Dear Competitors: Chevy Cruze Is Here - and Quietly Tweaking YouBy Dale Buss October 7, 2010
With its new Chevrolet Cruze small car, General Motors has laid a lot on the line.
It buttressed the new model expensively with overall quality levels and nifty features intended to leapfrog the company's awful reputation for small cars; invested more than $350 million to overhaul its Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant to make the car; and is introducing Cruze at a crucial time in the recovery of both the company and the U.S. auto market.
So with Cruze, now it's time for GM to put its mouth where its money is.
And based on the initial phase of the company's marketing launch for the vehicle, GM is betting heavily that American consumers will agree with its own exalted judgment of the new compact - and forget about the company's most recent underperforming entry in the segment, Chevrolet Cobalt.
GM's first TV ads for Cruze are out, and while understated in terms of technique, the spots make clear the company's strategy for positioning and promoting its biggest new product since last year: unapologetically going for the throats of the traditional segment leaders.
"We're hoping to change the rules for Chevrolet and for small cars," said Mary Kubitskey, Cruze advertising manager. "That's holistic and simple, but that's what we're trying to do. And with our first campaign, we're hoping to entice people to take a second look at Chevrolet."
But Kubitskey conceded that, while daring to tweak competitors, Cruze's opening ad spots for Cruze are "quiet. We wanted to come out with a very rational campaign and signal to competitors, 'Take note of us.'
"Chevy needs to succeed with young people and women in this segment, and to do that we have a lot of places we have to go" in advertising," she said. "Upcoming campaigns will do that. This [campaign] is us getting ready, as inventories build. It's a sign that the car is out there."
Already, perhaps, the admittedly low-key ads are having some effect. Cruze site traffic on Edmunds.com more than doubled over the two weeks ended September 19, up 129 percent compared with August, according to Santa Monica, Calif.-based Edmunds.com. And its share of visitors gathering information on compact cars on the site rose 161 percent during the same period.
"The vehicle is very well put together and is a solid competitor, so we should really expect to see Cruze sales pick up," said Ivan Drury, a U.S. sales analyst for Edmunds. "It's been doing very well for consideration, according to our web-site metrics, especially since it hit dealership floors."
These ads are the first in which Chevrolet utilizes actor Tim Allen to do the voiceovers, but his persona isn't a huge factor in the company's advertising strategy just yet. His identifiable role as Chevy's new homegrown spokesman will expand for the Michigan-born funnyman over coming weeks.
Instead, the point of the first ads to introduce Cruze as "the new kid on the block," as one spot puts it, and to pointedly challenge the reigning small-car champs to one-on-one duels.
In the stage-setting overall spot, Cruze - in the "first person" as it were - admits to being the newest entry in the segment but, with faux modesty, notes that third-party experts already are favorably comparing features such as its leather seating and interior appointments to Lexus and Cadillac. At the end of the spot, Cruze pulls into the driveway of a house where the trees in the front lawn have been toilet-papered - presumably by jealous rivals.
"That ad really says, 'We're keeping pretty good company' with the name-dropping," observed George Cook, executive professor of marketing for the University of Rochester, and a former marketing executive for Ford.
Kubitskey explained, "We like to think it's confident. It's not like us to come out mud-slinging, but frankly, Chevy isn't in a good place with small cars, and [Cruze] is a home run for us. So to have relevant third-party people loving this car - it's a good opportunity for them to speak.
Throwing Down the Gauntlet
Actually, the mud-slinging is pretty much reserved for the other two of Chevrolet's first trio of spots for Cruz.
In Dear Corolla, Cruze "brags," among other things, about having Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and keyless entry in every model, whereas Toyota Corolla doesn't. "It's saying, 'We've got the hottest new features, and you don't,'" Cook said. "It's raising the bar for Toyota."
And in Dear Civic, Cruze warns the venerable Honda subcompact to start "looking over your shoulder" as the Chevrolet upstart lurks in the shadows for the ideal spot to ambush a Civic nearby. "It's Civic season."
"Saying that 'we're after you; don't look back' is a very positive thing for Chevrolet," Professor Cook said. "It reconstructs GM's small-car image."
Dear Focus makes the point that Cruze has "more standard safety features" than the current Ford compact, including 10 airbags and daytime running lamps. Of course, Cruze will face tougher competition from Ford once the 2012 Focus debuts early next year, set to reach 40 mpg on the highway, an 18-percent fuel-economy improvement over the current model.
All four of the first crop of Cruze ads end with a new tag line for Chevrolet: "Get Used to More."
Get Ready for More
Intentional or not, that tag line is a double entendre for Cruze and for Chevrolet. GM's new chief marketing officer, Joel Ewanick, has promised that Cruze launch-marketing efforts would provide the first clear indication of the re-direction of the company's marketing and branding
efforts under his watch, especially for the crucial Chevrolet brand, which represents about 70 percent of GM's U.S. sales.
Formerly CMO for Hyundai of America (and then briefly for Nissan USA) before jumping to GM in May, Ewanick even brought in an old lieutenant, Chris Perry - who had succeeded him as CMO at Hyundai - to take over the Chevy division. It's uncertain how much influence Perry could have had on these TV spots in just a few weeks on board, but there's no doubt that he and Ewanick are on the same page in constructing the brand's future.
The way Ewanick described that path in a recent interview with AutoObserver.com, the redefinition of Chevrolet will become increasingly distinct over the next several weeks. GM will introduce the highly anticipated Chevrolet Volt extended-range hybrid in November. And then, Ewanick has promised, GM's re-entry into Super Bowl advertising in February, after a two-year absence, will focus on bolstering Chevrolet.
Kubitskey provided some insights into how Chevrolet plans to turn up the energy and hone the edge behind Cruze advertising in coming weeks - and also behind the entire Chevy brand.
"The intention isn't to launch one [advertising] campaign and keep it for a year, but every month or two or three hit with a new campaign," she said. "But we'll have the same, very simple messages: We have a compact car now that we're confident, if people take the time to shop, it'll easily stack up to and exceed Civic, Corolla and Focus.
"But it'll always be centered on the idea that Cruze provides more than you'd expect in a small car. We'll always come back to segment-leading fuel economy and safety, and the highest quality standards and the best warranty."
Cook said that Chevy's emphasis on starting prices for Cruze "under $17,000" will remain a crucial message for the brand overall as it introduces the extended-range hybrid Volt model, in just a few weeks, with a sticker price of about $41,000 - a most un-Chevy-like figure.
Kubitskey also promised that, in future Cruze advertising, "You'll see us get more loud. You will see humor. And irreverence. And confidence."
Naturally, exploiting online possibilities are important for Cruze marketing. Goodby Silverstein - with strong ties to Ewanick and a historical relationship with GM - has taken over as Chevy's digital agency. Kubitskey said the brand already has placed a larger digital-advertising buy for Cruze than for any previous model.
For one thing, Chevrolet is aggressively pursuing "hand-raisers" who have indicated through various means online that they'd like to get information about Cruze. "We've got a pretty aggressive [customer-relationship management] campaign," Kubitskey said.
Each of Cruze's online ads, for instance, gives the viewer an option for self-identification with Chevrolet as a hand-raiser. And at promotional events beginning last winter and extending through the summer, the division harvested contact information from consumers who said they would be very interested in Cruze once it launched.
Facebook, Twitter and other social-media platforms are just starting to see heavy investments from Cruze. Chevy just initiated a social-media campaign aimed at twenty-something consumers by affiliating the car with properties such as the Video Music Awards, Grammys and other programs that are popular with the demographic.
"The attempt is to kind of build some kind of excitement around Cruze with young people who might not have had Chevy in their consideration set before," Kubitskey said.
1 - Chevrolet Cruze
2 - Chevrolet spokesperson Tim Allen
3 - Chevrolet Cruze, The New Kid commercial
4 - GM Marketing Chief Joel Ewanick poses with the Chevrolet Volt