Selling the American dream to a digital generation of drivers

Chevrolet’s UK managing director explains how the iconic car brand is combining digital marketing techniques with its American heritage to sell a new crop of GM models to a younger generation of drivers this side of the Atlantic.

  • Click here to read a Q+A with Mark Terry, managing director of Chevrolet UK and Wayne D Brannon, president and managing director of Chevrolet Europe
  • Click here to read what other marketers want to know about Chevrolet
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Mark Terry, Chevrolet’s UK managing director

Chevrolet – or Chevy as it is affectionately known – is General Motors’ largest global brand, and one that has countless cultural references to its name. For many, Chevrolet conjures up images of Sixties America, hit films from Transformers to Pulp Fiction and the iconic Corvette sports car.

Chevrolet may be the fourth biggest car brand in the world in terms of sales, selling about 3.5 million vehicles a year in more than 130 countries, but the business is relatively anonymous in the UK and mainland Europe.

At this year’s Young Creative Chevrolet awards ceremony in Paris, Wayne D Brannon, president and managing director of Chevrolet Europe, admitted: “We’ve got only 1-2% consideration of our products and probably 5% awareness and most of the market isn’t watching Europe.”

To overcome this problem, Chevrolet is rapidly expanding its range on this side of the Atlantic. It unveiled the latest version of its Aveo small hatchback, the Orlando MPV, the Captiva SUV and the Cruze mid-range family hatchback at the Paris Motor Show in September, as well as showcasing the brand’s first electric car, the Volt and Spark city car.

The biggest investment we’ll make will probably be on the product development side,” he says. “But we’re doing a lot of work in the PR arena to establish what Chevrolet means to customers.

Back at Chevrolet’s UK headquarters in Luton, Mark Terry, UK managing director, says the key to brand awareness is getting the right products to market, and with the launch of four new models in the UK in the next year, the marketing team has a job on their hands.

Terry relishes the autonomy that the UK arm has, which allows him to keep a firm grip on the direction of the business. Following the bankruptcy of GM in 2009, a massive restructure took place (see Timeline, below), and it is as a direct consequence that he has such a great deal of control over the UK side of the business. He enthuses: “Rather than being part of a brand in a big unit, we are it. We are Chevrolet.”

Terry says the UK arm will be concentrating on making the brand more visible over the next few years. “The biggest investment we’ll make will probably be on the product development side,” he says. “But we’re doing a lot of work in the PR arena to establish what Chevrolet means to customers.”

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Driving ambition: Chevrolet will launch its Orlando MPV in the UK next year

The heritage that comes with Chevrolet is a double-edged sword as it has held the company back in terms of communicating what its new cars mean to consumers. Terry admits: “Back in the early days there was a bit of confusion. People’s thoughts ran to large American [classic] 52 Chevys and here we are with the Spark – a city, family, youthful car.”

Attracting the youth market with this city car has been a key focus for Terry and his team in 2010, with the brand embarking on multiple UK initiatives around the Spark model to target this audience.

Chevrolet is getting the right messages across to a younger audience without spending a big budget, he claims. “We take a very efficient and modern approach to PR and marketing, using a small, agile team that can do things in a meaningful way. We get a lot of cut-through for relatively small amounts of money.”

One such initiative has exploited the brand’s celebrated US heritage while connecting with a youthful audience, he says. Making over its Spark model in the style of a Woody wagon – the Sixties was the heyday of the Woody, when young “dudes” would drive large estate cars with timber framed trim on the sides to carry their surfboards – the car toured around Cornwall when the annual Boardmaster surf, skate and music festival was taking place in Newquay this summer.

In 48 hours, there were 163,000 individual mentions on Google and within a week that figure had hit 1.53 million.

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Chevrolet Timeline

1911: Chevrolet Motor Car Company was founded in the US by Louis Chevrolet and William Durant.
1918: Chevrolet is acquired by General Motors.
2005: GM relaunches the brand in Europe. All mainstream Daewoo cars are rebranded as Chevrolet.
2009: GM files for bankruptcy. The company is rescued by a $50bn US Government aid package.
2010: GM returns to profit. Chevrolet unveils four new models at the Paris Motor Show. Chevrolet prepares to celebrate itscentenary with the launch of the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle.
2011: Chevrolet UK will launch an all-new family van, the Camaro coupe and convertible, the new Aveo and the Cruze hatchbackas well as relaunching the Captiva SUV with four new engines.

Terry puts the success of this campaign down to the fact that people understood the heritage brand in a modern context. He says: “The surfing Chevy Woody wagon heritage came through, the product looked fun and funky to today’s youth and it’s a small, city car and therefore very relevant for the UK.

“To have 100 years of heritage in a very modern product is superb. Of course, we also leverage the history and the brand in products such as the Corvette and the Camaro.”

The fusion of old and new appears to be gaining attention on Facebook. Chevrolet recently used the launch of its Spark model to create a live music tour of “unscheduled” pop-up events around the UK, featuring indie band The Mystery Jets. The gig venues were decided after Chevrolet asked the public to vote on where the band should play.

“We captured the youth sector via underground music events, with people invited via Facebook and other social media sites. Things like that go a long way. They get you right where you want to be, but in a subtle way.”

The obsession with the youth market isn’t a recent phenomenon within the company. Chevrolet’s pan-European Young Creative Chevrolet initiative is now in its fourth year. The project encourages applied arts students in the UK and 19 other European countries to submit work in either photography, video, visual arts, fashion or music. At the awards ceremony the students showcase their work to professionals and European press.

Rather than being part of a brand in a big unit, we are it. We are Chevrolet

“We want them to be part of our brand growth,” explains Terry. “As they grow in their careers and onwards, they are going to be our customers and influencers of the future. It’s also about creating a brand image. That image may not come through today, but you can imagine that the UK winner will be a professional in ten or 15 years’ time and they’ll have a mindset towards Chevrolet that is very artistic.”

The business also hopes that launching Volt, its long-awaited electric vehicle, will show its innovative side. But Terry is well aware that the company is entering a fiercely competitive and rapidly growing sector.

Chevrolet describes the Volt as a new class of car that uses electric power as its primary energy source for a typical range of 25-50 miles depending on terrain, driving technique, temperature and battery age.

Terry says Chevrolet is targeting three strands of consumer with this car – the environmental consumer, who will pay more to have a credible environmental vehicle; companies with environmental and economic commitments; and those who want a car that will put a “smile on their face” when they are behind the wheel.

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Despite the explosion of electric vehicles coming to market – Renault unveiled a range of production-ready or near production-ready electric vehicles at the Paris Motor Show that it hopes to have on sale in the next two years – Terry is realistic about market share. “The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders in the UK estimates that by 2015, the electric vehicle market will only be 10% of the total,” he says.

“While we’re very ambitious and we certainly want to take the lion’s share of the electric vehicle market, we also have to consider that the market will still be very internal combustion engine led.”

However, the company is covering new ground by opting for a bright, youthful campaign to kick-start sales. Chevrolet has formed a partnership with Microsoft for the launch of the Volt by running a digital campaign encouraging users to take a virtual test drive on the Kinect games console, which went on sale in the UK earlier this month.

Kinect Joy Ride is the first in-game campaign launched on Kinect, a motion-sensitive console similar to the Nintendo Wii but activated by human movement rather than controls. Chevrolet has used the Kinect platform to let users experience the Volt’s features after viewing a video ad for the model on the Xbox Live portal.

Despite the company’s continued investment in marketing, product development and technological innovation, the industry as a whole remains in a precarious position. Car sales fell sharply in the past three months compared with 2009, while the termination of the Government’s £400m new car sales scrappage scheme (that ran from May 2009 to March this year) has also had a negative effect on sales. And the rise in the VAT rate to 20% on 1 January 2011 could further dent new car sales.

But there are a few rays of sunshine for the brand, with Chevrolet seeing consumers downsizing to its more value-led offerings. “The Captiva [SUV] model has really caught the eye of BMW X5 owners who are downsizing or perhaps have been bitten by the residual value issues and are [turning] to our four-wheel drive product,” explains Terry.

We captured the youth sector via underground music events, with people invited via Facebook and other social media sites. Things like that go a long way. They get you right where you want to be, but in a subtle way.

To further encourage sales, Chevrolet has introduced a five-year promise that it describes as the “best ever” warranty and after-sales package provided with a UK-sold car. It includes a five-year warranty, free servicing and roadside assistance cover, as well as free annual vehicle health checks and free MOT test cover.

In an uncertain climate, Chevrolet has to ensure its brand has a strong focus and clear proposition from its car to the warranty. More than ever Chevrolet is offering something to suit all consumers’ needs, according to Brannon.

He argues: “If you give your customers a car that looks good, has a great design, has the passion that they’re looking for, the right level of technology, not more than they need, and you do it at a price point they can afford, that combination of passion and practicality sells every time.”

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Marketer 2 marketer

Peter Snelling, head of communications at Michelin, asks:

How have you managed the transition from the Daewoo brand to the Chevrolet brand in Europe (GM rebranded Daewoo to Chevrolet in 2005) given that your cars are still manufactured in Korea?

Mark Terry (MT): If you look at the line-up five years ago and the line-up today, it’s a different company. Anyone who doesn’t know the car world would look at these two and not ever think they were from the same house. If we asked ten people in the street where the Captiva comes from, they’d say America. It has got the Chevrolet badge, it’s a four-wheel drive. In their minds it’s American, not Korean.

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Nick Gibbens, digital marketing manager for shaving brand The Bluebeards Revenge, asks:

How do you see Chevrolet appealing to and reaching the UK male market, and are there plans to bring the Corvette into mainstream dealerships?

MT: The Corvette and Camaro are probably our “manliest” of products, but equally we have our ambitions with the Chevrolet Cruze and the British Touring Car Championship. Our driver Jason Plato won this year. Viewers of the BTCC, either trackside or on the television, are very male dominated, which therefore brings a sense that this is a male brand. This contrasts with our Spark or Aveo models, where a large majority of our customers are female.

We’re bringing Camaro to the UK via our dealerships as a mainstream product. Corvette is slightly different because these are £100,000-plus vehicles and it’s a very specialist market.

More importantly, the customer is not a mainstream Chevrolet customer. They probably drive a Porsche during the week and have fun in a Corvette ZR1 at the weekend.

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Heather Bowler, global communications director at Eurosport, asks:

Your recently launched Spark model was aimed at bringing the Chevrolet brand to a younger demographic. What challenges did you face in marketing to the more youthful buyer and did you integrate digital and social media for consumer insight?

MT: I personally faced a lot of challenges in so much as I don’t really understand Facebook and Twitter. The challenge for me was to embrace the new social media. I have to be taught by my experts here as to how we should approach it. It was a bit of a leap of faith. You’re a bit in the dark, but clearly it’s recognised by us as being the way forward and we’ll embrace it and be guided by the specialists.

Q&A: A European overview, with Mark Terry and Wayne D Brannon, president and managing director of Chevrolet Europe

MW: What attracted you to the Chevrolet brand?

Wayne D Brannon, president and managing director Chevrolet Europe (WB): I came over to Europe from Detroit on a two-

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Wayne D Brannon

year assignment five years ago. I had a fantastic opportunity to build a brand that was really in its nascent stages in Europe. It’s an interesting brand because it’s one that has this tremendous heritage. People know us as an American car company importing Corvettes and Camaros. It was a new start and a great opportunity to tell the Chevrolet story.

Mark Terry, managing director Chevrolet UK (MT): I’ve worked for GM for almost 24 years. At GM UK, where I’ve been for the past five years, we had Saab, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Hummer and Vauxhall at one point. Even though I was working for Saab, the way that GM UK used to operate meant that you were involved with a lot of the brands simultaneously.

I could really see the [Chevrolet] brand going somewhere. I thought, what better time to join than at its inception and grow with it.

MW: What’s your biggest challenge for 2011?

WB: Our biggest challenge is to get people knowing our products. We’ve got a great portfolio of products that we know customers want because when they find them, they buy them. We’ve had customers choosing us in record numbers during the past five years
and it’s going to double over the next five
years again.

We have a goal to be the leanest, meanest, most efficient car distribution company in Europe, so we work really hard on the inside of the company, to stay lean so that we can keep our costs down and provide a better value product to the customer. We are using unconventional marketing [techniques] to reach these consumers, such as PR stunts and events, for example.

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Mark Terry

MT: The biggest challenge [in the UK] will be how we launch four new models – the Aveo, Orlando, Cruze and Captiva – in the same year. We’ll do it one at a time and very carefully. We’re already well into the plans for Orlando, and Captiva will be upon us after that. Because we’re a small team of 60 people, we’re not going to draft in an army of people just for one year, so we have to plan very carefully. While that’s a challenge, it’s a very nice challenge to have.

MW: New UK car sales fell by 17.5% in August and 8.9 % in September compared with sales figures for 2009. How do you maximise brand awareness in such a tough economic climate?

WB: Our biggest challenge is to look for non-conventional ways to tell the story. It takes years through conventional media to build your brand. You need to put cars in locations where customers are, do special events such as our recent Young Creative Chevrolet initiative (see main copy); reaching out to lifestyle media, not just the traditional press.

MW: Which brand is bucking the trend in the automotive industry?

MT: Last year the leading brand for scrappage was Hyundai. [Hyundai in the UK was the market leader for the Government’s new car sales Scrappage Scheme, which ran from May 2009 to March this year, selling 57,000 new cars in 2009.] I think every manufacturer looked at what Hyundai did and thought it was clearly outstanding. I think we would have all liked to have been in that place.

MW: As part of General Motors, Chevrolet is competing against a lot of other brands in its stable. How do you ensure brand differentiation?

WB: Our design team focuses on that. The other thing that we do is make sure that the brands stand for something. We’re an American heritage brand so we have this spirit of optimism, passion and practicality. We offer similar levels of technology and features and benefits because that’s what the market demands, but we differentiate the cars so that people feel that passion, personal and emotional connection to the car.

MT: Even though some people might not even know that Vauxhall and Chevrolet come from the same stable, we do in the industry. One of the benefits of General Motors is that a Ford is a Ford is a Ford, but at General Motors, there isn’t a GM car per se.
There are brands within the stable that are very separate. I don’t think there’s a lot of crossover and indeed in the UK, a lot of the products are sold out of the same dealerships.

My last 24 hours: Mark Terry

I went to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders for a steering meeting yesterday morning. Back to the office in the afternoon, we had a “running the business” call to discuss how the month is looking.

Two of our members of staff were celebrating ten and 15 years of service at the company, so I had the pleasure of presenting them with a service award, which is always a nice job.

Then I had a surgery with every one of my direct reports, which took about two hours. We talk about them, their people and their operation and what we agreed they would do since their last surgery.

I typically leave the office about 5pm. I’m a karate instructor in the evenings, so I run a children’s class from 6.30pm to 7.30pm and then an adult class from 7.30pm to 9pm. Then it’s home, eat, shower and bed.

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