Holden’s curious issue advertising: Brilliance or folly?

Little more than a week after announcing they will cease car-making in Australia by 2017, GM Holden launched an extraordinary TV advertising campaign on the theme “We’re here to stay.”

It’s either a really clever move or a complete misreading of the public mood.  Using paid advertising in the midst of a high-profile public issue is always risky, and this bold choice is a high-exposure test of strategic effectiveness.

In December, GM Holden said their decision would cost almost 3,000 direct jobs, and industry experts believe maybe 40,000 more could be at risk in related companies.

Coming so soon after Ford announced its withdrawal from Australian manufacturing in 2016, the Holden decision was sure to create even greater anger, and politicians of all stripes leapt in to make political mileage. And it doesn’t help that Holden has just announced its worst ever sales figures for locally made cars.

In this volatile context, Holden introduced a TV commercial which doesn’t focus on great quality vehicles, but instead features a range of individuals, including sportspeople wearing the Holden name. Meantime the voiceover says: “While in the future, we’ll no longer make cars in Australia, we’ll always be committed to making the best cars for Australia.”

It’s a strange claim and a stretch of credulity.  By this argument you could say that Volvo, or Honda or Mitsubishi or any other overseas producer is making cars “for Australia.”

At the end of the ad, a techy-looking individual at a design computer turns to the camera and says “Because we’re here to stay.”  Really?

The whole campaign raises some important questions. Who is the real target audience? Politicians?  Existing Holden owners? The broader public? Certainly not the thousands who will lose their jobs. Nor the taxpayers, who will foot the bill for a $100 million of government aid.  Nor the critics who took to social media to attack the commercial.

What’s the objective? To calm concern? To demonstrate a commitment to the market?  To highlight that they will keep their design studio in Australia? According to Holden’s own website the purpose is: “To address the elephant in the room.”  Once again, really?  How does it address this rather awkward elephant? Why would they think paid advertising is the right tool? And what exactly are they trying to achieve?

Finally, why do it at all?  Ford made their withdrawal announcement in May 2013 and then promptly shut up.  By contrast Holden’s campaign can only serve to keep their decision in the forefront of public awareness with a message which, at the very least, is curiously ambivalent.

Issue advertising demands a very clear understanding of the intended audience; a fully integrated strategic objective; and a simple, unambiguous message. (Like Greenpeace advertising against the West Australian shark cull).  For Holden right now the best thing might be to deal with the local manufacturing issue behind closed doors, and leave paid advertising to promote their cars.

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About managingoutcomes

Issue and crisis management expert
This entry was posted in Issue Advertising, Issue Management and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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