Buckle your safety belts: GM has put Joel Ewanick in the global driving seat

You’ll have to forgive me. Unlike former Porsche marketer Joel Ewanick, I don’t live in the fast-lane – meaning, I’ve just caught up with the news that he has been appointed to the new position of global chief marketing officer, General Motors.

Even by his standards, that was quick work. He only joined the organisation eight months ago as US vice president marketing, after a brief and apparently stormy sojourn at Nissan. But what an eight months that’s been. The relentless cutting-edge of the whirling dervish has left no department intact, no slogan unchallenged, no strategy unexamined, no agency relationship unmarked. Most notoriously, it will be recalled, he summarily despatched Publicis Worldwide only weeks after it had won the $700m Chevrolet account, and replaced it with (off-roster but on-message, so far as Ewanick is concerned) Goodby Silverstein & Partners. Then, judging perhaps that he had gratuitously made an enemy of one of the most powerful admen in the world, he placated Maurice Lévy by firing BBH from $270m Cadillac and giving the business to Fallon instead. I’m sure there were other reasons for this move: but it cannot be entirely coincidental that Fallon is wholly owned by Publicis Groupe, of which Lévy is the ceo, whereas BBH is only 49% owned by the same company. More money, then, into the main exchequer.

Any way, back to Ewanick. There are at least two, not entirely contradictory, ways of looking at his brand of marketing management; the success of his current appointment will depend on which is uppermost.

The first we have already seen: the change agent on steroids who will stop at nothing to become the world’s most famous car-marketer, in a vainglorious attempt to salvage the apparently unsalvageable: GM’s reputation.

The second is a man with an indisputable reputation for turning around troubled car marques. He did it at Porsche Cars North America during the nineties (no fly-by-nighter there – he stayed nearly nine years as general manager marketing); and he did it again during his 3-year stint as head of marketing at Hyundai North America. Hyundai is now – arguably – America’s most successful car brand.

In this new role we’re going to discover whether success has gone to Ewanick’s head or not. According to the man who appointed him, GM CEO Dan Akerson (himself a new kid on the managerial block), he “will ensure consistent global messaging fro all brands including Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Holden, Opel and Vauxhall. Ewanick will provide oversight for global brand enhancements in the markets in which they are sold and work in association with the regional presidents in countries where GM has partnerships and joint ventures.”

The key regional bosses we are talking about here are the ones with dominion in Britain (Vauxhall), Australia (Holden) and Germany (Opel) – Ewanick already controls the rest. And the key issue is how much these brands desire, or even require, “consistent global messaging” – still less an American-centric version of it. Let’s not forget that these were the successful bits, devolved from GM’s incompetent Detroit management – the bits that didn’t have to go into Chapter 11 a while back. I wonder whether Ewanick has the forbearance to acknowledge that. Somehow, I can’t imagine tact is his number one quality.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be an interesting ride for GM’s European roster agencies. DLKW Lowe, McCann Erickson, Scholz & Friends and Amsterdam Worldwide, fasten your seat belts.

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