New Chevy Malibu: The Car is Hot. The Ad Effort Leaves Me Cold

Posted by: David Kiley on October 12, 2007

malibu.jpg

General Motors is in the middle of trying to engineer a shift of perception about its brands and products. Perhaps the most important effort getting underway is its Chevrolet passenger car busines.

To that end, the company will break a $150 million multi-phased campaign for the new Chevy Malibu. This 2008 Malibu is not the rental fleet dog to which we have become accustomed. This is a real mid-sized sedan with a peppy engine, stiff suspension and truly spectacular interior. My biggest beef with this car is the decision to call it a Malibu.

This sedan (the interior pictured above), which will be offered in a gas-electric hybrid version, is a legit competitor to the Accord and Camry. Seriously. It is. I’m not kidding. I mean it.

During a biefing of the ad campaign at the Warren, MI offices of ad agency Campbell-Ewald, the word "disruption" was used a lot. This is an old ad business term. It means what it says. GM and C-E are out to get our attention and disrupt the perception we have of Chevy cars and the Malibu specifically. Ugh. That name again. The Malibu sounds so 1977, and not in a good way. Not in a Yankees World Series Way. More like a David Soul "Don't Give Up On Us" way. Chevy ad chief Kim Kozak says the company decided to keep the name because it didn't want to spend a lot of time and money informing people of the name and connecting the model name to the Chevy brand. And I would say...there is a reason Marion Morrison became John Wayne.

The message of the ads I saw was this: The Car You Can't Ignore. Another headline I didn't think much of: "We're tired of being a foreign car in our own country." The ads are full of equipment and price comparisons with Camry, Accord and Nissan Altima. Also, ads, a lot of which are digital, are full of third party pull quotes from Car & Driver, Ward's Automotive and the like...like for a movie.

Kozak conceded that Chevy is chasing two audiences first: owners of Chevy trucks and big SUVs who also tend to have a mid-sized car, and low hanging competitive fruit of Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and, I should think, Chrysler Sebring owners. A lot of attention is being paid to targeting women--in Conde Nast women's magazines and with celebrity tie-ins including singer Mary Blige and designer Rafe. About 50% of Malibu's retail buyers are women now, but Kozak expects to drive that to 60%. Actually conquesting Accord and Camry buyers will hopefully come down the line, said Kozak.

I guess I just find the writing in these ads pedestrian. It seems to me that if you want to elevate a commodity brand (the Chevy Malibu) into something aspirational (an incredibly difficult chore...harder than starting with a new name), then there should be a bigger idea than "The Car You Can't Ignore" built into the launch. My answer is..."Oh yeah...watch me!." Can't ignore? That's a line not going to the One Club Hall of Fame of copywriters. That is such a sell-sell- sell, look-at-me, look-at-me, tired, weary line of ad copy.

And as for the "We're tired of being a foreign car in our own country" line, that is an idea so small the only place I would run it is inside Sean Hannity's intellect, or at least just on his ultra right-wing radio show, a venue GM seems to love.

This is truly a fine looking and driving car. It should be treated like one in the messaging around it. It shoulld have started with the naming of the car, or rather the re-naming of the car. But a fairly small-minded ad campaign isn't going to help either. But I wish them luck.

Reader Comments

Noz

October 12, 2007 7:39 PM

Who cares what Car & Driver has to say. And MT, R/T and Automobile mags are included in this. They are bought and sold/paid for long in advance--simply a matter of buying ad space and 'printed thoughts'. Deny this as they will, I will never ever be convinced. Ever. There is just one rule in business ie: "business is business". And I have to ad that advertisements are created for the mindless, those requiring someone else to make up their feeble minds for them.

Yes, for those with memories, Malibu is a bad name. Not much of a car before it hit the GM skids, let alone during. I have to add the expressed pain of the Chief Stylist at not being able to have a 'power mound', whatever in the hood to make the vibrating wimpy EcoTek 4-cyl run stronger and faster. Hollywood to the rescue! And, of course, with a segment of the mindless, it works. The Chevrolet-buying herd.

Nice interior? It is about time. GM was founded and run on the basics of Hollywood/fantasy, slight of hand, magic w/o content. It worked for decades. And I will be the first to deny the importance of a decent interior including surface coverings, controls, switch-gear, all the nice stuff that has been available as standard equipment in Accords for decades. This is where the buyer spends his time. Why not his money? Butt try selling this to Bobbie Lutz, let alone Dickie Wagoner, self-professed experts in what the public wants. Oh? Am I on the wrong page in this thinking?

Kye

October 16, 2007 11:07 AM

Thank you for saying what should be so obvious. I told my wife the new Malibu was a really good looking car and she literally screamed in fear that I might want one ... for two reasons: the name "Malibu" and the horrific current model. Just proves the marketing guys and girls get a little too insulated sometimes from the street perception of their products.

pc

October 16, 2007 1:51 PM

The essential problem you have outlined here is one that continues to plague GM from movign on from it's abismal 80s-90s skid...GM has no idea what foreign car owners want. I don't give a rip about an automatic dimming rear view mirror, or a compass with a thermometer (that never reads correctly), or other useless, non-functioning gadgetry--I want a car that I buy and only take to the dealer every 5-7k miles for oil. That's it...I drive it and change the oil. Until GM can MATCH the reliability of Honda, Toyota, etc, they will not gain customers.

I am so tired of their "Buy GM because we are made in America"--I don't want to buy one because I feel guilted into a subpar car that depreciates faster than a 90's internet stock! I feel they are making strides in the right direction, but cut the crap about how I should buy because they're American made. 50-1 that they all shop at WalMart and buy Japanese stuff out the wazoo because it's cheaper and works...jsut don't let them see your car!

bobmarley

October 17, 2007 3:53 PM

I heard the new malibu is just going to a slightly different rebaged saturn Aura? or is it the other way around?

I hate how GM/chevy has so many of the same models under different brand names.

George

October 18, 2007 11:53 AM

The comments so far are exactly why Chevy is approaching the launch this way. Perceptions with dedicated foriegn car buyers, no matter what name GM put on the car, are that GM can't build a car they would want. And even if they did, the quality would keep them away. I'll leave the desireability of the car to you (from what I've seen, I like it), but the perception of a quality gap is just not true anymore. Most all brands are way better than they used to be and any gap today is very small. GM is asking people to not be closed minded, take a look, don't be a lemming marching straight to Toyota or Honda next time. And a name change did not help the Ford Taurus to 500 to Taurus either way.

Brad

October 19, 2007 10:26 AM

I hope the new Malibu will be a hit. However, I don't understand not coming out with a new name either. Ford hasn't had a problem getting the public interested in a brand new 'Fusion', and renaming the a redesigned and improved 500 with the Taurus name has only seen sales slide since.

DG

October 20, 2007 8:54 PM

I think that American cars are the only way to go. Why would you by a foreign car when you could support the American econmy by buying one of our own. GM is going in the right direction. The new malibu looks better than the Toyota trash.

Phil

October 23, 2007 6:13 PM

I bought a 2005 malibu to use for my business. I already have 60,000 miles on it no problems at all. High quality car for the money. I always got camrys, but this car has held up much better and cheaper to run. It is all in the perception.

loose cannon

October 24, 2007 3:19 AM

another marketing wonder with engineering like a 1998 toyota. gm is still at least a full generation behind in engine efficiency and engine/transmission design. the maliboo will get them a bit closer to toyota & honda, but just a bit. there is still too much legacy junk in these vehicles, and they still don't have a decent strategy for convincing buyers that these things will achieve the same 100k - 150k service life of the japanese equivs.

Alan

October 25, 2007 12:58 PM

Loose Cannon couldn't be more wrong about engine efficiency and being a full generation behind the Japanese. Or were you talking about the BLUNDER where Toyota recalled most of the 6 cylinder engines one year? My daughter has driven a Malibu Maxx LT for three years and gets excellent service and fuel efficiency. She currently is getting nearly 30 miles per gallon on her six cylinder Malibu. Not many (if any) Japanese vehicles can make that claim. I do agree with Loose Cannon about GM/Chevrolet letting the world know that these vehicles are efficient, inexpensive to operate and made to go the long-haul.

Wes

October 28, 2007 10:47 PM

So what kind of car is it that was being ignored in the new Malibu commercial?

MM

November 6, 2007 10:33 PM

Wait, never mind, it's an Oldsmobile Cutlass. But it's still the same car, basically.

Bill

November 7, 2007 5:39 PM

This commercial underscores the ongoing problem with American car manufacturers. Instead of being proud of their product lines and building off of their past designs, they slash and burn their way through nameplates like the Malibu. Where Toyota will make commercials touting customers who still own a Camry with over 300k miles, American companies, like Chevy, show us that they're obviously ashamed of their history and that it should be "ignored." Look at any 2008 foreign car, like the Audi A4, Honda Accord, BMW 3 series etc and you will see a direct link to their heritage. American car companies need to find a clear direction and stop completley reinventing old models. I will say that the new Malibu will look really nice alongside the other tired American cars at the Enterprise rental lot. Oh, and the ad agency should be fired.

Joe90

November 13, 2007 10:03 AM

How can this be considered an American car
when most of its engineering was done by
Opel in Germany. For GM's sake I hope the
Malibu sells better than the Aura.

lol

November 13, 2007 11:57 AM

I rented a previous MY malibu last month while on vacation. It was by far the worst car I have ever had the displeasure to drive. Why would I bother getting in bed with the general again when it's disappointment after disappointment? As far as I'm concerned they had their chance over the last 30 years and have squandered it at every opportunity. So long GM.

MR MR

December 3, 2007 11:03 PM

Am I the only one missing the connection between Sean Hannity and the new Malibu?

Steve

December 12, 2007 6:58 PM

God, you guys are so smug. Anyway, I like the Malibu name. Forget the previous Malibus and just get off your behind and go to a dealer and see one in person. They are drop-dead gorgeous and the interior is first rate. Some of you clowns have no idea what you are talking about. You wanted an American car maker to step up? Here it is, in your face. Now shut up and drive one, then buy one. I tried it, so I know what I'm talking about, unlike some...!

Marcia

November 22, 2008 5:52 PM

I love my Malibu. After driving nothing but Chevy trucks for 40 years, I chose a car after some teen made an illegal turn in front of me and totaled my truck with 68K on it.

It now has 4,600 miles and I love it--after 6 months. I do miss having a truck to haul things, but 36 mpg on cruise @ 60 mph is a real good deal.

Mike

November 22, 2008 7:47 PM

I purchased a 2008 Malibu. I like the name. I like the car. The problem with the American auto Industry , as I see it , is they change names to often on cars. Honda Accord ;Toyota Corrola have been around a long time the name is reconized and the cars have continuely been improved. Why go from Cavelier to Cobalt? My last car was a Cav. I had good luck with it. And my Dad had a 1970 Malibu , I liked that car too.

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