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Sunday, March 05, 2006


An Ad Campaign Gone Wrong

I don't wonder how agencies and clients get ad campaigns wrong. I've been in the room when the ad is lovingly birthed. Recently, several ad friends of mine and I were amazed to see Chevrolet advertising its "head to head" campaign, on television, with the offer, "go to Edmunds.com and click on Head to Head." Mmmm. You are spending literally $millions/month to promote the wholesomeness of the Chevy brand and you tell me...the potential buyer...to go to Edmunds.com? And here I thought Chevrolet had its own web site to promote Chevrolet...

As a web literate automotive cognoscenti, I smelled the cheese in the proverbial mousetrap so I quickly moused my way over to Edmunds in search of the "Head to Head" comparison advertised. Living in Motown means we have frequent sightings of the Chevrolet Cobalt (GM's competitor for the almighty Civic and Corolla) bifurcating our snow-covered roads. Perhaps Chevrolet's products had improved so much that Edmunds was recommending Chevrolet. Or, GM had somehow convinced Edmunds to say, "nice things" on behalf of Chevrolet for letting them promote the Edmunds name on national television. Because...why else would GM promote Edmunds?

Here's what we found:

Nice clean comparison. Prices, Market value, yada, yada. We thought, let's click on comparison since we're ostensibly shopping Cobalt and trying to figure out...why is a Cobalt $2-$3,000 more expensive than the top selling Corolla and Civic -- especially since every ad emanating from the Ren Cen (GM HQ) talks discount? That's when the wheels came off the proverbial wagon/Cobalt. Here's what we found in the "opinions."

Some nice comments in the "pros" section to make up for the fact that the Cobalt is $ thousands more than its competition...then the coup de grace (for those who can't read the fine print),


Cheap interior plastics, cramped backseat, dire lack of interior storage, dull handling, mediocre fit and finish.

I can't speak to the advantages/disadvantages of the Cobalt vs. its competition because I haven't driven all of them. Clearly, the consumer has voted and to date, the victors are Civic and Corolla by virtue of their huge retail sales leads. And you have to admire Edmunds for not pulling any punches in its comparisons while still getting the almighty ad dollar to pay for its editorial staff. What we find odd is that with so much negative news in the air about GM, its struggling product line and its potential for Chapter 11, someone in marketing decides to hang out a lantern, glass jaw in an all-out barroom brawl and then pay a bonus to the first person that punches them in the mouth. To analogize during Oscar season, when you see studios promoting their movies, they don't ask you to read a review that proclaims,
"...a cheap production, dull storyline with mediocre cinematography."
I don't get it.

Here's our recommendation. Call Edmunds and ask permission to use the snippet,
"Strong acceleration with any drivetrain, smooth and quiet ride, solid brakes, good crash test scores."
Forget the rest.

I'll have to check Edmunds, but I have a question for you. In your piece, you say that the Chevy is "Thousands more" than a Civic or Corrola. But I have shopped the Civic and Cobalt, never the Corrola. And the transaction prices, after both dealers negotiated, were within $500 for a Chevy Cobalt LS Coupe with every option including leather interior, moonroof, 6 disc player with subwoofer compared to a Civic Coupe EX Limited edition (without factory leather interior or subwoofer. The Honda has an "aftermarket" dealer installed leather interior.

And I drove both cars back to back, within an hour on the same roads, and found the Cobalt steering and brakes to be superior and of course the power to be greater ( 150 hp vs 127 hp).

So unless Michigan dealers are charging higher prices than suburban New York dealers, I'm confused.

Now just for the record, I'm a Ford guy, and my better half bought the Honda not the Chevy. The reason? Perception of quality. The belief that the Honda would last at least 150K miles and the Chevy wouldn't. That's the hurdle domestic brands need to clear.

And everytime I drive that Honda, I think of how much more fun the Cobalt was and at $500 more, still a better value. Oh and don't let anyone tell you Honda dealers aren't afraid of the Cobalt, while negotiating I was able to get the dealer throw in the Leather interior for free, when I pointed out that the Cobalt came with leather from the factory. The final prices were $17,500 for Cobalt and $17,001 for Civic. Of course after my honey was finished, they got another $1,000 for Fog lights and chrome exhaust tip, which were also standard on the Cobalt.
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