When GM abruptly and unceremoniously fired its former wunderkind worldwide chief marketing officer Joel Ewanick on July 29, 2012, it was supposedly because of accounting irregularities, not marketing strategies.
"The fundamental approach is no change," CFO Dan Ammann declared in an August 2 conference call to analysts and reporters. "The consolidation of agency spend, all the things we did with our media buy, those are all very real drivers of efficiencies and we're absolutely going to continue with those."
That was then.
So if everything Ewanick did professionally, as opposed to ethically, was so great, why has GM been doing away with it piece by piece?
In 2010, Ewanick rolled out "Chevy runs deep," a new and, according to many critics at the time, incomprehensible, slogan developed by Goodby Silverstein, an agency owned by what Ad Age describes as "a longtime friend of Mr. Ewanick."
January 8 of this year, GM scrapped it, in favor of "Find new roads."
Throughout 2012, cost-cutting and consolidation were Ewanick's major pushes, but all too often they were cover-ups for disastrous marketing decisions.
After the Chevy Silverado pickup truck Superbowl commercial he approved was found to have directly caused a 25 percent decline in Silverado showroom traffic and a 26 percent increase for rival Ford F-150 (the only truck mentioned by name in the audio), Ewanick announced the brand was pulling out of the Super Bowl because "It's just getting too expensive, and we're not just going to do the same thing every year."
Cost was also his excuse for cancelling $10 worth of Facebook advertising on the eve of its IPO, blaming Facebook for the Chevrolet "Plant a Tree" campaign's failure to have "significant consumer impact." At the same time, Ford's Fiesta test-drive Facebook campaign was boosting showroom traffic by 104 percent.
The last shoe drops
But the crown jewel of his cost-cutting and consolidation campaign was the creation of a hybrid advertising agency, called Commonwealth, to achieve economies of scale in creative work, production and media buying.
On December 18, 2012, GM started taking that apart by assigning its two best-selling and most profitable nameplates – Silverado and Sierra trucks – to former GM agency Leo Burnett.
Two days ago, Ad Age reported, GM's management is finishing the demolition job:
[T]alks are underway between General Motors and Commonwealth execs to put McCann in the driver's seat at the agency and turn over all global ad responsibilities for Chevy to that shop...[N]umerous Detroit executives have been buzzing about the ill-fated state of this setup, predicting that the end is near for Omnicom Group-owned Goodby Silverstein's role as a part of the structure...[T]hese moves are part of GM reverting to simplicity in its marketing strategy. The alignment of all truck advertising at Leo Burnett was one example, and if Goodby Silverstein is removed from the Commonwealth structure, it would mean Chevy has a single global agency rather than different shops handling U.S. versus global work.
So the wonder isn't why GM is getting around tom undoing what Ad Age now calls "the haphazard marketing decisions that were made under former CMO Joel Ewanick, who was ousted last July."
It's why they took so long to do officially make Ewanick an unperson – and why every step of the way they said they were doing no such thing.