Chevrolet Chases The Real Football
When Joel Ewanick, General Motors' global CMO, was at Hyundai Motor America back in the day, he championed a "big voices, big places" strategy: ads in the Super Bowl, the Oscars -- you name it. If it was big, Hyundai was there.
One might think that GM’s decision to pull out of the Super Bowl ad frenzy next year evinces Ewanick’s abandonment of that philosophy as applied to GM. Chevrolet has a new sponsorship deal with football (soccer for Americans) powerhouse Manchester United, a team whose global following makes the NFL look like a bucket of water next to Lake Michigan. "It's 'big voices, big places' on steroids," says Ewanick.
The specifics: this is Chevrolet's first-ever global football sponsorship, in a deal that makes the gold bow-tie exclusive auto sponsor of the Barclays Premier League team. The deal includes the creation of the Chevrolet China Cup as part of the Manchester United 2012 Tour. The cup, which happens in July, will comprise matches in the new stadium in Shanghai plus another Chinese city.
Chevrolet also announced a partnership with the One World Futbol Project, an organization that brings football to impoverished regions through a simple idea: an essentially indestructible, self-inflating football. Chevrolet’s support includes a pledge to donate 1.5 million One World Futbols over the next three years to organizations working with youth living in war-stricken zones, refugee camps, disaster areas and other disadvantaged communities.
"This is taking the things we do in the U.S. and multiplying it by a factor of ten. If we do our job well, this partnership will give us a real positive brand lift here, in Europe, in Asia," says Ewanick, speaking to Marketing Daily after the Detroit press conference for the deal, and between a deluge of Twitter queries about it. "As you and I are speaking now, I am getting tweets about this from all over the world." He says some 3.5 billion people worldwide regard themselves as [American] football fans. "And there are nearly twice the number of people -- 660 million -- who say they follow Manchester United than there are NFL fans."
Ewanick says the Premier League also brings in 750,000 fans from outside England to see games live in the UK, and a quarter of those who go to these games are women. "The fans are very young and very [digitally] social. They share information a lot. Manchester United has 25 million Facebook fans."
During the press conference, Ewanick was spare about marketing plans, as the deal is new. But he allowed that the partnership will offer both tactical and strategic opportunities. "It's definitely going to give us both," he says. While he conceded that because of the way games are broadcast big TV ads are hard to air during games, Chevrolet will get its name on TV anyway through signage tactics such as branded stadium seating. "There's not a good time during games for TV commercials, but there's lots of signage opportunities. Having our name in seats gives us a prominent position."
He adds that he will look to overturn some traditional home-turf perks that come with team sponsorship, such as stadium suite privileges for company brass. "We want to put fans, not executives up in the suite. So we are looking at those 'seats in suites' for fan activation." He says there will also be special stadium-side parking for Chevy owners. "That's a big deal there," he says.
The partnership will include spokesperson arrangements with individual players with activation in their home countries. One player, for example, is from Korea. "He will represent Chevrolet there," says Ewanick. The automaker will also sponsor Manchester United's global tour of "friendly" games this year.
Ewanick also says ad dollars for the program -- and upcoming global vehicle launches -- are coming from incremental savings garnered from GM's exit from the Super Bowl and from Facebook advertising. "But we aren't cutting marketing in North America to fund this. We are permitted to take those dollars and apply them globally. Our competitors are doing this very well and it's something we have not done well."
At the presser, Ewanick noted that Chevrolet is sold in 140 countries worldwide. Six out of ten Chevrolets will be sold outside the U.S. this year. Last year, the automaker sold 4.77 million vehicles globally, and this year it will break 5 million. "This was our best first quarter ever, worldwide," he said.