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.