The brand that for decades marketed itself as American as apple pie is looking away from the good ol' U.S.A.
General Motors Co. announced this week it will retire the "Chevy Runs Deep" slogan, opting instead for one aimed at helping the brand appeal to a wider, global audience, especially in emerging markets. After almost a century selling cars around the world, it is the first time Chevrolet has brought all of its marketing under a single global vision, the company said. That is the goal for its new tag line, "Find New Roads."
"American ingenuity has been at the heart of Chevrolet since the beginning and that will continue to be the case as we expand throughout the world. We don't have to say it explicitly in our marketing," said Pat Morrissey, director of product and brand communications.
It's a choice that many multinational companies make. Global brands often do a lot of work to be culturally relevant in far-flung markets; but at the same time, as business has globalized, many have focused on developing a unified global brand. It's why, for example, a Canadian-made IKEA ad can have its own specific charm, while behind the scenes the client and the agency work to make sure it fits into the larger tone and positioning of other campaigns from around the world. And it is also why Coca-Cola's attempt to court Brazilian teens still incorporates its global emphasis on being the soft drink associated with "happiness."
While some marketing executives can get downright esoteric about the meaning of a global brand position, some of the reasons for it are purely organizational. When managing advertising agencies and teams in disparate places, marketing guidelines can be helpful in making sure that a team in Bangkok or Santiago does not launch a campaign that wildly diverges from the image that head office wants to cultivate.
Another reason for global branding is that it lets companies take advantage of economies of scale. It is simply cheaper to make one ad campaign and then make small cultural, regulatory or language changes to make it fit each market, than it is to pay multiple agency teams for locally specific campaigns.
On the creative side, this can be a headache. Nowhere is this felt more than Canada, which is not always a first-priority market for bigger brands. Advertising executives here have long complained about the pressure from multinational clients to simply "fast adapt" a global campaign created in the U.S. (or wherever the lead agency exists, depending on where the company is headquartered).
In Chevy's case, an overly Americanized message was getting in the way. Its rising sales in markets such as Russia and India made its red, white and blue branding too old-fashioned for a company in transition – as was a slogan based on idiomatic English with the phrase "runs deep", which is not always easily translated.
The majority of Chevrolet sales now come from outside of North America; a major shift from a decade ago when the rest of the world accounted for less than a third of sales. So, while much of the American advertising industry is sharply focused on the marketing spectacle that is the upcoming Super Bowl in February, GM will be looking beyond that marquee Sunday to make its new branding known.
The move away from Americana makes sense for Chevrolet in communicating with its global customers. It also helps to send a message about the company's new priorities internally and to its dealer network, said John Quelch, dean of the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. However, Prof. Quelch cautions that while these considerations are important, global brand messages have to avoid the common trap of being so general that they say very little.
"You don't want to standardize a slogan and have it be globally understandable – but boring," he said.
The question for Chevrolet is whether "Find New Roads" strikes that balance.
"It's a fairly innocuous slogan," said Nigel Hollis, chief global analyst with marketing consulting firm Millward Brown in New York. "It really is bound to how they execute against it to make it meaningful."
The importance of a globalized brand strategy also differs by industry: for an international airline for example, it is absolutely crucial because sending different messages in different markets could create customer confusion. Travellers who see a stable brand regardless of where they are will likely associate that with a competence and trust.
Mr. Hollis believes the emphasis on global branding has gone too far in the case of many marketers. "There is no one-size-fits-all answer," he said.
However, there is little question that in appealing to new markets, Chevrolet must leave its legacy of hyper-Americanized advertising behind.
The Americana image may once have helped it in emerging markets that saw U.S. imagery and pop culture as aspirational. However, as consumers in places such as China come into their own, there is a greater desire for an image of affluence or happiness that is their own, not imported.
"The really savvy marketers are adapting to that," Mr. Hollis said.