Former P&G marketer John McFarland changes GM outlook to appeal to Millennials

General Motors global CMO Joel Ewanick has been busy shaking up the advertising and media buying worlds – creating a new Chevrolet agency Commonwealth from Omnicom and Interpublic and shifting the company’s $3bn media buying to Carat – partly through a desire to save $2bn costs.

But he’s looking rather further into the future for GM (which mostly means Chevrolet these days) by, among other things, hiring smart young marketers like John McFarland from Procter & Gamble.

McFarland (pictured), 31, whose title is manager of global strategic marketing (quite sensible by current standards) has been been charged with making Chevvy more attractive to 20-somethings (or Millenials or Generation Y depending on your preference). And his proposed solutions run to more than go-faster stripes.

“Right now the tradeoffs we’re asking them to make [to buy a vehicle] just aren’t hitting the sweet spot. We’re not giving them exactly what they want and nothing more. The value equation is a bit off,” he says.

GM has teamed with Viacom’s MTV and its consultancy service Scratch to quiz Millennials about their attitude to cars (lots of them think cars are a rather unwelcome aspect of becoming an adult rather than an object of desire).

So far it’s discovered that, for Chevy anyway, $20,000 is the key price point, that carmakers are maybe loading their vehicles with too much ‘infotainment’ (they’re supposed to be something you drive, not something you listen to) and has even dipped a toe in the waters of car-sharing through an investment in RelayRides. Car sharing is anathema to most car companies but not to pragmatic Millennials.

“Historically, we’ve looked at [car sharing] as a threat to our business model,” says McFarland. “”But now we’re trying to see how it’s another opportunity for us to engage and add value for these consumers in a way that’s relevant.”

Car marketing has been driven by petrolheads for ever – ‘sporting’ performance is still seen as the Holy Grail in Europe now, even for some family cars – but the market is changing rapidly with cost and lower fuel consumption being the main components of value. It’s interesting that it has taken a P&G-ite to spell it out, for GM anyway.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.