘style leaders.’’ She also told Evanoff that Hummer had to vie with other purchases the well-to-do might consider, such as yachts or vacation houses, stating, ‘‘We’re really not competing in an automotive category.’’
The yacht, vacation house, and other status symbols notwithstanding, Hummer competed in the luxury-SUV category against other SUVs, including the Lincoln Navigator, Land Rover’s Range Rover, and the Lexus LX 470. But Hummer’s chief opponent was DaimlerChrysler’s Jeep Wrangler. Boasting similar military roots but extending back to World War II, Jeep had defined the SUV category and at its height in 1993 controlled nearly 30 percent of the traditional SUV market. Over the following several years, however, the brand failed had to introduce new models, and its lessexpensive ones faced increasingly stiff competition, resulting in a severe erosion of sales. As long as Hummer was not a direct competitor, DaimlerChrysler took little notice of it, but as soon as GM acquired the right to mass-market the Hummer, DaimlerChrysler recognized the threat at the high end of the SUV category and became determined to hold on to Jeep’s reputation as the premier heavy-duty, off-road brand. The two vehicles had slightly different target markets, however. Jeep appealed to consumers who loved the outdoors and might attend one of the dozens of Jeep Jamboree off-road events held throughout the year. Typical Hummer customers, on the other hand, wanted the off-road capabilities the vehicle had to offer but were more interested in the image it created. They were as likely to drive their Hummers to an upscale mall as up a mountain.
In preparation for marketing the lower-priced H2, Modernista! instituted a bridge campaign, paid for by AM General, to sell the H1 while repositioning the brand. As Will Uronis, an associate creative director at Modernista!, explained to the Boston Herald ’s Greg Gatlin, ‘‘Hollywood had defined what Hummers stood for—war, explosions and arrogance . . .We just took a look at another facet of the truck.’’ Jensen added, ‘‘We went out and talked to guys that drove them . . . they don’t all hunt and kill things.’’ Nevertheless, Hollywood movies had done a good job of making consumers aware of the Hummer. Market research conducted in 1999 indicated that as many as one in five buyers of full-size SUVs considered purchasing the Hummer. The bridge campaign was intended to play to the ‘‘rugged individualists’’ who, research revealed, were attracted to the Hummer and to set the stage for the launch of theH2 by creating an emotional attachment to the brand that transcended the hard-edged image fostered by Hollywood. According to Evanoff, writing in the Indianapolis Star, the promotion of the H1 was intended to create a ‘‘halo’’ over the brand, providing ‘‘the foundation for a brand image that will carry the smaller H2.’’ The first national ads for the GM-owned Hummer began appearing on August 13, 2001. It was an all-print campaign that featured photographs of the vehicle in lush locales in Chile. Not only did the pictures suggest where the H1, with its off-road prowess, could take the viewer, but they also made the big truck look small. It was the first time Hummer was not portrayed covered in mud or linked to the military. Reinforcing the visual message of the ad was the text, which included the headline ‘‘How did my soul get way out here?’’ and the concluding text ‘‘Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere. And sometimes in the middle of nowhere you find yourself. The legendary H1.’’ Hummer’s longtime tagline, ‘‘World’s most serious 4x4,’’ was replaced by ‘‘Like nothing else.’’ The four ads ran through the rest of 2001, appearing in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Esquire, Spin, Wired, and Red Herring. Hummer’s 50 dealers were also encouraged to use the ads created by Modernista! to bring continuity to the brand’s makeover, with some of their media costs being reimbursed by a cooperative advertising program. The H2, based on GM’s Chevrolet Tahoe full-size SUV, was introduced in July 2002. A second model featuring a small pickup bed and a cargo door was supposed to be offered at the same time, but the launch was pushed back, partly because the vehicle needed more work but also as a way to extend the marketing buzz the brand was creating. The new H2, with a base price of $48,000, was about half the price of the H1 and, despite being called the ‘‘baby Hummer,’’ essentially the same size. But it featured a smaller, less noisy gas engine rather than a cumbersome diesel one, and it had comforts and customizable options the H1 lacked but that were expected in a luxury SUV.
The introduction of the H2 was supported by another print campaign developed by Modernista! While the ‘‘Like nothing else’’ tagline of the previous ads was retained, the look of the new ads was markedly different, relying on dramatic close-ups set against bold, sky-blue backgrounds.
Like the first ads, the new ones ran in a wide range of magazines, with the text tailored to the publication. For example, in the Robb Report, which covered all things luxurious, the text read, ‘‘Excessive. In a Rome at the height of its power sort of way.’’ The Vanity Fair text read, ‘‘Threaten the men in your office in a whole new way,’’ part of an effort to increase the number of women buying the vehicles. Another ad proclaimed, ‘‘Perfect for rugby moms.’’ About 10 percent of H1 owners were women, and one goal of the H2 campaign was to increase that number to 25 percent. Outdoor ads were also produced, running in 14 major markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Detroit. Print and outdoor ads were made available for the use of dealers. The first Hummer television ads aired in mid-August 2002. The initial three 30-second spots, intended to romanticize the truck, were shot in Iceland and in Vancouver, British Columbia, and featured both natural and urban locations. They showed friends in a Hummer speeding over the tundra of Iceland or a professional woman weaving through traffic in a city. Set to rock music, the only words in the spots were text statements such as ‘‘Maybe if you can, you will.’’ A second phase of the television campaign played on people’s perception of the Hummer as a gas-guzzling road hog. In one spot a young boy constructed a small wooden version of the Hummer to enter in a soapbox derby, while The Who’s ‘‘Happy Jack’’ played in the background and the little girl next door looked on. At the start of the big race the other boys scoffed at little Jack and his less-than-streamlined racer, but he prevailed by abandoning the asphalt course, breaking the rules to go cross-country and win the race and the girl. Through the humor of the spot Jack was portrayed not as a blatant cheater but as a heroic iconoclast, offering subliminal reassurance to potential Hummer customers who might feel guilty about buying a vehicle that got about 13 miles to a gallon of gas on the highway. A second Hummer spot, also displaying a tough side, hearkened back to the Asteroids video game of the 1980s, with a spaceship blasting boulders only to confront an indestructible Hummer, which chased the ship off the screen.
GM and Modernista! succeeded in introducing Hummer to a wider market, but after a strong showing in 2003, sales began to tail off, partly because of high gas prices. To regain lost ground, in 2004 GM introduced the H2 SUT (sport-utility truck). This was followed by the unveiling in 2005 of the H3, a midsize Hummer priced from $29,500 to $32,000. Almost 17 inches shorter, 1,700 pounds lighter, and more fuel-efficient at 20 miles per gallon, it was a vehicle GM hoped women and younger drivers would find more appealing. In pitching the vehicle to a mass market, Hummer and Modernista! faced a new task. Putting a positive spin on the challenge, Jensen told Jeremy W. Peters of the New York Times, ‘‘The brand has a lot of different personality levels . . . You can do the serious capability stuff, the real rough-and-tumble rock climbing stuff, the peaceful back-to-nature stuff.’’ Industry analyst Mary Ann Keller disagreed, telling the New York Times that it was impossible to sell Hummer to the masses:
‘‘How in the world can you possibly fathom that something that looks like a military vehicle is practical for the average driver?’’
In December 1996 General Motors Corporation (GM) became the first major automaker in almost 80 years to market an electric car, dubbed the EV1. The car’s debut came just months after the California Air Resources Board had reluctantly decided to postpone a mandate requiring that 2 percent of cars sold in the state by 1998 be powered by electricity. Regulators agreed to change the mandate to 10 percent by 2003, but only if automakers began voluntarily introducing electric cars. With the EV1, GM effectively shifted the discussion about electric cars from the fringe to the mainstream. By most accounts, the car was a technological marvel. Its sporty aerodynamic design, which included an allaluminum frame, magnesium seats, and low-resistance tires, earned GM engineers 23 patents. But while the introduction of the EV1 was undeniably a watershed event, there were obstacles to the car’s success. It could travel just 80 to 90 miles before needing to be recharged, which took about three hours. The price was high, with lease payments coming to about $480 a month after various federal, state, and local tax incentives. And since there were only a handful of public charging sites, drivers would need to lease a charging unit for their garages or workplaces for another $50 a month.
Thanks to a steady stream of media coverage, there was pent-up curiosity about the EV1 when it became available on December 5, 1996. The $10 million advertising campaign developed by Hal Riney & Partners of San Francisco added to the mystique of the EV1. The campaign did not delve into the intricacies of the car’s technology but instead was aimed at building awareness and excitement about the fact that an electric car was available and that GM was behind it. While the target market for the EV1 was expected to be affluent people with an interest in technology and the environment, the early stage of the campaign was aimed at reaching a broader, more general audience. Teaser billboards and newspaper ads inaugurated the campaign, which was kicked off in full force on December 5, 1996, with the broadcast of a $1.5 million television commercial that featured an endearingly lifelike brigade of home appliances.
During the 1990s California earned the dubious distinction of having the dirtiest air in the nation. Car and truck exhaust could be blamed for at least half of the state’s air pollution, which spurred regulators to create a mandate for electric-powered vehicles. Similar clean-air mandates were in the works in other states, such as New York and Massachusetts that were also alarmed by worsening air quality. The laws that were passed varied, but in general they required automakers to begin offering vehicles that met the ultra-low-emissions-vehicle (ULEV) standard or the zero-emissions-vehicle (ZEV) standard. The mandates were controversial. The principal question was whether states should mandate production of the cars and hope that consumers and ample public charging stations followed or if consumer demand should determine how many electric cars automakers built. GM’s research suggested that consumers were receptive to electric cars, even if it meant sacrificing some of the conveniences they enjoyed with gas-powered automobiles. The lack of a public infrastructure was worrisome but not insurmountable to GM. In southern California, for example, utility companies had already begun installing charging sites in locations such as shopping centers, restaurants, hospitals, theaters, and public parking structures. By being the first to bring a car to market, GM would be able to stake a claim to technological leadership going into the next century.
Many in the industry believed that the EV1 and other electric cars could legitimize a new approach to transportation that would dramatically lessen air pollution. John Dunlap III, the chairman of the California Air Resources Board, was enthusiastic about the EV1: ‘‘This has the potential of being a revolutionary step.’’ Others, however, worried that if the EV1 failed it could set back development of alternative-fuel vehicles for years to come.
Not surprisingly, GM selected California as a launch state for the EV1. Arizona, the other launch state, also made sense, for its warm climate allowed for optimal performance of the car’s battery. A key marketing decision was made that, while the car would carry the GM badge, it would be leased through the Saturn Corporation subsidiary. The two-seater EV1 seemed to be a good fit with Saturn’s young, environmentally conscious buyers. Moreover, by offering the EV1 at Saturn dealerships, where 73 percent of sales were to people whose second choice was not a GM vehicle, GM saw an opportunity to reach import-loyal customers. Oddly enough, marketing the EV1 was as much about determining who should not drive it as who should. GM was quick to point out that the EV1 was not right for everyone. Joseph Kennedy, the Saturn vice president for marketing, told Popular Science, ‘‘Because the EV1 is a two-seat vehicle and does not have the longdistance range [of] 200 miles or 300 miles, it will play a role in the owner’s portfolio of vehicles.’’ He explained that the EV1 was not a primary household vehicle that could fulfill all driving needs but one appropriate for ‘‘shorter, quicker uses around town.’’
The groundwork for introducing the EV1 was laid in 1994, when GM’s PrEview Drive Program gave people in 12 cities the chance to drive a prototype model for two weeks. ‘‘We saw that it wasn’t going to be an ordinary buyer,’’ Necole Merritt, manager of corporate communications for Saturn, observed. ‘‘It was someone attuned to innovation, the kind of person who bought the first cell phone or first computer.’’ The PrEview Drive Program and other research suggested that potential drivers would be affluent college graduates, usually white, middle-aged men who were leaders in their fields. They were expected to be 35 to 54 years old, with an annual family income of more than $125,000 and a high interest in technology and the environment. Frank Pereira, GM’s EV1 brand manager, noted that the car ‘‘really speaks to those who have a desire to be in the forefront of directing the evolution of technology.’’ Once the vehicle was in the Saturn retail facilities, sales consultants narrowed the target market even further. Each facility had a consultant trained in EV1 technology who screened customers to be sure that an electric vehicle was appropriate for their needs. Next, would-be customers made an appointment with an electric vehicle marketing specialist who spent up to 12 hours making certain that their driving habits and expectations were a good fit with the EV1. ‘‘It’s important they convey to customers what this car can and cannot do,’’ explained Donald Young, Saturn’s representative for the EV1 program. ‘‘We don’t want to sell it to someone who drives 60 miles to work each way.’’ The specialists also coordinated a home and garage inspection to determine how to install the EV1’s charging unit.
In 1996 a reporter for the Los Angeles Times wrote that, ‘‘while other major auto makers have held their electric vehicle cards close to the vest, GM has been center stage.’’ Every major automaker, however, was under the same clean-air mandate, and they all kept watchful eyes on the public’s reaction to the EV1. What they observed was a market, albeit a small one, emerging. Other automakers followed on GM’s heels. Toyota produced an electric version of its RAV4sport utility vehicle, but for government or company fleet leasing only. In 1997 Ford produced an electric vehicle for fleet use. Ford, however, seemed to be taking a different approach from GM, with its efforts directed at creating alternative-fuel vehicles that would meet ULEV standards. Consumers’ Research Magazine reported that Ford offered the best range of ‘‘street-worthy’’ alternative-fuel vehicles, including the electric Ranger pickup truck, a Taurus sedan that ran on methanol and ethanol, and several other sedans that ran on compressed natural gas. In May 1997 Honda presented the most formidable challenge to GM’s electric car yet when it introduced its EV Plus, which boasted a longer-life nickel-metal hybrid battery and a greater driving range. Advertising for the EV1, however, did not address any of the emerging competitors. For the time being there was plenty of room for all electric carmakers on the playing field.
To build public awareness of the EV1’s introduction, GM hired Hal Riney & Partners, the same marketing and communications partner that had created Saturn’s award-winning advertising. Teaser billboards in Los Angeles and San Diego were the first element of the campaign to be unveiled. The billboards displayed a lightning bolt and the words ‘‘You can’t hear it coming, but it is.’’ The day the cars went on sale, new billboard ads went up with a photograph of the EV1 and the words ‘‘The electric car is here.’’
The campaign’s centerpiece was a 90-second television commercial that showed animated household appliances greeting the battery-powered EV1. Its eyecatching special effects were created by Industrial Light and Magic, a studio started by Star Wars creator George Lucas. The commercial began with a thunderstorm that knocked the electricity out in a home. When the power came back on, the appliances sprang to life. They unplugged themselves and waddled out the door to watch as the EV1 approached on the street. ‘‘It’s intended as a celebration of the arrival of the electric vehicle,’’ explained Saturn’s Kennedy. Both 30- and 60-second versions of the commercial also aired for 12 weeks in late 1996 and early 1997.
Newspaper ads during the introductory campaign tried to show consumers what a dramatic departure the EV1 was from gasoline-powered cars. For instance, a two-page ad in the Los Angeles Times depicted reeds blowing in the wind as the car drove by. It read, ‘‘There is no noise. No pistons. No valves or exhaust. Just the whir of an AC motor. And the wind. And your thoughts, of course. As you drive the electric car.’’ Because the automobile was available only in limited markets, the heaviest concentration of newspaper advertising was regional. Newspapers ads appeared in the California edition of the Wall Street Journal and in the Los Angeles Times, Arizona Republic, and Phoenix Gazette. Magazine advertising during the introductory period was placed to reach leaders in technology and innovation. The media plan included such periodicals as Business Week, Inc., Scientific American, Wired, and American Benefactor. Magazine ads had the same thoughtful, laid-back approach as the newspaper ads. One ad, for instance, showed the blur of the car on a stretch of highway and read, ‘‘You will never again use the words ‘fill’er up.’ Or ‘check the oil.’ Never utter the need for a tune-up. Or a smog check. Nope. You will simply say, ‘Unplug the car and let’s go.’ When you drive the electric car.’’ Following the 12-week introductory campaign, the marketing efforts for the EV1 shifted into a lower gear. The remainder of the advertising budget went primarily into direct-mail pieces and a handful of ads in magazines favored by technology buffs.
Time magazine’s Margot Hornblower criticized the marketing approach used for the EV1. Describing a billboard that showed a single headlight in the darkness and the words ‘‘Electrohydraulic power steering, digital clock, EV1,’’ Hornblower wrote, ‘‘The low-key print campaign has been so esoteric as to be nearly incomprehensible.’’ This subtle approach also was frustrating to members of the EV1 Owners Club, who felt that the car’s features should be spelled out more clearly in order to lure potential drivers. In fact, Marvin Rush, cofounder of the club, purchased airtime on KFI in Los Angeles with his own money and ran unauthorized spots for four weeks in early 1998. Rush told the Los Angeles Times that EV1 owners ‘‘consider ourselves evangelists. We’re trying to get GM to change its advertising.’’ In the end GM’s lawyers reviewed the radio ads for misstatements, found none, and opted to let the renegade campaign run its course. ‘‘They’re actually pretty good,’’ EV1 brand manager Frank Periera confessed to the Los Angeles Times.
The EV1 advertising campaign received critical kudos. Bob Garfield, a reviewer for Advertising Age, wrote that the television commercial used ‘‘eye-popping digital effects to communicate the revolutionary significance, the drama and the exciting implications of this introduction.’’ He added, ‘‘The march of the electronivores! It’s a wonderful concept, wonderfully realized. Even the unplugged among us will not be able not to stare at the futuristic vehicle Californians and Arizonans can buy right now.’’ A print ad for the EV1 took home the prized $100,000 cash Kelly Award for best magazine advertising as well as nonmonetary Kelly Awards for meeting the campaign’s objective and for design and graphics.
While the EV1 got rave reviews for its advertising, the car itself had no shortage of critics. Automotive analyst Christopher Cedergen told CBS News, ‘‘Overall, the electric car concept is premature. The technology really isn’t there yet.’’ Richard de Neufville, professor of transportation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was quoted in Time magazine as saying, ‘‘They gave a party, and nobody came.’’ GM declined to make sales projections when the EV1 rolled out, but industry sources speculated that fewer than 2,000 would be leased in the first year. That figure proved to be optimistic, for only 300 EV1s were actually leased. Some speculated that the advertising had missed the mark by failing to link the EV1 with Saturn dealerships. Joe Ricciardi, who led GM’s EV1 effort in Arizona, acknowledged in the Arizona Republic that ‘‘there are a lot of people who don’t know it [the electric car] is out there and don’t know where to find it.’’ To some the EV1 was most remarkable in its role as a stepping-stone to other clean-air transportation solutions.
Phil Hodgetts, president of the Electric Vehicles
Association of Southern California, said in the Los Angeles Times, ‘‘The biggest advantage of the EV1 has been to excite public interest in cars that will be nonpolluting, in pure electric vehicles running on batteries. I think it’s the start of something big.’’ GM executives contended all along that the goal of the EV1 was to build a market for alternative-fuel vehicles and that sales volume was less important than giving early drivers a good experience. Despite tepid leasing numbers in 1997, GM’s commitment to the EV1 remained firm going into 1998. The car was introduced in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco and Sacramento, the advertising budget was increased from $10 million to $15 million, and GM stepped up efforts to create an infrastructure by committing $750,000 for the development of public charging sites in the car’s markets.
While the basic approach remained the same, advertising leading into 1998 introduced a welcome touch of humor to the sometimes awestruck tone of the 1997 campaign. A few print ads even cleverly capitalized on the public’s dubiousness. An ad that ran in newspapers in northern California, for example, showed an overhead view of the EV1 and stated, ‘‘All the skepticism in the world can’t stop it. The electric car is here.’’
Although ownership of a Cadillac was for decades widely considered a part of the ‘‘American Dream,’’ Cadillac Motor, a division of General Motors, saw its share of the luxury-car market begin to decline in the 1990s. The company also saw the rise of a new subcategory in the luxury-car field, the entry-level luxury car (or ‘‘entry-lux’’), exemplified by new models such as the Lexus and new, lower-priced Mercedes models. Cadillac responded to these trends by taking a risk in 1997 with a new entry-lux model, the Catera. The sporty, comparatively affordable Catera was unlike anything Cadillac had ever sold before. It was also the first Cadillac made entirely overseas (in Germany). To launch this groundbreaking new model, Cadillac implemented a marketing campaign unlike any it had done before, calling the Catera ‘‘The Caddy that Zigs.’’ The campaign—which included a variety of television and print advertisements—used humor and clever copy to communicate to car buyers that the Catera was a whole new kind of Cadillac. The campaign even used a quirky red cartoon duck as a prominent symbol, another move that broke with the more staid marketing usually associated with Cadillac.
The campaign received harsh criticism from media and auto-industry critics. Surveys also showed the public had a mixed reaction to the campaign (especially the duck). But Cadillac executives were pleased with the sales figures for Catera’s first year, and they reported that the campaign overall had made a positive impression on the public’s traditional perceptions of the car maker.
Since its early days Cadillac was a company that specialized in luxury cars. Eventually car buyers identified the Cadillac name as synonymous with American luxury cars (‘‘Cadillac’’ even appears in some dictionaries with the definition ‘‘luxurious’’). Marketing campaigns emphasized the car maker’s tradition and quality and were aimed at an older, wealthy, male demographic. But the emergence of luxury cars from foreign manufacturers made a dent in Cadillac’s market share. Competitors like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Lexus gradually eroded Cadillac’s long-time dominance of the luxury field: from 1990 to 1996 Cadillac’s share of the luxury-car market plunged dramatically from 22.2 percent to 14.8 percent.
One of the reasons for the drop was that other car makers were building the popular entry-lux vehicles. Traditional luxury vehicles controlled 52 percent of the overall luxury market in 1991 but only 34 percent four years later. During the same time period, the market for entry-lux cars grew from 25 to 39 percent.
The typical buyer of a Cadillac automobile was male, in his late 50s or 60s, affluent, and usually but not always college-educated. David Nottoli, Cadillac’s Catera brand manager for 1997, said the Catera campaign sought a different market. ‘‘We were looking at the 45–50 age bracket,’’ he said. In addition to this narrow market, Cadillac wanted to expand on its traditional customer base by pursuing more female customers. The car maker was hoping 50 percent of Catera customers would be women. In addition, Cadillac hoped to draw an audience that was almost 100 percent college-educated. Nottoli added that non-General Motors customers were also targeted by the Catera campaign.
According to the Catera Brand Book for Cadillac dealers, ‘‘The target buyer for this car is young enough to be the son (or, just as likely, daughter) of people currently driving DeVilles [a larger, older Cadillac model]. Their definition of luxury bears no resemblance to their parents’ generation. For them . . . BMWs, Volvos, and Infinitis say more than Cadillacs and Lincolns. When it comes to luxury, Cadillac is status quo. And these buyers don’t want status quo.’’
By 1997 Cadillac was increasingly concerned about its decreasing market share as well as the growing popularity of entry-lux autos. The buyers in this new market tended to be younger, more performance-conscious, and more open to automobiles built overseas such as Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. Cadillac executives’ attention was especially drawn to the cases of two competitors’ vehicles launched in the 1990s: The Lexus ES 300, which sold 39,367 units in its first year (1992); and the Mercedes-Benz C class, which sold 23,793 units in its launch year (1994). Cadillac’s Nottoli noted that these cars were introduced with essentially the same marketing strategies traditionally used for upscale automobiles. Television and print ads were geared for an affluent audience, with dignified shots of cars rolling along country roads or displayed in luxurious settings. Cadillac knew it had to pursue a different style of marketing campaign for its Catera, as it wanted to make a major impact in the competitive entry-lux market.
To launch its ambitious Catera campaign Cadillac worked closely with its national advertising agency, the Bloomfield, Michigan, office of the international firm D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (DMB&B). The car maker spent an estimated $40 million on the campaign. According to Nottoli, Cadillac knew most car buyers saw the company as the manufacturer of serious, luxury automobiles. To challenge this perception, Cadillac wanted to emphasize a lighter side in the Catera campaign. ‘‘We tried to focus on fun,’’ he said.
They started with the campaign’s slogan, ‘‘The Caddy that Zigs.’’ Although auto enthusiasts and Cadillac owners had long called the cars by the ‘‘Caddy’’ abbreviation, the company had never used the shortened term in any advertisement before the Catera. This simple break with tradition was an important one for Cadillac, as the company wanted to emphasize that the Catera was different from any car the maker had produced before. When Cadillac and DMB&B faced the issue of which symbol or spokesperson to use for the campaign, they turned to the family crest of the founder of Cadillac (the crest is on each automobile made by the company). That crest featured six ducks—actually mythical birds called merlettes that are similar to ducks. In the crest all six ducks face left. Cadillac officials decided to play off the crest—a symbol rooted in years of family and company tradition—for its Catera ‘‘spokesperson.’’ Cadillac and DMB&B creative teams decided to turn one of the ducks in the crest to the right. The idea was that the duck ‘‘zigged’’ away from Cadillac tradition, just like the Catera. Thus the slogan ‘‘The Caddy that Zigs’’ was born. The use of a cartoon duck—red, no less—was meant to emphasize fun and irreverence, Nottoli said. Cadillac knew the use of a cartoon animal to promote a luxury car was not without its risks, but the company also knew it had to take chances to reach its younger target market. ‘‘The goal of the duck was to show how luxury and fun could come together,’’ Nottoli said. ‘‘It was representative of a whole attitude.’’
The 1997 Catera campaign got off the ground in January with a spot in a prime advertising location: the Super Bowl. The Catera spot, featuring the red duck and model Cindy Crawford, generated quite a bit of attention—not all positive—for the car maker. Several more television spots followed, all emphasizing the duck and a younger, irreverent attitude. One full-page magazine advertisement played on this attitude with a paean to ‘‘duck logic’’: ‘‘Ducks think differently than you and me. They would never forget a birthday. They have never sponsored a negative political ad. They avoid talk shows like the plague. They dance in the rain and take great pains not to walk around the puddles.’’ Ads later in the year noted the performance features of the car. One 30-second television spot was set on a curving, mountain road. The Catera drove along with two competing entrylux cars following. The voiceover announced, ‘‘You follow the leader. You follow the pack. Then you get a Catera. Suddenly, you don’t follow anything.’’ The background music was upbeat techno-pop, and the spot closed with the ‘‘Caddy that Zigs’’ slogan and the duck. In a unique promotional move, Cadillac displayed Cateras at an Atlanta mall for five weeks in January and February 1997. Cadillac-trained specialists were on hand to answer questions about the cars, and special kiosks were set up for curious shoppers. The idea was to expose the Catera to the public in an environment not traditionally associated with automobiles, with the goal of interesting consumers who might not normally consider buying a Cadillac in test driving a Catera. Figures showed about 70,000 people visited the mall display. Other innovative direct marketing techniques were employed. One Cadillac dealer took Cateras to golf and tennis tournaments, events populated by affluent younger car buyers. The same dealer also used Cateras to taxi people to and from National Symphony Orchestra performances. In another unique move, a six-page foldout ad, which ran in fashion magazines, tied the Catera’s styling to the work of trendy fashion designers.
There were strong, divergent views on how successful the 1997 Catera campaign was. For Nottoli, the campaign was a winner for bottom-line reasons: the Catera sold well in its launch year. ‘‘In the end you judge the outcome based on results,’’ Nottoli said. Those results included the sale of 25,411 Cateras in the vehicle’s first year, surpassing Cadillac’s sales goal of 25,000. But Nottoli remarked that sales figures were not the only measure of success for the Catera campaign. He noted that the age of the typical Catera buyer—a factor that had been a crucial part of the marketing strategy—was lower than that of other Cadillac buyers. While Cadillac and industry experts differed on what the median Caterabuyer age was (while Cadillac claimed the median age was 52 years old, 13 years younger than the median age for traditional Cadillac buyers, auto industry observers claimed the age was closer to 58), Nottoli said the undeniable fact was that the car was bought by younger consumers.
The gender makeup of Catera buyers was also promising, Nottoli said. About 51 percent of Catera buyers were male, which was right on target for Cadillac’s goal of having an equal number of female and male buyers. This gender equity was much different from the typical Cadillac customer base, and Nottoli said the Catera marketing campaign played a big part in drawing female customers.
In addition, Nottoli said the Catera was successful as a ‘‘conquest vehicle,’’ an auto industry term for a car that brings in buyers who had previously not purchased a vehicle from that brand. In the case of the Catera, the campaign helped draw non-General Motors buyers into the Cadillac showrooms, another of the campaign’s key goals.
While Nottoli considered the 1997 Catera campaign a success, he acknowledged problems, most notably the red duck. While Cadillac originally adopted the duck as a spokes-symbol to emphasize fun and irreverence, the cartoon character soon began receiving too much attention. ‘‘We couldn’t get people off the duck,’’ Nottoli said. ‘‘People took it too far. They had a love-hate relationship with the duck.’’
Criticism of the Catera campaign was consistent and strong. From the beginning of the campaign, viewers were critical of the use of the duck. They also questioned whether the target market would accept a Cadillac. USA Today’s fourth annual survey of advertising agency creative directors reported it as one of the worst campaigns of 1997, writing, ‘‘More than a third of the panelists name Catera as their first choice for 1997’s worst ad. Cadillac wants to attract younger viewers to its $30,000 car, but ad executives say it was a mistake to link a luxury brand in a commercial with a wise-cracking cartoon duck.’’ In addition, USA Today’s Ad Track survey reported that only 9 percent of consumers surveyed liked the Catera duck (below the 22 percent average) and only 11 percent found the ad campaign very effective (compared to a 25 percent average).
Cadillac dealers were also critical of the campaign, complaining that the Catera campaign focused too much on fun and not enough on the car’s features. ‘‘We don’t need a quack as our spokesman,’’ Jacques J. Moore, president of a Cadillac dealership, told the Washington Post. ‘‘The Catera is a heck of a good car, an excellent car. We need an advertising campaign that sticks to the merits of the car, that emphasizes the quality of the Cadillac name.’’
Nottoli responded by saying that Cadillac was aware of the campaign’s weaknesses. He added that his one regret was the campaign was a little too ‘‘silly’’ and not sophisticated enough. But, he added, ‘‘We took a risk. I’m glad we did.’’
Nottoli said focus groups conducted by Cadillac showed solid awareness of the Catera, but that awareness did not necessarily bring buyers to the point where they bought the car. He added that many focus group participants did not consider the Catera a Cadillac; they considered it to be a different car altogether. Cadillac owners also did not consider the Catera a ‘‘real’’ Cadillac, but rather a ‘‘little Cadillac,’’ he said.
Nottoli said this was part of the ‘‘Cadillac baggage’’ the Catera marketing campaign fought to overcome. Cadillac’s traditional image as a maker of big luxury cars for older people played a big part in the acceptance of the ‘‘Caddy that Zigs’’ message. ‘‘We didn’t start with a clean slate,’’ Nottoli said. ‘‘The Cadillac baggage hurt us.’’ In 1998 Catera advertising downplayed the duck and emphasized the car’s performance features. The duck only appeared at the end of ads as an icon. Catera sales for 1998 were up considerably over sales in 1997, and the age of Catera buyers continued to decrease, Nottoli said, demonstrating the effectiveness of the ‘‘Caddy that Zigs’’ campaign.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Cadillac, a division of Detroit-based auto giant General Motors Corporation (GM), had long been GM’s luxury division, offering higher-priced, roomier vehicles. The brand had been in trouble for several years, however, and saw sales tumble almost 10 percent between 2000 and 2001. One of the primary culprits was Cadillac’s aging customer base. By the early 2000s the average age of Cadillac buyers was 65 years old. Younger drivers tended to prefer European and Japanese luxury automobiles such as BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus. To help reach younger consumers, Cadillac developed the CTS, a sedan that was priced as an ‘‘entry’’ luxury car, along the lines of the BMW 3 Series.
Cadillac earmarked nearly a quarter of a billion dollars for a new campaign, which was implemented by advertising agency D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. Titled ‘‘Break Through,’’ the campaign revolved around a television spot that premiered at the 2002 Super Bowl. The commercial first invoked the brand’s post–World War II heyday by showing a young professional driving a 1959 Cadillac. The commercial really kicked into gear with the arrival of the new CTS, which passed the 1959 vehicle on the open road while Led Zeppelin’s ‘‘Rock n’ Roll’’ played in the background. Led Zeppelin was one of the most successful rock bands of the 1960s and 1970s, and Cadillac believed that the band’s iconic status and hard-rock sound offered the right combination of nostalgia and edge.
Representing a major achievement for the campaign, the average CTS buyer was 55 years old. Cadillac expanded the ‘‘Break Through’’ campaign for several years, making it a division-wide affair. It became a key component in the company’s efforts to revitalize itself.
Cadillac rose from the remains of the Henry Ford Company. After Ford left the company, his former partners decided to continue in the automobile business. In 1902 they formed the Cadillac Automobile Company. The organization took its name from Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of the company’s home city of Detroit. In 1909 Cadillac was purchased by General Motors. As the twentieth century progressed, GM grew to become the largest automaker in the world. Cadillac developed into GM’s luxury brand. The vehicle never sold well outside the United States, but within the country Cadillac became synonymous with quality and luxury. By the early 2000s, however, the brand was under pressure from European and Japanese luxury brands such as Lexus and BMW. Between 2000 and 2001 the company’s sales dropped about 9 percent, bringing to 40 percent the sales slide that had been going on since the mid-1980s.
As Cadillac’s customer base aged, the brand began to get a reputation as an ‘‘older’’ company aligned with establishmentarian attitudes. In fact, by 2001 the average Cadillac buyer was 65 years old. This presented a problem for GM because the division’s future depended on attracting baby boomers—people who were in their 40s and 50s in 2001. The company also had trouble getting women to purchase its vehicles. In an effort to reach out to younger drivers, for model year 2003 Cadillac replaced its sagging Catera model with the CTS, which was designed to be sleeker and flashier than the Catera. The CTS operated on a 5-speed transmission, reminiscent of that used in BMWs, and it used a 220-horsepower V-6 engine, which provided a smooth ride. It also offered OnStar, a computerized guidance system.
The new CTS was positioned as an entry-level luxury car for drivers who tended to be well established in their careers. It was intended for professionals and other consumers who were interested in a roomier, more luxurious ride but who were put off by the price of such Cadillac mainstays as the Seville, a midsize luxury vehicle that would soon be phased out in favor of the STS. Cadillac hoped to attract a younger audience for the CTS: baby boomers (those born from World War II to the early 1960s) and members of Generation X (those born in the late 1960s and 1970s).
The company was concerned that Cadillac was being seen by consumers as an older, un-hip brand. Imageconscious boomers tended to shy away from Cadillac in favor of flashy foreign luxury brands such as BMW and Lexus. The company also felt that it needed to appeal to more women drivers. Cadillac wanted to reach those consumers with the CTS, with the anticipation of luring them to buy higher-priced Cadillac models, like the Seville/STS, in the future. While the company enjoyed its reputation as a classic luxury car, it wanted to freshen up that image to help meet the challenges of the early 2000s.
As an affordable, entry-level luxury car, the CTS competed with similarly priced vehicles from other luxury automobile brands. Chief among these was the Lexus ES 300, manufactured by the Toyota Motor Corporation’s Lexus division. The ES 300 was the latest in the popular ES sedan line, first introduced in 1989. Lexus introduced the ES 300 in model year 2003, at the same time that Cadillac brought out its new CTS. Because the ES 300 launch was a major priority for Lexus, the CTS faced intense competition from the beginning. Acura would also be launching a new design of its luxury vehicle the TL, though with less fanfare than Lexus. Other imports that competed directly with the CTS included the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the Audi A4, the BMW 3 Series, and the Infiniti G35, made by a subsidiary of Nissan. The Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln luxury division was long considered a chief competitor for GM’s Cadillac division. Lincoln, however, did not have a strong entry-level vehicle available at the time. Its flagship model, the Town Car, did draw from some of the CTS’s market share, but it was more expensive and competed more directly with the Cadillac Seville.
Cadillac wanted its new campaign to accomplish many different things. Most importantly, it needed to introduce the CTS successfully. Its other goals were to reverse the previous year’s substantial decline in sales and to burnish the company’s image in relation to import luxury brands. Cadillac enlisted ad agency D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, based in Troy, Michigan, to run its new campaign, which would cost more than $240 million. The agency had worked with Cadillac before and understood the company’s concerns.
To drum up advance publicity, Cadillac offered the CTS for use in The Matrix Reloaded, the 2003 sequel to the popular science fiction movie The Matrix. At the core of the campaign was a series of several television spots, all of which featured the Led Zeppelin song ‘‘Rock n’ Roll.’’ Led Zeppelin, who recorded nine studio albums between 1968 and 1980, was one of the first hard-rock bands and also one of the most enduringly popular. While the band still appealed to younger fans, its original loyal fan base was now comfortably middle-aged.
It was believed that Led Zeppelin’s music possessed a combination of nostalgia and edge that would appeal to baby boomers. The band’s untitled fourth record, featuring the classic-rock staple ‘‘Stairway to Heaven’’ as well as the hard-charging ‘‘Rock n’ Roll,’’ was one of the best-selling records of the 1970s and was seen by some baby boomers as a touchtone of their youth. Because Led Zeppelin had an outlaw reputation in its heyday, attracting various stories and urban myths about its members’ over-the-top parties and decadent lifestyle, the band never acquired a stuffy reputation, even with the passage of time. Also, the band’s classic status—it was in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and was generally regarded as the exemplar of the hard-rock genre—helped to underscore Cadillac’s reputation as the classic luxury car. The campaign kicked off during the 2002 Super Bowl on Fox television, at a cost of more than $10 million. The event, which served as the championship game for the National Football League, was typically the most watched television event of the year, and the advertisements that ran during it garnered not only a large audience but also a significant amount of media attention. The Cadillac spot began by showing a young professional driving a vintage 1959 Cadillac. He was stuck in a traffic jam but then managed to turn off down a side street, which led to an open highway. At this point the Led Zeppelin music began, and a CTS appeared in the rearview mirror. A unseen announcer then declared: ‘‘A legend—reborn.’’ Soon the CTS passed the older car and rocketed down the open road, as the music played louder and louder. The spot closed with the tagline ‘‘Break Through.’’
Other brands, including Coors Light beer and
Sheraton Hotels, also used popular 1960s and 1970s songs in their advertisements during this time. As baby boomers aged, they continued to buy products that celebrated 1960s and 1970s recording artists, such as the Beatles Anthology CDs. Led Zeppelin itself had released several popular box sets in the 1990s, and in 2003 it put out a successful collection of live performances recorded in 1972. On January 27, 2004, Cadillac paid to become the official vehicle of Super Bowl XXXVIII, which was broadcast on CBS. Cadillac featured a new 60-second spot called ‘‘Turbulence’’ that expanded upon the ‘‘Break Through’’ campaign. It featured a voice-over by the actor Gary Sinise, who had played a major role in the Oscarwinning 1994 film Forrest Gump. The commercial retained ‘‘Rock n’ Roll’’ on the soundtrack and highlighted four key Cadillac models: the Escalade and SRX sports utility vehicles (SUVs), the XLR, and the CTS. The spot showed the four cars driving in the desert. The CTS, Escalade, and SRX all met at an intersection, creating a swirl of ‘‘turbulence’’ that eventually subsided to reveal an XLR with its top down, driven by a young woman. Cadillac ran three other spots during the broadcast, featuring the Escalade, SRX, and XLR individually. All three ended with the ‘‘Break Through’’ tagline. The musical focus of the spot dovetailed with Cadillac’s decision to offer XM radio in its DeVille, Seville, CTS, and Escalade models. XM was a popular satellite-radio service that provided a diverse array of music, sports, and entertainment channels. The subscription service required a special radio, which Cadillac began to offer for the CTS and other lines.
The CTS did not fare well competing head-on with BMW or Mercedes, but its competitive pricing—it came in at under $35,000—meant that Cadillac could reorient its campaign to take on the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Otherwise, the campaign met with success. Automobile journalists awarded the CTS the North American Car of the Year at the Detroit-based North American International Auto Show in 2002. Cadillac was pleased with the ‘‘Break Through’’ campaign results. Eventually the company’s website even carried the ‘‘Break Through’’ tagline. As late as 2005, 85 percent of respondents to an internal survey still saw the campaign as fresh and different. Most importantly, within nine months of the ‘‘Break Through’’ campaign’s inception, the average age of CTS buyers was down to 55, a marked improvement over the Cadillac division’s average of 65. Nearly 40 percent of those consumers were women. Internal data showed that approximately half of CTS buyers would not have previously considered purchasing a Cadillac.
Chevrolet was a division of the General Motors Corporation (GM), the largest car manufacturer in the United States. Long facing pressure from Japanese automakers such as Toyota, the company decided to revamp its vehicle lineup in 2004 by launching 10 new and redesigned models under a single campaign, ‘‘An American Revolution.’’ This marked Chevrolet’s first division-wide marketing push in more than a decade. The campaign was headed by Michigan-based ad agency Campbell-Ewald. Beginning with a television commercial on December 31, 2003, during Dick Clark’s Primetime New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, ‘‘An American Revolution’’ featured dozens of TV spots, each featuring a vehicle in the company’s fleet. Key spots promoted the sports-car model Corvette C6 and the SSR truck. Chevrolet reached out to many demographics, using ‘‘An American Revolution’’ as a flexible umbrella that encompassed many targeted mini-initiatives. This included a male-focused print campaign for the Silverado truck and a hip-hop themed radio and television campaign for the Impala and HHR. The campaign relied on exposure during key events, including New Year’s Eve, the Super Bowl, the Vibe Awards, and the 2004 Summer Olympics.
The campaign was mostly successful. Many models, such as the Corvette and the Impala, had strong sales numbers. Consumers responded favorably to the new commercials, which all fared well in USA Today’s Ad Track surveys, with 26 percent of respondents giving the campaign the highest score possible (against an industry average of 16 percent). At 98 percent, dealer participation was impressive. The company also generated significantly more traffic at its website and maintained its high public profile. Nevertheless, some individual lines, especially the SSR, did not sell well.
Chevrolet was founded in 1911 by Louis Chevrolet, a Swiss-born race-car driver, and William Durant, a former executive at General Motors. By producing cars such as the 1912 Classic Six, a five-passenger sedan, the company soon became successful enough for Durant to buy a majority of GM’s voting stock. Soon thereafter Chevrolet merged with GM and became a separate division of the older company. GM dominated vehicle sales in the United States throughout the twentieth century, with Chevrolet as its premier line. By 1963, in fact, 1 out of very 10 vehicles sold in the United States was a Chevrolet.
The brand featured a number of well-known vehicles over the years, including the 1957 Bel Air, which would later be known as the ‘‘‘57 Chevy,’’ and the most recognizable American sports car, the Corvette. The Corvette was introduced in the early 1950s and became the most famous vehicle in the entire Chevrolet line. Production on the car continued through the twenty-first century, making it Chevrolet’s most established vehicle. In the face of strong competition from such competitors as the Toyota Motor Corp., Chevy decided to update much of its fleet in a 20-month period beginning in January 2004. Ten of the vehicles would be launched in that period: the cars models Malibu Maxx, Aveo, Cobalt, Corvette C6, Uplander, and Impala; the trucks SSR and Colorado; and the sports utility vehicles (SUVs) Equinox and HHR.
As Chevrolet’s signature car, the Corvette was to be the centerpiece of the campaign. The SSR was also important to the launch. Based on Chevy’s midsize SUV, the Trailblazer, the SSR was a stylized, convertible truck that Chevrolet hoped would prove popular enough to boost the sales of its other trucks.
The target market for the campaign varied from vehicle to vehicle. The SSR and Colorado trucks were aimed at men, especially those in their 20s and 30s. At a price of more than $40,000 per vehicle, the SSR would have to find a lucrative audience of young professionals to be successful.
Chevrolet also used the ‘‘American Revolution’’ campaign to reach out to minority consumers, particularly African-Americans. The Impala and HHR were especially important to that outreach. The company also made a push for Latin-American consumers. The Accent Marketing agency of Miami was hired to run the parallel Spanish-language ‘‘Subte’’ (Join Us) campaign. The campaign featured television spots that aired on Spanishlanguage stations such as Telemundo and Univision as well as radio spots and print ads.
Chevrolet’s traditional competition came from GM’s primary American competitors, the Ford Motor Company and the Chrysler Group (the American division of DaimlerChrysler, responsible for the Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge brands). The company was also under pressure from the Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp., whose subsidiary, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., was making heavy inroads in the U.S. market. In 2003 Toyota passed Ford to become the second-largest automaker in the world, right after Chevrolet’s parent, GM. The Japanese automaker moved 6.78 million units worldwide in 2003 alone, versus 8.6 million units sold worldwide that year by GM.
Chevrolet was especially concerned about the SSR’s sales prospects. It would be entering the already crowded light-truck field. Nevertheless, Chevy hoped to move at least 13,000 units of the SSR. This was a relatively conservative number that reflected the strength of the light-truck market in the United States. Both the SSR and the Trailblazer faced stiff competition from the Ford Explorer, which remained the top-selling vehicle in its class in 2003. The Corvette, Chevrolet’s biggest name, would be challenged by other sports cars, including the Porsche 911, the Audi 350Z, and the BMW Z4.
Chevrolet was faced with the daunting task of introducing new models for 10 separate vehicle lines, or half of its fleet. To meet this challenge the company unified all of its advertising under one overarching campaign, ‘‘An American Revolution.’’ This tagline reflected the dynamic new products Chevy was introducing. The campaign was created by the Michigan-based agency Campbell-Ewald and cost a reported $800 million to implement.
Chevrolet had many goals for the campaign. Most importantly, it wanted to establish strong sales for all of its new vehicles, especially key models such as the Corvette C6. Dealer participation in the company’s most recent campaign, ‘‘We’ll Be There,’’ had been only about 20 percent. Chevy wanted this number to improve significantly. It also wanted to maintain a high level of customer awareness for the company in general. The campaign was the first company-wide initiative since the ‘‘Heartbeat of America’’ campaign in the 1980s. It kicked off on New Year’s Eve 2003–2004, during the television special Dick Clark’s Primetime New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Chevrolet was the primary sponsor of the event, the most-watched New Year’s celebration on American TV. It also bought a major billboard in Times Square to capitalize on the New Year’s Eve publicity.
The first spot of the campaign—and the focus of Chevy’s New Year’s advertising—was the ‘‘Car Carrier’’ spot. Helmed by major Hollywood director Michael Bay, whose films included the blockbusters Armageddon and The Rock, it featured six new Chevrolets that were being introduced in 2004. The spot starred the premier vehicle in Corvette’s fleet: the Corvette. Each new vehicle made an appearance as it was loaded onto a car carrier. The SSR received prominent placement, dramatically backing into the frame at the end of the spot.
The New Year’s launch underscored one of Chevrolet’s key goals for the campaign: to advertise at major events. This approach continued with the debut of two major spots at the Super Bowl just a few weeks later. The SSR was the star of one of these spots, titled ‘‘Soap.’’ It featured children getting their mouths washed out with soap after their response to seeing the SSR for the first time. The commercial met with controversy for its implied profanity and only ran for a few months. It made an impression on viewers, however, and was regarded as one of the best spots on the broadcast, which was acknowledged to be the biggest night in TV advertising. The Summer Olympics gave Chevrolet a chance to premiere a TV commercial featuring its Silverado truck. The spot depicted a Silverado acting as a tow truck for a car carrier. It recalled the New Year’s spot that kicked off the entire campaign while also underscoring the sturdy, reliable power of Chevrolet’s signature truck. Later, another key move of the campaign focused on the Silverado as well. In order to unite all of its advertising under one banner, Chevrolet discontinued its popular ‘‘Like a Rock’’ campaign, which had run for more than a decade. Featuring the eponymous song by Bob Seger, the ‘‘Like a Rock’’ spots had helped the Silverado become one of the most popular trucks in the United States. In anticipation of a 2006 redesign, however, Chevrolet decided that a new approach was needed to keep the brand fresh.
To reach the male consumers that composed the major target market for Chevy trucks, Chevrolet used both television spots and print ads. The key spot of the campaign featured the catchphrase ‘‘Men love trucks. Why? Because trucks don’t ask why.’’ The print campaign was built around a 10-page insert called ‘‘Men, Woman, and the Truck: A Relationship Handbook.’’ These inserts were placed in publications with large male readerships, such as Popular Mechanics and Men’s Health. The ads were meant to underscore the Silverado’s appeal to men in a humorous way, by tweaking traditional ‘‘macho’’ notions about men and women. In addition, retired National Football League (NFL) star Howie Long was signed on as a spokesman for entire Chevy truck line. For the HHR and Impala lines, Chevrolet devised commercials around the rap group Slum Village in an effort to reach younger fans of hip-hop music. Several television and radio spots were produced, including two 60-second radio spots for the Impala. The television commercials, with stylized visuals and quick-cut edits, were meant to look like music videos. They featured the song ‘‘EZ Up,’’ a single by Slum Village. The group itself was chosen because of its Detroit roots, and the spots prominently featured Detroit scenes. These commercials were intended to show the hipness of the Chevrolet brand. They also targeted urban consumers and ran during popular hip-hop themed events, including the Vibe Awards. Created by Vibe magazine, one of the most successful urban-music-themed publications, the awards spotlighted the best hip-hop performers in the United States.
The campaign was successful on most fronts. Chevrolet accomplished its goal of increasing dealer participation. Ninety-eight percent of United States Chevy dealers participated in the campaign. Traffic at the company’s website increased significantly, with individual vehicles, such as the Aveo, seeing 280 percent more visitors than they were before 2004. The campaign’s television commercials drew praise from critics, who found them bold and interesting. More importantly, consumers responded to the spots. According to a Millward Brown study conducted in late 2004, the ‘‘American Revolution’’ campaign was the seventh-most-recognized campaign at that time.
The spots as a group drew a positive response in
USA Today ’s Ad Track survey as well, with 26 percent of respondents holding a highly favorable view of the campaign, versus an industry average of only 16 percent. Sales were solid. The Corvette C6, which featured prominently in the campaign’s kickoff, sold out for the year. The Impala also performed impressively, moving 290,259 units to become the top-selling domestic fourdoor passenger vehicle in 2004; and the Trailblazer, with 283,384 units sold, made stiff inroads against the classleading Ford Explorer’s 339,333 units. Some lines disappointed, however. The SSR had surprisingly weak sales, moving less than 9,000 units. Chevrolet later discontinued the line.
In 2003 General Mills, Inc.’s brand Cheerios was the top-selling cold-cereal brand in the United States, claiming $334 million in sales of the $8 billion cereal market. But General Mills believed that the aging brand, which had been introduced in 1941 as Cheerioats, was losing its edge. The company began looking for ways to move the brand out of the kitchen cupboard and to make the cereal part of American families on a more emotional level. To help achieve that goal, the Cheerios packaging was changed, replacing the bowl of Cheerios on the box’s front with a heart. And General Mills’ agency, Saatchi & Saatchi New York, which had worked with the company for almost 80 years, was charged with creating a new advertising campaign that focused less on the nutritional message that the brand’s oat ingredients were healthy and more on the emotional benefits of the cereal. Saatchi & Saatchi’s co-chief operating officer Mike Burns said in an interview with Fast Company, ‘‘It became very much about motherhood and nurturance—that Cheerios is an expression of love and doing the best for your family.’’ The ‘‘Stories’’ campaign, which presented a series of television spots sharing the true experiences of consumers that involved Cheerios, began in 2003.
According to Saatchi & Saatchi, the campaign succeeded in reaching mothers as well as consumers of all ages, which helped to drive sales. The campaign also inspired consumers to log on to the ‘‘Stories’’ website to post their own heartwarming family experiences involving Cheerios and to read those of others. In addition, the ongoing campaign was recognized by the advertising industry, beginning in 2003 with one spot, ‘‘Breakfast in Bed,’’ being named a Best Spot by Adweek. In 2005 the ‘‘Heartbeat’’ spot won a Gold EFFIE Award, and the ‘‘Adoption’’ spot garnered four ADDY Awards, including the National Gold.
General Mills introduced Cheerioats in 1941 with a marketing strategy that included a cute little-girl spokescharacter named Cheery O’Leary and the tagline ‘‘Cheer up with Cheerioats.’’ The brand also signed on in 1941 as sponsor of the radio Western The Lone Ranger, and it maintained the relationship during the program’s run through 1949. The popularity of the masked man and his show pushed sales of Cheerios to nearly 1.8 million cases of the cereal in the first year of sponsorship. When the program moved to television in 1949, Cheerios stayed on as its sponsor until the 1960s. During the years that it sponsored The Lone Ranger the brand experienced numerous changes.
In 1945 the cereal’s name was changed to Cheerios, and sweet little Cheery disappeared into the cerealcharacter history books. The tagline was changed to ‘‘Cheerios: the first ready-to-eat cereal.’’ In the 1960s General Mills began promoting the health benefits of its Cheerios brand with marketing taglines such as ‘‘Go with the goodness of Cheerios’’ (introduced in 1964), which was followed by ‘‘Nutrition: that’s the Cheerios tradition’’ (1971). Almost from the beginning, Cheerios’ marketing targeted children, and in 1974 it got a boost with moms as the preferred first finger-food for their toddlers when pediatricians began recommending it to parents. In 1994 the tagline ‘‘The one and only’’ was introduced, and when the ‘‘Stories’’ campaign began in 2003, the long-running tagline continued to be used.
According to Saatchi & Saatchi, the ‘‘Stories’’ campaign targeted and was designed to resonate with anyone who had a tender spot in their heart, regardless of their age. But beyond that, the campaign targeted moms by portraying real situations that busy women could relate to. In an E-mail correspondence Saatchi & Saatchi representative Blair Meisels wrote, ‘‘We know the world isn’t perfect and neither is her family, but it’s the special moments when they come together that make it all worthwhile.’’ The campaign also targeted all generations of consumers looking for diet support for a healthier life by promoting the product’s cholesterol-lowering benefits as well as its value as a nutritious first finger-food for toddlers.
The Kellogg Company was the number one breakfastcereal maker in the United States in 2004, with a 33.5 percent share compared to General Mills’ 31.5 percent share. With its Frosted Flakes brand falling in at number two behind General Mills’ Cheerios, a long-standing favorite with parents of toddlers, Kellogg determined to meet the competition head-on by introducing its own toddler-friendly cereal. The new brand, Tiger Power, was tagged ‘‘food to grow’’ and targeted the mothers of toddlers and preschool-age children. Supporting the new cereal’s launch was a $20 million television, print, and Internet marketing campaign created by Leo Burnett Chicago. It used Tony the Tiger, Kellogg’s iconic spokescharacter for the Frosted Flakes brand. Even though the new cereal resembled Cheerios (it had three O-shapes connected to form a triangle) and had a strong supporting campaign and a well-known spokescharacter touting it as ‘‘Gr-r-reat to grow,’’ Tiger Power lacked power and failed to grow. The new cereal hit the shelves in January 2005, and by May sales had reached only $3.4 million, a small number compared to Cheerios’ reported $550 million in sales in 2004. Kellogg announced plans to increase the advertising budget for the new brand, but according to a report in Advertising Age, some were questioning whether the cereal would still be on store shelves by the end of the year.
Kraft Foods, Inc., the number one food company in the United States, was best known for its expansive line of cheeses, crackers, and cookies. Also in the Kraft Foods arsenal was the Post Cereals line with more than 23 varieties. One was Grape-Nuts, which was introduced to consumers in 1897 and was one of the first ready-toeat cereals, and another was kid-targeted Alpha-Bits (introduced in 1957), cereal shaped like the letters in the alphabet and loaded with sugar. Despite its broad selection of cereals, Post ranked a distant third behind Kellogg and General Mills, claiming just a 16 percent market share at the beginning of 2000. To help drive sales, in 2000 Post began a promotional effort that included offering items from the Universal Studios Land Before Time movies, a dinosaur-themed series that had been a hit with kids aged two to seven. The effort was supported by print advertising that targeted mothers of children in that age group, but it seemed futile, as Post reported a 1.9 percent drop in sales in 2001 from the previous year. In a 2003 promotion Post put mini-bobblehead statues of Major League Baseball players in boxes of its different cereal brands, including Alpha-Bits. Again the effort did not noticeably increase sales. Post took a different approach to reach moms and their kids in 2005; it reformulated its Alpha-Bits cereal, making it sugar free and whole grain. To promote the improved cereal as a healthy finger food for toddlers, Post partnered with the Reach Out and Read program to introduce letter recognition and reading to young children. The children’s literacy effort included distributing new books to children ages six months to five years old through pediatricians’ offices. In addition, learning activities using the alphabet cereal in what the company described as ‘‘eat-ertainment’’ could be found on the website www.alpha-bits.com.
Cheerios was the top-selling cold cereal in the United States in 2003, but General Mills wanted to give the brand a creative edge that promoted the cereal’s health benefits while also connecting with consumers on a meaningful and emotional level. Saatchi & Saatchi, which had been General Mills’ agency for nearly 80 years, was charged with creating a new marketing campaign for Cheerios that would achieve the desired edge for the brand, connect with consumers, and drive sales. Working with the idea that customers’ real-life experiences with Cheerios would resonate with consumers, the agency developed the ‘‘Stories’’ campaign. It was released in 2003. No specific budget for the campaign was announced, but according to a report in Advertising Age, in 2003 General Mills spent $40 million advertising the Cheerios brand overall.
The campaign, limited to television, told the true stories of various customers’ life experiences in which Cheerios had played a role. The 10 unique spots included the titles ‘‘Breakfast in Bed,’’ which aired in 2003, and ‘‘Heartbeats’’ and ‘‘Adoption,’’ both of which aired in 2005. ‘‘Breakfast in Bed’’ depicted a young boy in the wee hours of the morning carrying bowls, spoons, and a bottle of milk into the semidark bedroom where his parents were sleeping. He used a box of Cheerios as a tray, and he advised his sleepy parents, ‘‘You’ve got to take some cholesterol off of you.’’ In the ‘‘Heartbeat’’ spot, a small boy was shown cuddling with his father on a sofa. The boy said, ‘‘I hear something. Thump, thump, thump.’’ The father said that the sound was his heart talking to the boy. The little boy then asked, ‘‘Does it ever say anything else?’’ A voice-over stated the health benefits of eating Cheerios. This was followed by the boy saying, ‘‘I hear gorp, gorp,’’ to which the man responded, ‘‘That’s my stomach.’’ The boy asked, ‘‘Your stomach talks too?’’ The spot ended with the Cheerios tagline, ‘‘The one and only.’’ In ‘‘Adoption’’ a young couple was shown riding in the back seat of a car in an unknown but clearly foreign city. They were picking up two small children who they were adopting. Both children were reluctant to leave the orphanage or foster home where they had been living, but the couple had an opportunity to begin bonding with the children when they offered them Cheerios as a treat.
Supporting the campaign was a new website, www.cheerios.com/stories, that enabled consumers to share their own ‘‘Cheerios Moments’’ and read those of others. The stories shared on the website touched upon Cheerios lovers from all generations. Many of the posted stories were from parents whose children were adults but continued to eat Cheerios. In one story, ‘‘Cheerios Bandit,’’ the mother of a toddler wrote that her daughter began walking at 10 months old and quickly learned how to help herself to the box of Cheerios, earning her the nickname that titled the story. Another person said that her daughter, who had eaten Cheerios since she was a toddler and was then 23 years old, still considered Cheerios her favorite ‘‘comfort’’ food. The writer of ‘‘88 Years of Dedication’’ told of the person’s 88-yearold mother, who ate a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast every day and occasionally a bowl of the cereal before bed if she was hungry. It noted that the elderly mother was in good health, volunteered, and cut her own grass using a riding mower. People who visited the website could also view the ‘‘Adoption’’ television spot.
The ‘‘Stories’’ campaign was well received by consumers and was recognized with numerous advertising-industry awards. Consumers motivated by the television spots took time to log on to the ‘‘Stories’’ website to share their own ‘‘Cheerios Moments’’ stories, read the stories of others, and comment on the commercials. One customer who posted her comments on the site wrote that the spot featuring a young boy serving his parents breakfast in bed was ‘‘the most wonderful, delightful, and adorable ad I’ve ever seen.’’
The commercial ‘‘Breakfast in Bed’’ was named an Adweek Best Spot in 2003. The campaign’s spot ‘‘Heartbeat,’’ telling the story of a young boy hearing his father’s heart beating, garnered a 2005 Gold EFFIE Award. The award’s summary credited the campaign with boosting Cheerios’ sales and getting to the heart of what was important to consumers. In addition, the ‘‘Adoption’’ commercial, which related the story of a couple on their journey to pick up the two small children they had adopted, won four 2005 ADDY Awards in the cinema and television categories, including the National Gold award. The American Advertising Federation presented the awards each year in recognition of creative excellence in advertising.
Since 1979 General Electric Co. (GE) had relied on one of the most successful branding slogans in history: ‘‘We bring good things to life.’’ But along the way the company had become almost exclusively associated with its lighting and appliance products, which by the end of the twentieth century represented only a small percentage of the company’s business. With the installation of a new chief executive, Jeffrey R. Immelt, who replaced the legendary Jack Welch, the company decided to rethink its branding in order to better position GE as an innovative and forward-looking company. The result was a new slogan, ‘‘Imagination at work,’’ which became the focus of a campaign aimed at consumers, business partners, and investors as well as GE employees. The $100 million ‘‘Imagination at Work’’ campaign, developed by BBDO Worldwide Inc., began in January 2003. In addition to TV spots, it included print ads and Web elements. The advertisements simultaneously repositioned the brand and directly promoted one of GE’s many businesses. In one commercial, for example, Lassie, the heroic canine star of vintage TV and films, warded off a cougar with an array of karate moves as a way to talk about GE’s security technology. In time the campaign also spread to Europe and Asia. Despite taking some criticism for dropping ‘‘We bring good things to life,’’ GE expressed satisfaction with the campaign and continued to build on it. Market research detected a change in consumers’ perceptions of GE: more people were viewing GE as a high-tech company rather than as a relic from the smokestack era. Moreover the new slogan became something of a rallying cry within the company, spurring on employees to make innovative contributions.
Throughout its history General Electric Co. enjoyed the benefits of a consistent marketing message. From the 1930s to the 1950s the company relied on the slogan ‘‘Live better electrically,’’ which was followed by two decades of variations on the word ‘‘progress,’’ such as ‘‘Progress is our most important product.’’ In 1979 GE unveiled ‘‘We bring good things to life,’’ a cornerstone to one of the most successful corporate branding campaigns in history, backed by about $1 billion in advertising. The company also had consistent leadership in the form of John F. ‘‘Jack’’ Welch, who became chairman and CEO in 1981. The charismatic leader sought to build up GE’s status in all of the technology, service, and manufacturing areas that the company participated in. By the time Welch announced that he would retiring in 2001, GE, fast growing and profitable, had a market capitalization of $505 billion, making it second only to Microsoft. Welch’s tenure at the top, however, ended on a sour note when GE failed in its bid to acquire a major rival, Honeywell International.
Welch was succeeded by Immelt, who set out to put his own imprint on GE by, among other things, revamping the company’s marketing. According to Diane Scarponi, writing in the Seattle Times, ‘‘Immelt said shortly after he was appointed in September 2001 that he wanted to rethink the company’s image.’’ Beth Comstock, head of communications at GE, told Scarponi, ‘‘Immelt has really been pushing a technology focus, a reinvigoration of technology at GE around the world. We wanted our communications to match that.’’ The company conducted research that suggested that most consumers connected the ‘‘We bring goods things to life’’ slogan with GE’s lighting and appliance business. Since the introduction of the slogan a generation earlier, however, the company had grown in so many directions that lighting and appliances had come to account for only 6 to 7 percent of revenues. Management decided that GE needed a new articulation, one that was part mission, part vision, and part strategy. After 18 months of research, brainstorming, and testing, the company and BBDO Worldwide coined a new slogan, ‘‘Imagination at work,’’ and began to plan a marketing campaign to support it.
One goal of the ‘‘Imagination at Work’’ campaign was to reach a broader range of consumers. Instead of concentrating on Sunday-morning television programming, the new GE spots would try to appeal to prime-time audiences by advertising on such shows as the hit sitcom Friends. In defining its target market the company took care to include Hispanic consumers, who accounted for nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population, a figure that was expected to reach 17 percent by 2020. Because the contemporary GE was essentially a business-to-business company, the campaign also sought to communicate with other companies, who were GE’s business partners. In addition it needed to reach GE’s investors. The launch of the new campaign came at a time when the company had seen significant erosion in its stock price. A public company, GE wanted to assure investors that, because of its continuing ability to develop innovative products, it was a corporation with a large amount of untapped potential. GE employees were also a target audience; the campaign provided a directive to them to create the new products that would meet the needs of consumers and create the growth that investors expected. Moreover, because GE was a global company, the new campaign had to reach a worldwide audience of consumers, businesses, and investors.
As a multifaceted global company involved in 11 different businesses, GE faced competition on a multitude of fronts. Direct global competition came from a variety of companies, since GE was involved in such diverse areas as aircraft engines, television, amusement parks, commercial lending, environmental control products, plastics, medical technology, and robotics. As a result GE competed against a panoply of multinational corporate giants, including Citigroup, General Motors Corporation, Honeywell International, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., the News Corporation Limited, Rolls-Royce, Time Warner Inc., Toshiba Corporation, the Walt Disney Company, and Whirlpool Corporation. Hence the ‘‘Imagination at Work’’ campaign had to promote GE in a broad enough way to position the brand in a myriad of markets, taking on countless competitors. Because a bulk of its advertising was on television, GE, and its message, also had to contend with indirect competition in the form of a host of other voices vying for viewers’ attention. Further, given that the campaign was based on the idea that GE was imaginative and innovative, the pressure was on the marketers to demonstrate that quality in the advertising itself.
Judy Hu, GE’s general manager of advertising and brand, explained the company’s rebranding strategy to Kate Maddox and Beth Snyder Bulik of B to B: ‘‘We wanted to highlight some of our ‘wow’ products and services—things that were unexpected and that people didn’t know GE was involved in . . . The overall objective was aligning our market position with our future and creating a truly integrated campaign.’’ Furthermore she said, ‘‘It had to be global, touch our external and internal constituencies and use as many different types of media as possible.’’ Because they had the best stories to tell in terms of innovation, three divisions—GE Aircraft Engines, GE Plastics, and GE Medical Systems—became the focal point of the initial advertising efforts. The $100 million ‘‘Imagination at Work’’ campaign broke on January 19, 2003, with television, print, and Internet advertising. A week earlier GE had introduced the program to its employees by giving out promotional items such as mouse pads because, as Hu told B to B, ‘‘We wanted everyone to understand why we were doing it and what it meant.’’ GE also held an online trivia question about the company. The winner was given a trip to the Golden Globe Awards, during the telecast of which the new commercials would first air—a further reflection of GE’s desire to appeal to a prime-time audience. The first set of TV spots tried to establish the new slogan and reposition the brand while at the same time drawing attention to a specific GE business. In one commercial the company promoted its aviation products by wondering what would have happened 100 years ago if the Wright brothers had strapped a GE jet engine to their box-kite airplane, which, at the close of the commercial, morphed into a contemporary jet. Another spot compared GE’s medical technology with a genius clerk able to locate medical records quickly in an immense storage room.
The ‘‘Imagination at Work’’ campaign also included print and Internet elements and even an upgrade of the GE logo, traditionally rendered in black and white but now available in 14 different bright colors and pastels. According to Maddox and Bulik of B to B, the print ads used ‘‘the ‘wow’ factor to highlight GE’s various businesses. The ads featured dramatic photos of products such as a wind turbine, Evolution locomotive and GE image-guided surgery, while providing additional information on the nuts and bolts of the products.’’ The ads ran in such mainstream publications as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, and Forbes as well as in trade magazines, including Automotive Design and Production, Building Operation Management, Plastics Technology, and Power Engineering. To promote GE online and to help reeducate consumers, the company launched the ‘‘Pen’’ subcampaign, developed by Omnicom’s OMD unit. ‘‘Pen’’ introduced an interactive Web space in which users could put their own imaginations to work by making drawings that could be E-mailed to others, who could then add their own touches.
GE built on the successful launch of the
‘‘Imagination at Work’’ campaign by adding new TV spots and expanding other elements. In one commercial promoting GE Commercial Finance, Christopher Columbus charmed the queen of Spain into providing him with three small ships. According to the voice-over, ‘‘Without proper financing, even the best ideas in the world can fall flat.’’ Perhaps the most memorable of the subsequent television spots was ‘‘Lassie,’’ a black-andwhite commercial that played off of the old television series featuring Lassie, a collie, and her owner, Timmy, to promote GE’s security technology. In it Lassie protected Timmy from the threat of a ferocious cougar by rising up on her hind legs and, with the help of computer-generated imagery, unleashing a set of martial-arts moves. The graphics and voice-overs of three of the later television commercials were translated into Spanish and then ran for 10 weeks on Spanish television channels in seven markets, including Dallas, Houston, and Miami. The ‘‘Pen’’ subcampaign also warranted a second generation; an enhanced website was launched in September 2004. Called ‘‘Imagination Cubed,’’ it allowed up to three people to collaborate on illustrations at the same time while communicating through a chat interface. The ‘‘Imagination at Work’’ campaign expanded beyond the United States as GE began advertising in Asia and Europe, where the campaign included outdoor advertising. In May 2005 GE introduced an initiative called ‘‘Ecomagination’’ to promote its environmentally friendly products. This initiative, the largest marketing effort in the ‘‘Imagination at Work’’ campaign, broke with eight-page inserts in four major newspapers and later included TV spots, more print ads, and another online element.
Dropping the slogan ‘‘We bring good things to life’’ in favor of ‘‘Imagination at work’’ was met with criticism from both inside and outside GE. Some suggested that, rather than making such a radical departure, the company would have been better served to build on the previous slogan, which had been so successful. It was also suggested that, as a slogan, ‘‘Imagination at work’’ was far from imaginative: Black & Decker used ‘‘Ideas at work,’’ Sony had ‘‘Innovation at work,’’ and three companies, including Ford, were mining the phrase ‘‘Ingenuity at work.’’ But Robert Lauterborn, a former GE marketing executive turned college professor, approved of the change, telling Sean Callahan of B to B, ‘‘It’s a return to GE’s roots as one of the great innovative and manufacturing companies on earth.’’
Regardless of what others thought, GE’s management appeared pleased with the change. About a year after the campaign began, market research indicated that half the respondents perceived GE as ‘‘dynamic,’’ 40 percent saw it as a company able to deliver high-tech solutions, and 35 percent considered it ‘‘innovative.’’ Comstock told Marv Balousek, writing for the Wisconsin State Journal, that ‘‘Imagination at Work’’ was more than just a tagline, explaining, ‘‘It’s really become a rallying cry. It’s allowed us a platform to reinvigorate marketing.’’
Starting in the mid-1990s GEICO, a direct marketer of automobile insurance, began spending an increasing amount of money on advertising, particularly television spots. The company’s ad agency, the Martin Agency of Richmond, Virginia, produced a wide variety of commercials. Unlike traditional car insurance advertising that took a serious tone and focused on accidents, GEICO spots were lighthearted and humorous. In 1999 GEICO introduced a gecko cartoon character that became a company mascot and the subject of its own advertising campaign. In 2003 GEICO released its popular ‘‘Good News’’ campaign, a ‘‘good news, bad news’’ comedic formula that spoofed television programming, from soap operas to congressional hearings. Both of these campaigns were joined by a simultaneous effort, ‘‘Mini-Campaigns,’’ which was unveiled in 2004. ‘‘Mini-Campaigns’’ played on older GEICO formulas, such as explaining that in the time it took to do a particular thing, a person could purchase car insurance from GEICO. The campaign also introduced a group of sophisticated cavemen offended by GEICO’s claim that its website was so easy to use, even a caveman could do it. They became the subject of a series of spots. The wideopen campaign also allowed the creative team to pursue television-programming parodies that fell outside the ‘‘Good News’’ formula. The reality-TV spoof ‘‘Tiny House’’ proved to be particularly popular. ‘‘Mini-Campaigns’’ became one strand in a threepart, $200 million-plus advertising strategy for GEICO. Commercials from all three campaigns inundated the airways, keeping the GEICO message front and center with consumers and helping to drive increasing sales.
GEICO was a relatively obscure auto insurance company until the 1990s. For nearly 60 years it had operated as a niche player, using direct-mail pitches to attract customers with excellent driving records. In this way GEICO was able to offer cheaper rates than its competitors. The company almost failed in the 1970s as it adjusted to changes in the marketplace, but it found a savior in renowned stock-market investor Warren Buffett, who had held stock in the company since the 1950s. By the 1990s GEICO was the seventh-largest auto insurer in the United States and was eager to grow even larger and attract a wider customer base. In 1994 it hired the Martin Agency to serve as its ad agency and began for the first time to spend money on mass-advertising efforts, which quickly resulted in strong growth. When Buffett acquired GEICO for his investment vehicle, Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., two years later, the company was told to grow even faster, and the advertising budget swelled. GEICO honed its pitch into a brand promise that would anchor all of its subsequent campaigns: ‘‘Fifteen minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance.’’ The Martin Agency also proved adept at crafting humorous television commercials, a significant departure for the staid car insurance industry, which had traditionally adopted a serious tone. Not only did the humor help GEICO to stand out from the crowd, but it also put a human face on a company that did not rely on agents. Instead, people’s interaction with the company was a voice on the telephone or an impersonal computer screen.
In the summer of 1999 GEICO aired its first commercial employing a cartoon gecko, playing off of the common mispronunciation of the GEICO name. A series of spots featuring the gecko followed and became a staple of U.S. television commercials. In 2003 GEICO launched a second successful campaign, called ‘‘Good News.’’ Commercials in this series featured someone, often in dire straits, being told by another that there was good news. Their expectations were dashed, however, when it was revealed that the good news was that the other person had saved a lot of money on their car insurance by switching to GEICO. The insurer ran both the ‘‘Gecko’’ and ‘‘Good News’’ campaigns simultaneously, with the former keeping the GEICO brand in the forefront and the latter focusing on the company’s money-saving message. GEICO’s ad budget swelled beyond $200 million a year, and with a mandate to achieve outstanding growth, the marketers released yet another campaign in 2004. Called ‘‘Mini-Campaigns,’’ the new effort was a collection of humorous television spots that provided the creative team with a outlet for ideas that did not fit into the ‘‘Gecko’’ or ‘‘Good News’’ models but continued to build on GEICO’s humor and brand image.
Because every person who drove a car in the United States was required by law to carry car insurance, GEICO targeted a vast audience, young and old, male and female, and all ethnic groups. GEICO tended to focus on a younger demographic, however, because a major part of its marketing strategy was convincing people to take action, to call GEICO or visit the company website and change insurance carriers. Older drivers tended to stick with their insurance agents, making it natural that GEICO should focus most of its appeal on younger drivers, essentially those 25 to 40 years of age. It was this demographic that the company believed was most likely to shop around for a better rate and ultimately do business with GEICO. The television spots that made up the ‘‘Mini-Campaigns’’ appealed to an even younger demographic: drivers between the ages of 18 and 34.
By the time of the ‘‘Mini-Campaigns,’’ GEICO had grown to become the fourth-largest auto insurer in the United States. At the head of the list since the 1940s was State Farm, controlling about 18.5 percent of the market. It had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing over the decades and had one of the best-known slogans in all of advertising: ‘‘Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.’’ Next in line, with just over 10 percent of the market, was Allstate, another well-entrenched competitor with its own timeworn slogan: ‘‘You’re in good hands with Allstate.’’ Coming in third and fourth were the Progressive Corporation and GEICO, with 7.1 percent and 5.5 percent market shares respectively. State Farm and Allstate did not wish to compete with GEICO on price, a move that the top-two companies feared would relegate car insurance to mere commodity status—a generic item people bought because it was the cheapest. The big two were not just selling insurance; they were selling their reputations. Progressive, not as well entrenched, was quick to follow suit with GEICO, increasing its ad budgets and emphasizing price. Eventually Allstate made some price appeals, and even State Farm beefed up its ad spending. But a major reason they were willing to join GEICO and Progressive in the car insurance ad wars was that there were more profits than ever to be made in the business. In the 1990s cars became better built, resulting in fewer repairs, fewer accidents, and consequently fewer insurance claims. In addition, the population was growing older on average, and typically the older people became, the slower they drove, again leading to fewer accidents. Thus, GEICO had to contend with companies larger in market share as well as a pack of smaller insurers also eager to attract more customers and reap the benefits of higher profits in the industry. Rounding out the top 10 in direct premiums written in 2004 were Farmers Insurance Group (4.9 percent), Nationwide Group (4.5 percent), United Services Automobile Association Group (3.5 percent), American International Group (3 percent), Liberty Mutual Group (2.8 percent), and American Family Insurance Group (2.2 percent).
Having enjoyed success with ‘‘Gecko’’ and ‘‘Good News,’’ both of which became populist campaigns embraced by consumers, GEICO and the Martin Agency launched ‘‘Mini-Campaigns’’ in September 2004. The freewheeling, humorous effort contained variety in hopes of touching a chord with consumers and perhaps giving birth to another popular ad concept.
The initial wave of the campaign comprised nine spots. Three featured cavemen and were intended to drive traffic to GEICO’s website as well as to appeal to younger drivers. In the first of the series, ‘‘Insult,’’ a TV announcer made the claim that the GEICO website was so easy to use that ‘‘even a caveman can do it.’’ A caveman who was part of the TV crew, however, took offense at this supposedly politically incorrect remark, shouted, ‘‘Not cool!’’ and stormed off the set. The second spot, ‘‘TV,’’ showed a pair of urbane caveman in their finely apportioned living room watching the first spot and grumbling, ‘‘What’s that supposed to mean?’’ In the third spot, ‘‘Apology,’’ the announcer tried to make peace by inviting the two cavemen to a trendy eatery. ‘‘We had no idea you guys were still around,’’ he pleaded, only to be dismissed with a suggestion that in the future he should do a little research first.
Three of the ‘‘Mini-Campaigns’’ commercials offered new humorous variations on an old GEICO commercial formula that used the phrase ‘‘In the time it takes . . .’’ For example, a husband was asked by his wife, who was modeling a new dress, ‘‘Does this make me look fat?’’ Only half listening, he replied, ‘‘You betcha.’’ The voice-over then commented, ‘‘In the time it takes you to pull out the sofa bed, you could save 15 percent or more.’’
The final three spots were parodies of infomercials and reality TV shows, territory the ‘‘Good News’’ campaign had been adept at exploiting. One spot spoofed an Old Navy commercial, making the point that the clothes would not save a person money on car insurance, while another was a takeoff of a Super Glue infomercial. The most widely acclaimed spot of all nine was a reality-TV parody called ‘‘Tiny House.’’ Taking its cue from the hit film Being John Malkovitch, which featured an absurdly low-ceilinged office space that was located between elevator floors, ‘‘Tiny House’’ appeared to be a promo for an upcoming reality show in which a newly married couple would have to spend a year in a miniature house. ‘‘The marriage was built to last,’’ intoned the announcer, ‘‘but the house was too small.’’ Snippets were shown of the marriage unraveling because of the confined space. The announcer then said, ‘‘The drama will be real, but it won’t save you any money on your car insurance.’’ The spot fooled viewers and critics alike, many of whom praised the execution. ‘‘Why do I love this Tiny House thing so much?’’ wrote Barbara Lippert of Adweek. ‘‘First of all, its meticulous production expertly mimics every squalid detail of the reality-promo genre (the cutting and pacing, the typeface, the music). And there’s a clever, deeper insight here: ‘living concept’ shows like Big Brother are awful precisely because they make the viewer feel claustrophobic.’’
GEICO added a pair of new executions to ‘‘Mini-Campaigns’’ in April 2005. Both of the 30-second spots focused on the ease of buying a GEICO policy online by contrasting it with the difficulty of everyday situations. In one spot the wheels from a set of rolling luggage came off. In another children in a spelling bee were presented with an extremely difficult word to tackle.
‘‘Mini-Campaigns’’ became a useful outlet for a variety of ideas for GEICO television commercials. While it was impossible to determine how much money the campaign added to GEICO’s balance sheet, there was no doubting the role the entire advertising strategy played in the company’s strong growth. Just to keep pace, GEICO would have to continue to advertise aggressively, and ‘‘Mini-Campaigns’’ served a valuable function, acting as a depository for spots outside the ‘‘Gecko’’ and ‘‘Good News’’ formulas as well as providing a breeding ground for potentially popular new formulas. According to Seth Stevenson, writing for the online magazine Slate, GEICO pursued a ‘‘scattershot approach’’ because it had to appeal to such a broad group of people. ‘‘Some ads are straightforward and tame (aimed at older drivers), while some are absurd (the kids seem to like this). All for a single product. Still, it’s not just the range, but the volume of ads that’s so astonishing. It seems like there’s a GEICO spot every time you turn on the TV.’’ Given the heated competition in the auto insurance field, that situation was not likely to change for some time to come, and the ‘‘Mini-Campaigns’’ concept was well suited to providing GEICO with new iterations of time-tested themes.