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At New GM, Ad Agencies Could Get Second Life

Posted by: David Kiley on July 22, 2009

It’s been a bad week for advertising creative executive Gary Topolewski.

General Motors vice chairman and new chief marketing officer singled out a Buick LaCrosse ad recently crafted by Topolewski, who has his own ad shop in Ferndale, MI, for being “totally off base.”

The ad was plastered all over the front page of Automotive News this week, and had been criticized far and wide, including by me. The ad, titled “Photo Shoot” is about a commercial ad shoot, and features effete West Coasters who think the new LaCrosse is really beautiful.

Topolewski was hired to create the ad by agency Leo Burnett, who got the idea from one of GM’s executives who had worked with Topolewski before and liked his work.

I am told that dealers like it. Also, it “tested well.” Lutz hates it and has said so.

But what is delicious irony, and redemption for Topolewski, is that Lutz told me that his idea of a great ad is one Chrysler did in 1993 for the Jeep Grand Cherokee. According to Lutz, it broke all the ad rules in that you never see the vehicle. The ad, titled “Under Snow,” won a Grand Prix at the 1994 International Ad Festival in Cannes. Lutz said that when CEO Lee Iacocca saw the concept, he loved it, and ordered it made. No pre-testing. Never mind what the dealers think. It was a “really big idea that people found arresting,” said Lutz.

Who created Under Snow? Topolewski while working at now-defunct agency Bozell.

I did not remember that Topolewski was the creative chief on that ad when I rang off with Lutz, so I didn’t have time to tell him the irony of this.

But the reaction to the “Photo Shoot” ad, and Lutz’s love of “Under Snow” perfectly illustrates his attitude toward ad agencies right now. He told me that GM needs to fix the process and system it has for briefing agencies and getting work out of them.

Topolewski says the brief for the LaCrosse ad, and some others that haven’t been produced yet, “was to wake up the brand.” “We may have done that a bit given how much people are talking about it,” he added.

Indeed, Buick’s average age buyer is about 65. And despite some exceptional new product, the worry is that the brand is too sleepy even for 50-60 year old baby boomers who are re-setting their finances in a Recession and after retirement funds have taken a beating. The brand needs a new energy to attract those buyers.

Lutz says that Iacocca was so engaged in the sales and marketing process, famously appearing in dozens of ads, that ads were often green-lighted at the top based on story-boards. At GM, he told me, a lot of work gets done, and decisions made, too far down the chain by people who do not have experience in marketing.

Lutz: “If we are going to spend $200 million on manufacturing, we have to do studies and get board approval before it can be spent. But in advertising, the same amount of money is committed by people all the time without proper review and input. That’s crazy.”

Could be Topolewski gets more cracks at some GM business. Lutz owes him one.

Reader Comments

Pooky Amsterdam

July 22, 2009 10:50 PM

When I read the title of this article, I thought, "Finally the realization has hit that Second Life is extremely cost - effective for commercials as well as story boarding and even series. Please have a look, I am sure you will agree.
This is a marketing phenomenon waiting to happen.


July 24, 2009 4:14 PM

I originally wondered about this ad too but I have to say the ad catches your attention, the music is catchy and definitely non-buick and in terms of getting the audience to think differently about buick I think it does that. But what really convinced me were the comments you can read about the ad on you definitely connected with a younger audience. And if you follow on to the music video for the artist whose music is used in the ad you will find a number of comments noting they found this artist through the buick ad. Lutz may be right that an ad that test well may not always make an effective ad to sell cars but one thing is for sure...this ad not only tested well but it connected. And I do have to say the Enclave and the Lacrosse are gorgeous vehicles that you in no way can imagine a blue hair driving. Tough one...

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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