GM Thinks Big, Fuels Growth Online

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Newsroom

Super bowl fans may see something during the February telecast that they haven’t seen in awhile: an advertisement from General Motors.

It’s all part of a strategy to reintroduce the automaker to the public in the wake of the federal government’s bailout and subsequent financial reorganization of the world’s former No. 1 automaker.

Since returning to the New York Stock Exchange last November, when GM raised more than $20 billion from the largest initial public offering in U.S. history, the news out of Detroit has increasingly been more positive than negative.

But to really succeed, industry experts caution, GM needs to shelve its long-held approach of touting individual brands to re-engage consumers in a more unifi ed message, returning to the days when one’s first car was a Chevrolet then, as one became more upwardly mobile, traded up until a Cadillac was parked in the garage.

It seems, too, that the long-held ways of exclusive communication through television and print have been eschewed to include a more direct-dial approach. Joel Ewanick, GM’s new chief marketing officer, recently drove the company’s Chevrolet Volt from Detroit to the Los Angeles Auto Show, “tweeting” his experience driving the electric hybrid along the way.

Avi Savar, the CEO of New York-based Big Fuel, the social media agency hired to manage the automaker’s image in cyberspace, is emerging as a key player as the strategy unfolds inside GM headquarters at the Renaissance Center.

Where in the past, marketers sold consumers on product features and benefits, Big Fuel’s challenge is to turn GM into a powerhouse publisher of digital content that connects people — emotionally — to its automobiles.

“If you’re a guy who likes horsepower, we’re going to create content around the notion of competition, power or victory to strategically deliver it to the right community in a way that allows [consumers] to interact with the brands,” Savar explains.

His marketing toolbox includes social networking avenues like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, but also videos, blogs and interactive games. “Anything that falls within the social space,” he said. Savar, who has an extensive media background, knows that where content flows in cyberspace, ad dollars are not far behind. Last year, in neighboring Dearborn, Ford Motor Co. allocated 25 percent of its 2010 ad budget on digital media channels, twice the industry average, according to the marketing trade website Warc.com.

Big Fuel, which guarantees levels of brand engagement with its clients, has launched products for Colgate, Microsoft, Fisher-Price and other companies. Savar, who lives in New York City with his wife and daughter but often spends the workweek in Detroit, says selling the new GM on social media was easy. “This is the future, the next wave,” he declares, adding, “It’s the way to launch new vehicles.”

Fortunately for Big Fuel, “GM has taken to it in such a big way.”

It has taken some finesse, however, to convince employees to relocate to Detroit, even as the office also swells with new hires. But Savar, a former television producer who knows how to dramatize a story, has his narrative down.

“You sell the dream. It’s about working with an iconic company that is reinventing itself, in social media, which is a hot industry.

“You don’t sell the present story of Detroit,” he says. “You sell the future.” RT

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