Don’t Be Chevrolet: a Lesson in What NOT to Do with Your Brand

Brands leave a lasting impression. Be careful how you launch and care for them.

chevrolet
chevrolet

General Motors’ venerable Chevrolet brand is in danger of extinction—and if the golden goose dies, GM will have no one but itself to blame.

Founded in 1911, the iconic brand, along with its famous bowtie logo and influential vehicle designs, has been a part of the American landscape for more than 100 years. From the amazing Corvette to the lusty Camaro, the powerful Silverado, and the family-favorite Impala, Chevy has been as American as…well, as apple pie. But all that soon will go away.

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Executives at GM began the slow-motion destruction of the division with the Blazer, creating a new commercial that officially and unequivocally re-brands one of Chevy’s most famous models in the worst way possible. The honchos at GM say the Blazer “speaks for itself.” From what I can hear, it is crying for an intervention.

The premise of the new commercial is random people see the car on the street for the first time. One woman says, “It looks like a piece of candy.” Another says, “It’s my ‘sexy mom’ car.”

Introduced before the term “SUV” became the acronym for a type of rugged vehicle, the Blazer was one of Chevrolet’s most popular models. Launched in 1969, it was designed to compete with Ford’s Bronco, International Harvester’s Scout, and Jeep’s Cherokee. Early ads boasted the car would “take you into wild, roadless places with more power and wider tread than others of the breed.” Moreover, the company used the slogan “Built to Stay Tough” to promote the Blazer. This was the vehicle for cops and cowboys and everyone else who aspired to be one.

After a series of management missteps, the line was discontinued in 2005. Now, fifteen years later, the tough-as-nails vehicle is being resurrected as a “piece of candy” and “sexy mom car.”

How the mighty have fallen.

GM has a long history of making perfectly wrong choices, many of which culminated in the company’s government-assisted bankruptcy in 2009. What once was the number-one car manufacturer in the world (for seventy-seven consecutive years) has slipped to fourth place, and the downward trend shows no signs of slowing.

Rebranding an established line is not new at GM. The company has been trying and failing at this for years. You may remember the infamous campaign, “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile,” when the GM geniuses thought they could convince the public through a headline and a slogan change that their stale, old-style brand was young and hip. Shortly after that campaign failed to attract younger buyers, GM shuttered the entire division.

Fast forward to today, and the same thing is happening with the Blazer. Tell people the Chevy line is something it never was intended to be, and magically sales will improve! Or at least that’s the plan at GM.

In addition to being blissfully forgetful about their own history of rebranding failures, the folks at GM must not understand some basic branding principles. Advertising legend David Ogilvy once described “brand” as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes,” meaning brands live in customers’ hearts and minds. It takes years to forge a brand, and once established, it’s nearly impossible to change the public’s perception of what that brand stands for.

Moreover, brands must be authentic. Attempting to sell the Blazer as a sexy mom car that looks like a piece of candy is no different from attempting to promote McDonald’s as an upscale restaurant. You can claim anything you want in advertisements, but merely asserting something doesn’t make statements true or believable.

Unfortunately for GM, they continually fail to remember their brands, while owned by GM, exist in the minds of the public. What customers think, imagine, and feel when they hear a brand’s name are fixed and unlikely to change.

That’s why the Blazer rebranding campaign will fail…and if GM doesn’t change course, the Blazer could be the first domino on Chevy’s unfortunate path to join Oldsmobile.

What can the cannabis industry learn from GM? A brand is vitally important. It can make or break a company. Accordingly, be extraordinarily careful with how you launch and care for your brands. Your success, quite literally, depends on it.


Randall HuftRandall Huft is president and creative director of the Innovation Agency. He discovered what works, what doesn’t, and what steps must be taken to achieve sales goals and gain market share while working with blue-chip companies including AT&T, United Airlines, IBM, Walgreen’s, American Express, Toyota, and Disney.

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