Chevrolet’s Admission

When you’re willing to admit that your brand taints perceptions of your product aren’t you ready for a new brand?

So I was kinda baffled by the latest ad campaign for the Chevrolet Malibu. It’s not the creative, acting or even the product that confused me, but the outright recognition by Chevrolet that their brand equity is shot.

You can argue this point with me but the truth of the matter is that they Chevy brand has been seen as downmarket for a long while and that’s been just fine for GM. It certainly hasn’t hampered the bottom line of the company and it’s a relatively successful strategy in a variety of markets. However, promoting your car as a vehicle people wouldn’t recognize as having any level of quality if it’s known to be a Chevy is kind of strange. If you haven’t seen the ad I’m referring to I’ve embedded it below.

So here’s my two cents. Chevy is trying to resurrect the brand. They’re trying to go upmarket and attract a better buyer because like every industry before it technology has leveled the playing field. It’s less difficult to make a perceptably great car than it used to be. This is something Hyundai has been working on with middling success with their line of cars including the launch of the relatively unsuccessful Equus nameplate. Hyundai has seen FICO scores of buyers increasing steadily over the years, a clear sign things are looking up. But for Chevrolet there’s a ceiling on going upmarket. The brand is perceived as a hallmark of shoddy quality.

And that’s where the latest campaign comes into play. They’re as much as admitting the brand is the biggest challenge to going upmarket. In the commercial when the host shows the unbranded vehicle and asks the reviewers the brand of vehicle, answers come back as Lexus, BMW, and Acura. The real question I’m asking here is if the people in the commercial had known it was a Chevy would they have still thought the car was as great as they did in an unbranded environment? Most research says that it’s unlikely the case.

So if the brand hampers the upgrading of the consumer what should Chevy be doing? Right now it seems like they’re in it for the long game with plans to spend the next 20 year trying to change cemented consumer perceptions about a brand that’s had perceived quality issues for over 30 years. That’s certainly a strategy that could work. Or perhaps they should consider a different path, one more evolved. Maybe Chevy needs to go in the same direction of Pontiac and Oldsmobile. Maybe they should be looking to build new nameplates with new equity. They could roll new builds like the Malibu and the recently announced CES best in show Chevy Bolt into a fresh and cutting edge brand.

Perhaps GM structures budgets and builds vehicles in silo’d nameplate divisions that forever dooms good ideas along divisional lines associated with particularly crappy brands. Then again maybe they just don’t care. Regardless it’s strange to me that the agency that pitches an idea for an ad that tells the viewer “if you knew it was a Chevy you probably wouldn’t like it” wins the bid.

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