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Super Bowl Ads: GM Goes Deep with Chevy, Because It Has No Choice

The automakers came back to Super Bowl advertising big time yesterday -- and no one came back bigger than General Motors (GM). But the New General didn't flood the zone with commercials for all its brands. Instead, it placed a big bet on Chevy.

This isn't hard to understand. Prior to GM's 2009 bankruptcy, it wasn't clear what the company's core was. It had too many brands. Now, post-IPO, GM is a leaner and meaner operation, with Chevy the reactor at its core. To drive home this message, Chevy placed five 30-second spots during the broadcast of the big game.


All in with Chevy, especially with the Volt
The most important of these spots was for the Volt, Chevy's entry in the electric car sweepstakes (although the Volt, unlike the Nissan Leaf, isn't a pure EV -- it uses a small gas motor to extend its range). Chevy pre-released it on Friday. The brisk storyline makes use of Eureka! moments in electricity and technology: Ben Franklin's kite, the arrival of the light bulb, personal computers invented in garages. It ends with a Volt in a very modern driveway, being charged up.

This big Chevy push bears the clear stamp of Joel Ewanick, who's now running marketing for GM, which poached him from Nissan. (He'd previously jumped ship from Hyundai, a carmaker whose advertising has emphasized hip and youthful themes as the Korean upstart tries to define itself for the U.S. market).

Eyes on the prize
Ewanick knows where GM's future bread will be buttered: the loss of Pontiac, Saab and Saturn means that Chevy truly has to take up the banner of the entire company and drive sales, across all segments, from small cars to full-size sedans to all-important, profit-generating trucks and SUVs.

Having a "halo" car will help out immeasurably in this campaign. Corvettes, while ostensibly Chevys, really occupy a special category in the GM lineup -- they're a brand in themselves. The Volt is too new for this to be an issue for its brand, so it can be closely associated with other Chevy vehicles, even if it's special. Sure, it's currently in limited distribution and sold only in major markets. But seeing it and the future it symbolizes for GM will compel customers to visit dealerships and to check out GM's online marketing for Chevy.

GM is a high-tech company, stupid
The Super Bowl message surrounding the Volt was unmistakable: this is an innovation company, not the lumbering giant that had to be bailed out by the taxpayers in 2009. This is how GM wants to see itself. The trick now is getting the world to see it this way. By putting the Volt on the biggest media stage of the year, GM is taking a critical first step.

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Photo: Matthew DeBord
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