Vauxhall tries to raise the general standard

Vauxhall made a small but significant shift in its advertising strategy this week. For the first time, it used a new version of its logo, depicting the Vauxhall griffin on a flag and the tagline: “Raising the standard” (MW January 28). The logo will run on all future ad-vertising and is likely to lead to a full-scale branding campaign for Vauxhall later this year.

The move scotches speculation, at least for the short-term, that the Vauxhall marque is to be scrapped by its owner General Motors in favour of its European sister brand, Opel. But more importantly, it marks a new focus on the Vauxhall name, after a year of research into its values and direction.

Vauxhall marketing operations director Andrew Jones says: “We have lost focus in communicating to our target market what Vauxhall is really about. This is not really about Vauxhall marketing, it is about Vauxhall the company. It’s almost a philosophy. It is not an attempt to reposition Vauxhall, to make it more trendy or upmarket. This is about being good at what we are doing. It is just shouting about it a bit louder.”

To some degree the move signals that the brand management structure introduced into GM’s European operations in 1997 has created problems. In a major overhaul, six individual teams were established, headed by a European brand manager. Each team oversees the advertising and marketing of a single Vauxhall/Opel model. Almost since its introduction, there have been fears that the structure has shifted too much emphasis away from the Vauxhall/Opel brands and on to individual models.

David Miller, former client services director of Ford at Ogilvy & Mather and now founding partner of relationship marketing agency Miller Bainbridge & Partners, says: “There has been a dissipation within Vauxhall, encouraged by brand management. The fact is, there has been little consistency between advertising for one model and another. Vauxhall has just been left to float somewhere. I cannot see any coherent view of what values Vauxhall stands for.”

A glance at Vauxhall’s recent campaigns for different models shows that the Astra, Corsa, Vectra and Frontera have run with the respective taglines: “Quality is a right not a privilege;” “The new Corsa from Vauxhall. A small car for the real world;” “Designed for the next Millennium;” and “See a totally new world in a totally new Frontera.”

Jones says: “Having a focus on the brands of the models has proved to be very successful. We are now adjusting the balance. It is a recognition that we haven’t realised as much value from our car-line brands and our marque. As the brand values are realised, model advertising will develop a certain Vauxhall style.”

However, there is another compelling reason for the new campaign. According to statistics from the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders, Vauxhall lost one per cent of its market share last year, dropping to 12.57 per cent. By contrast, in the same period the company managed to boost profits 200 per cent to 72.6m, thanks largely to savings on pay and productivity.

Vauxhall’s declining market share is symptomatic of problems facing volume car manufacturers in developed Western markets. Car buyers are increasingly looking to exert their individuality and niche brands are growing as a result. In the future, popular opinion suggests that volume brands will not be able to sustain the considerable market shares which they now hold. In the UK, the shares of Vauxhall and its biggest rival Ford, have both started eroding. However, Vauxhall’s problem is that last year its share slipped faster than Ford’s.

Late last year, Ford launched the Focus, its replacement for the big-selling but troubled Escort. The Focus has a radical design and continues themes which it began with the smaller volume Puma and Cougar. It has shifted Ford into new terri-tory. By contrast, Vauxhall launched the new Astra, its competitor to the Focus, last year as well. While regarded as a very good car, it has a conservative design.

It is tempting to suggest the new branding work for Vauxhall is a response to Ford’s radical approach. Professor Garel Rhys, director of the Institute for Automotive Industry Research at the Cardiff University Business School, comments: “People see the Ford product and the GM product as the closest substitute for each other. As a result of the new design approach, Ford’s cars are beginning to look different to GM’s. There is no better time to reinforce the difference.”

Observers are split over whether the Vauxhall campaign will succeed. Miller says: “The difficulty I have is, how do you make a brand campaign something other than puffery?”

Vauxhall will soon discover whether its new brand focus is viewed as puff, or whether there really are benefits in promoting its brand and maintaining a consistent message across all its models.

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