Will Joel Ewanick’s new Chevrolet Commonwealth creative agency really work?

Once again, General Motors CMO Joel Ewanick has demonstrated his ability to surprise and to innovate, with the announcement of his ‘Commonwealth’ solution to the global Chevrolet creative account.

GM spent $4.7bn on advertising last year, and the majority of that was channelled through Chevy, a brand accounting for 70 per cent of GM’s US sales. So, all eyes will be on what Ewanick, after much agonising, has done with one of the world’s largest creative accounts.

Which is, exactly? The easy bit is that he has fired most of the 70 agencies that were, somehow, somewhere, working on the account – unnecessarily bloating management costs.

More controversially, Ewanick has placed the two winning agencies, Goodby Silverstein & Partners and McCann Erickson, in a joint venture dubbed Commonwealth. It will be based in Detroit, home of GM, but have three other creative hubs dotted across the globe at Milan, Mumbai and Sao Paolo. And the controversial bit is that the two agencies – Goodby, which holds the Chevy business in the USA, and McCann, which is strong in Latin America, Mexico, China and Canada – are owned by rival ad holding companies, Omnicom and Interpublic Group respectively. Omnicom and IPG are 50/50 owners of Commonwealth, we are told, but profits will be allocated ‘geographically.’

That in itself may be cause for friction. But just as interesting is who and what will be running Commonwealth day to day. It is to be led by a ‘global advisory board,’ overseeing creative initiatives and strategy, which consists of Jeff Goodby, the Goodby Silverstein & Partners founder, who will be creative chairman, Washington Olivetto, McCann Worldgroup Latin America chairman and chief creative officer, Linus Karlsson, the McCann New York and London chairman, and chief creative officer and Prasoon Joshi, the chairman of McCann Worldgroup India. A hat-tip to Goodby’s creative eminence, but note McCann’s dominance on the board.

Now, before muttering ‘sacks’ and ‘cats,’ let’s all take a deep breath and peer long and carefully into the glass half-full. There certainly is a rational case for Commonwealth, or something very like it. And part of it is saving an estimated $2bn in production and management costs over five years.

What’s more, we can expect some unwonted co-operative zeal from the two rival agencies. Both will be hugely relieved they have landed the business.

Goodby started as early favourite, not least because it was hand-picked for the US business by Ewanick himself. But the work has disappointed. And, despite the pleasing publicity surrounding the Ford-knocking Silverado spots at this year’s Super Bowl, there have been gnawing doubts at the Goodby office about its ability to retain the account.

McCann, on the other hand, desperately needed a coup of any kind to stabilise its faltering performance. True, this is not the outright win that leaves it the undisputed global agency of record earlier rumoured. But it’s a fairly decent outcome, which consolidates McCann’s already strong position in high-growth emerging markets.

But once the novelty has worn off, what then? Will the creative dream team pull together to make Chevrolet’s global message more consistent, or will the nightmare of agency politics take over? It’s anyone guess. For that very reason Ewanick should be taken at his word in describing Commonwealth as ‘historic.’ We’ll find out soon enough how deep Chevy really runs.

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About Stuart Smith

Stuart Smith is one of the most incisive and knowledgeable commentators on global marketing. He was a long-time editor of Marketing Week during the period when it was the UK’s leading marketing, media and advertising specialist publication. Visit Stuart Smith Blog.

One comment

  1. @Stuart…
    Oh dear, yet another “Agency of the Future.” Remember the merger of Draft and FCB… Or the disaster called “Enfatico.” As I say on “AdScam” this is doomed. It may save money (Isn’t that the reason for everything in the ad biz these days?) But can you imagine the guy in Sao Paulo calling Jeff and saying “Down here in ThongLand, we just love “Chevy Runs Deep.” We intend to use it on all the English language ads we enter for Cannes this year.” And, as I also ask, concerning the picture of the “Global Committee”… Is that a grin, or a grimace on Jeff’s face?
    Cheers/George “AdScam” Parker

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