December 3, 2008
GM's Brand Naming Cuts Were a Long Time Coming
The news that GM is set to drop four vehicle brand names - Hummer, Pontiac, Saab, and Saturn - in order to streamline its business is not a big surprise to us in the U.S. naming and branding business.
The woes that the Big Three face today may herald an entirely new approach to marketing and naming cars in the U.S.
Al Ries and Adam Hanft have both come out and said that bad marketing killed the car industry in the U.S., not bad cars. Old fashioned add campaigns, and nebulous and confusing brand naming (Hanft bemoans "the way Detroit names its cars - with all the originality of meeting rooms at a Westin") are greatly at fault here.
GM is finally coming to grips with the reality that they simply cannot be all things to all people. They need to pare down their offerings and add meaning to the brands that remain. In a sense, what they really need to do is bring the romance back to the automotive industry.
The biggest U.S. successes at this year's LA Auto Show were, arguably, the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camero, brand names whose allure never seems to fade. Of course people will miss brands like Saturn, but this exhibits a return to the basics.
This strategy closely resembles that of Japanese car manufacturers who focus on a few core brand names. The parent brand is everything everywhere else in the world, and here, we are now looking at a total shift in focus back to Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac, all of the names that have the most value and most resonance among consumers.
I'd say it's about time.
Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac are names that should tower over the competition. We are currently in a world where people are going to return to what they know and be much more likely to buy American made if the price is right.
Frankly, I want to see these brand names - filled with the romance of the American open road - survive. And now is the time for GM to rethink the management of its classic brands.
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