The “Chevy” vs. “Chevrolet” dust-up. What it means for a global brand.

The last twenty-four hours has been full of articles, blogs, tweets, surveys, all questioning the wisdom of the folks at Chevrolet who were apparently seeking to remove “Chevy” from the brand’s lexicon (NYTs 6/10/10).  Predictably, people were shocked and the Chevrolet folks accused of varying levels of insanity, some even questioning their patriotism.

Thankfully, as the day wore on, Chevrolet made an effort to explain that it had been mis-understood (see the press release) and that the memo leaked to the New York Times had been “poorly worded.” Unfortunately for the folks at GM, this whole incident has just added fuel to the fire for those folks who want to find fault with every thing the company tries to do.  If you take the GM folks at their word, what they were trying to do really isn’t crazy.

At the heart of this dust-up is a real issue.  How to most effectively manage a global automotive brand.

Here’s a video of Alan Batey explaining that indeed “Chevy” is just fine but that “Chevrolet” is the global brand:

Put aside Mr. Batey’s understandable defensiveness and his desire to assure us that “Chevy” is OK.  The issue is that Chevrolet is now sold in more 130 countries around the world, that it sells twice as many vehicles outside the US as it does within and that the brand is relatively underdeveloped in newer areas of distribution.  The folks at GM think it would be a good idea if they referenced their brand consistently around the world and they have decided that it is “Chevrolet.”  They’re right, their brand’s name should be consistent globally.  “Chevrolet” it is.

I think the folks at Chevrolet are struggling with how to best execute a global brand.  On one hand they want to be known as one thing throughout the world, on the other they have a “local” market where “Chevy” is a powerful cultural connection to their brand.

The mistake that so many automotive manufacturers make is to conclude that their brand must be the “same” everywhere and this often turns into a global advertising campaign.  Mercedes-Benz just announced that it is starting a “global campaign” (“Mercedes-Benz Plans new ad push.”  WSJ 6/10/10).  BMW launched it’s global “Joy” campaign earlier this year.  Invariably this top down approach to marketing is only marginally successful because it ignores local market sensibilities and assets (see earlier blog post).  For example, BMW’s “Joy” is not an adequate substitute for “The Ultimate Driving Machine” in the US.

With this in mind, here are four guiding principles for managing a global automotive brand:

  1. The strategic underpinnings and core values of an automotive brand must be consistent throughout its areas of distribution. The essence of a brand should not change from market to market.
  2. It is far less important that the execution of the brand positioning be literally the same in every market. In fact, tailoring executions to culture and brand experience in the local market (assuming it is on brand strategy) opens the possibility of more powerful communications.
  3. A good corporate ID program should be in place and guide execution. Use of particular typefaces and basic design standards are critical communicators of an automobile manufacturer’s design sensibilities and adherence to them globally will ensure an appropriate level of consistency without impinging on local messaging.
  4. The sharing of production assets (e.g. photography & film) wherever possible makes perfect sense. This will save a few production dollars and ensure a level of executional consistency that is appropriate.

Let’s look at Chevrolet point by point.

Ever since the bankruptcy, GM has been promising that they will focus on positioning their four remaining brands.  This job has yet to be done for Chevrolet. Representing 70% of the New GM’s revenue, this body of work needs to be done right and I’m sure the new VP of Marketing is focussed on the task.  Until the Chevrolet strategic underpinnings are agreed, there is no brand, global or otherwise.

I am hopeful that the acknowledgment that we love “Chevy” is recognition that local market sensibilities are important and that “Chevy” is an asset to be leveraged, at least in the US.  This iconic American brand holds a special place in the hearts of many Americans and a lowest common denominator global campaign would do it such a dis-service.

The dust-up over “Chevrolet” vs. “Chevy” rightly belongs in point number three.  From a corporate identity point of view, “Chevrolet” is the brand and it will be used consistently through out the world.

The fourth point should be relatively simple to execute.

So, while the “Chevrolet” vs “Chevy” discussion has been entertaining over the last day or so, it really isn’t all that important.  What’s important is that they get the brand’s strategic positioning locked-in and recognize the importance of leveraging local assets in the markets where they exist.  At that point Chevrolet will be well on the way to becoming a powerful global brand.

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2 Responses to “The “Chevy” vs. “Chevrolet” dust-up. What it means for a global brand.”

  1. Tuesday says:

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