May 29, 2009

Many of GM’s Issues Hinge on Branding

Posted in In the news tagged at 10:10 am by R

There’s a lot of chatter out there about whether or not GM will file for bankruptcy come Monday. Today, it seems almost certain that GM will unload (by selling or dismantling) two of it’s brands Saturn & Hummer.

An article on MSNBC this morning discusses the pending departure of these brands and points to them as two tales indicative of the larger GM fate.

I believe it all comes down to branding.


Saturn launched in the early 80’s with a mission of being nimble and a direct U.S. challenger to efficient and innovative cars coming from companies like Toyota and Honda overseas. While early adopters bought into this way of thinking, Saturn struggled to maintain its innovation an lost much of its nimble nature as it gradually wove operations in with other GM brands and Saturn’s offerings began to look more and more and more like its Chevy, Pontiac and Buick cousins.

GM really faltered on the brand promise of Saturn. If your brand is “nimble” everything about you must be genuinely flexible and malleable. If your brand is innovative, the last thing you can do is be like anyone else. In short…epic fail.

It seemed though that all was not lost. Recently Saturn has debuted several models that hearken back to those characteristics, even offering hybrid models. Alas, it seems it’s just too little too late.

Hopefully Saturn can find a buyer who can help the company find itself again. So many people have called for American car companies to be nimble and innovative in this environment that perhaps it’s a golden opportunity for the cast off GM brand.

Hummer on the other hand has an image problem.


If you conjure one image that embodies the idea of “American Excess,” what is it? Probably a Hummer. The gas-guzzling, road-hogging, I’m-bigger-than-you-so-I’m-changing-lanes-and-you’d-better-move-over SUV is loved by those who can afford to drive it, and generally loathed by those who have to share the road with it.

The military vehicle gone civil SUV inherently pours salt in the wounds of an ailing economy. With a high price point and an expensive cost of ownership (gas prices), this behemoth stands for the boom time gone by.

It might even be fair to say that there’s some resentment for this brand, even among those who bought into the “Bigger-is-better” mentality of homes and cars (and gas tanks).

It will be a enormous undertaking and require real creativity on the part of a buyer to repair the image of Hummer. Some serious changes in gas mileage will obviously be the first order of business, not simply because of new (and needed) fuel economy standards, but for the viability of the brand!

In the end, I doubt a brand like Hummer will ever see anywhere near the same cache as it had about five years ago. The elements that made Hummer a popular purchase simply don’t exist anymore.

Whomever buys up these brands — assuming they don’t go away altogether — will have to have a top-notch marketing staff to tap into:

  • The brand value of Saturn and make it adhere to its brand promises
  • Re-brand Hummer in a radically different way

Brand gurus, start your engines.



1 Comment »

  1. […] in Branding at 8:47 pm by R Back in May, I discussed the serious brand issues General Motors was dealing with as it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and considered potentially selling off GM brands Hummer […]

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