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GM CMO Lutz: Probably Won't Shake Up Ad Agencies Soon

Posted by: David Kiley on July 22, 2009

As General Motors emerges from Chapter 11 and starts the road toward rebuilding its image, the 77-year old vice chairman who was named the automaker’s top marketing executive says he probably won’t change his roster of ad agencies any time soon.

In an interview with BusinessWeek, Lutz said he has been meeting with the agencies, one of which has been working with GM since Herbert Hoover was President, and that he needs to fix the problems inside GM before he starts blaming ad agencies for bad work.

“When I was an executive at Opel around 1970, I spoke with Paul Hahnemann, who was the head of sales and marketing at BMW, which was doing great, compelling advertising. I said to him that I would love to have his ad agency, because Opel was doing some really tired stuff. He told me that if I had his agency, it would be doing the same tired work after a month. And if he took my agency, they would be doing great work after a month. The point is that GM has had a broken process for a long time, and we need to fix that before we can expect great work from the agencies we have.”

The vice chairman, known for remaking GM’s design process over the last eight years, says he and CEO Fritz Henderson will review ad ideas at their earliest stages, rather than let lower level marketing executives commit millions of dollars to ideas before top management sees them. He will exercise more instinct and sense of taste, he says, over what ideas and ads GM goes forward with, rather than ad testing. That is the formula he used to re-make GM’s design function. “There are alot of similarities between advertising and design.”

What does he like and not like? As has been reported the last week, and on front-page of Automotive News this week, he is very much down on a new ad, “Photo Shoot,” for the Buick LaCrosse. The commercial is about shooting a commercial. In truth, I hated it too, and said as much on Autoline Detroit last week before I knew Lutz’s feelings about it. The ad was produced by ad agency Leo Burnett.

What does he like? He is high on ads from Campbell-Ewald, which has done Chevy ads since at least the late 1920s, I believe. Specifically, he likes the ads featuring former NFL player and current broadcaster Howie Long that compare Chevy car fuel economy against Honda. Specifically, he likes this ad:

Says Lutz: "I won't hesitate to change ad agencies if I feel that it is what we need. But changing agencies without changing your own culture and without modifying your approach, and deciding you will take intelligent risks in the communications...that's not going to get you anything. You can change agencies until hell freezes over and your going to get the same stuff."

My guess is that Lutz is going to see how his current ad agencies do under his new system, which involves a commitee of "consumer influence," comprised of the brand chiefs at Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC, designers and public relations/communications staff.

According to Lutz, the group will slide budget money around between advertising, communications and design (as in funding a concept car), so that the most impactful ideas get funded. Before taking over, that kind of budget fluidity was impossible, he says.

Reader Comments


July 22, 2009 12:48 PM

He hated and liked the photoshoot ad? (Check your links).

Interesting otherwise.


August 5, 2009 9:51 PM

Not to worry. I hear Lutz got on his Marconi wireless and may bring in the Studebaker boys to market GM Iron. They may actually bring in Vitaphone technology and do talking pictures.

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