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


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.


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