Other Editorials

Zarrella Zealot

Monday, February 27, 2006

Apparently no lesson was learned during the downfall of Ron Zarrella's failed marketing strategies. The biggest cause of his failure was having no knowledge of the car business and bringing in numerous other merchandisers only familiar with cookies and toothpaste. It's time for the experiments to end and for actual "CAR GUYS" to run the show.

Advertising chief vows to rebuild GM's image

Jamie LaReau

Automotive News / February 27, 2006 - 6:00 am

DETROIT -- General Motors' new vice president of marketing and advertising admits he has little idea what's under the hood of the average car or truck.

But that's OK, Mike Jackson says. He says he's confident anyway that he's the right guy to steer media coverage and public perceptions of GM back onto a positive track.

"The quickest way to exit the front pages is to deliver results," Jackson said in an interview last week.

Those results will come through focus and strong leadership and by engaging consumers in marketing that highlights GM's products and stays away from talk of the deal, Jackson said.

"Our goal all along is to skirt the dialogue from pricing and incentives to (focus on) value. But that's going to take some time," he said.

The 49-year-old Jackson moves to his new post in Detroit from Los Angeles, where he has served as GM's Western regional general manager since 2002. He takes over from Brent Dewar, 50, who will replace Pete Gerosa as vice president of field sales, service and parts effective March 1.

Gerosa will retire later this year after 42 years at GM.

The time is now

The personnel changes come at a critical juncture for GM. The automaker reported a net loss of $8.55 billion last year amid struggling sales and high costs. Wall Street has downgraded GM debt to junk status amid persistent background buzz that the automaker is headed for Chapter 11 reorganization.

But according to West Coast dealers, Jackson has the marketing chops to restore luster to GM's dulled image nationwide.

As head of the Western region, Jackson launched test-drive programs so consumers could compare GM vehicles directly against the imports. He also began advertising directly to Southern California's large Hispanic and Asian-American population.

Dealers say the result has been an improved image for GM overall. Indeed, between 1999 and 2004, the most recent full-year data available from R.L. Polk, GM was the only domestic automaker to increase retail registrations in California.

But the retail gain was a mere 17,226 units, and the state's overall sales growth means GM's market share did not budge from 16.8 percent.

"He's been single-handedly responsible for raising the level of GM awareness in the L.A. region," says John Pitre, general manager of Motor City Auto Center Pontiac-Buick-GMC-Saturn-Lexus in Bakersfield, Calif.

Not a car guy

Jackson admits he isn't a car guy. He started his career in 1979 as a sales representative for Coca-Cola Co. and spent nine years there, moving to Arco-Atlantic Richfield Co. in 1988.

He returned to the beverage industry in 1990 as Western regional manager for PepsiCo. He later held marketing posts at Kraft Foods Inc. and Coors Brewing Co. before joining GM in 2000 as executive director of sales and marketing support for vehicle sales, service and marketing.

Jackson said cars and the beverage industry have a lot in common. They are both highly competitive industries that require three-tier distribution systems, he said. But they're different in that beverages are a lot about branding and image whereas autos are more about product, he said.

"In the beer business, you deal with independent distributors who behave a lot like the dealer body in the auto business," Jackson said. "So understanding that, and managing your distribution through an independent network, clearly translates into the work I do here."

So what's his top priority?

"It's really simple," he said. "If we don't increase demand for our products - well, I just can't think of any other overarching goal than that. We'll use every element of the marketing mix to increase demand."

You may e-mail Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com