GM Exec Extols Virtues Of Social Media


Social media has been the most effective tool for consumers in the market for a car or truck and the best vehicle for GM in terms of transparency and accountability, Chris Preuss, VP communications, told a roundtable in New York on Tuesday.

Preuss, who appeared at Weber-Shandwick's Voiceboxx Executive Roundtable, says a new structure at GM that combined marketing communications with PR and design has made it easier for the company to plan and execute such programs.

For example, the company has launched a program called "The Lab," ( where advanced design teams post an idea for a vehicle either through notes or videos and get feedback from GM vehicle enthusiasts. He says the new site functions not only as a way for GM to get news out about concept vehicles and production minutiae, but as a consumer-research platform. "We now have a huge enthusiast base that is part of the creation process," he says.



The new marketing structure at GM was ushered in and is now overseen by Robert Lutz, tapped in July as global marketing chief whose purview includes advertising, marketing and communications. "Most car companies go to market on a consumer influence paradigm that died 10 years ago," says Preuss. "Bob [Lutz] correctly identified that as big ad agency marketing models crumble under their own weight, you have an opportunity to retool the culture of the company. Now, as communicator at GM, we have a seat at the table."

The company's "May the Best Car Win" program launched with ads featuring the new CEO Edward Whitaker, formerly of ATT, who has gotten a lot of press on his own by admitting that he knows nothing about cars. The company's PR side developed the Chevy Volt promotion touting the car for its ability to get 230 MPG.

"We went to marketing and said, 'We are going to do it virally; we are going to put this number out there and create buzz'," says Preuss -- who adds that because of a streamlining of marketing operations, there are fewer, if any, walls between communications and marketing and fewer levels of bureaucracy.

"We pitched it on Monday, the executive committee approved it on Wednesday; Campbell-Ewald [GM's AOR for Chevy] came in with an inch-thick deck; it was approved Friday and we were out there with it on Monday. I was shocked."

He says the Volt program garnered the biggest earned media buzz since the company unveiled the Volt. "We more than doubled the impressions and volume of the launch of Volt."

The next PR/social media event extends the "Best Car Win" program with Lutz doing a challenge drive at the Monticello, N.Y. raceway versus Gawker-owned That came about because Lutz had blogged that the Cadillac CTS-V is the fastest production four-door on the market.

"[Lutz] said he might do viral challenge to prove we have the fastest four-door," says Preuss. "Jalopnik launched a smackdown challenge. It's was going to be a small event between Jalopnik and GM, but now it has grown to 20 to 30 cars and national media coverage. Oh, and the GM team will make hay of Lutz's 77 years by having him hobble out to the CTS on a walker."

2 comments about "GM Exec Extols Virtues Of Social Media ".
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  1. Claus Rodgaard, October 20, 2009 at 1:56 p.m.

    "Big ad agency marketing models crumble under their own weight" Yes they keep running an endless amount of the same old ads on TV. Do I see a miss match between words and action?

  2. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, October 21, 2009 at 9:36 a.m.

    I am very impressed with GM's take on social media. The key for major brands in my opinion is to create social groups using social media technology vs using Facebook/Twitter to advertise or carry conversation. They obviously have done this very well. That all being said the reason GM floundered was their cars were flat out ugly for many years, while the German's and Japanese made beautiful cars. How many of GM's lineup in the past were just fleet vehicles bought only by corporations, the government, or rental car companies? Until the new Chevy Malibu redesign it hadn't been since the 70's that a Malibu was worth buying just on looks. The early decade HHR looked great on the outside but was horrible to sit inside and drive, seats were harsh, bad ergonomics. I had one for a rental and told over 100 people I worked with immediately.

    The problem Car Companies have with advertising is proximity. Every time we leave our house we see cars everywhere. So basically once all the pre-launch hype ends and the car hits the road in my opinion 95% of all advertising is wasted after that. The car advertises itself. If you see a lot of them you figure must be a great car (or cheap). You can easily ask anyone you see getting out of a car how much they like it. You can browse inside vehicles as you walk down the street to see if you like the interior features. And then of course everyone talks about their cars to friends, families, co-workers. So if a car is ugly or drives poorly it is immediately known. And it doesn't matter the quality or how much they spend on ads people don't want ugly cars that drive poorly.

    So if GM can prevent designing cars destined to fail by using social media then bravo to them. Especially since we need our $30 billion paid back. I think they earned a cookie. Sorry peanut butter ones, the chocolate chip are saved for when they launch a huge hit from their social media efforts.

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