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Holden brand at ‘all-time low’

Proof point: Holden’s marketing chief Mark Harland says the first ‘proof point’ of the company’s new brand campaign, post-manufacturing, will be the Equinox SUV.

Marketing strategy under review as Holden battles buyer ‘indifference’

20 Jun 2017

HOLDEN has fallen to an “all-time low” in terms of brand appeal and several recent advertising campaigns have been too focused on younger demographics, the company’s executive director of marketing Mark Harland has confessed.

Speaking with GoAuto at the national media launch of the Astra sedan in New South Wales last week, Mr Harland revealed that Holden has opted to change its marketing agency ahead of the closure of its local manufacturing operations on October 20.

The Canadian-born 20-year General Motors veteran, who was appointed as marketing chief late last year, said the factory closure would have to mark a major shift in how the brand is taken to market.

“We’re at an all-time low in terms of the brand,” Mr Harland admitted.

“There’s been years in a bygone era that people would just buy whatever Holden put their name on. We have world-class products, in the showroom and coming that are as good, if not better than any other competitor.

“But we have a brand that people are unsure of. People are wondering: ‘What is the Holden brand and where are we going in the future?&rsquo.”

Mr Harland further revealed that loyalty among existing owners was low, and most new-car buyers simply did not have an opinion of the local lion brand.

“If I look at my brand momentum, our brand reputation scores, about 52 per cent of the negative comments have to do with the closure,” he said.

“I’ve got 62 to 65 per cent of the population that is indifferent to Holden. It doesn’t mean they love us, it doesn’t mean they hate us, so that’s an opportunity. Our loyalty (rate) at Holden is not nearly where we need it to be.

“I have got to get them (buyers) to believe in where Holden is going in the future, above and beyond the great products. They won’t get into those great products … until they believe that Holden stands for something that is intrinsically and uniquely Australian going forward. And we’ve got to tell that story.”

 center imageLeft: Holden executive director of marketing Mark Harland

Although Mr Harland further admitted that Holden was “not doing very well with younger demographics” he was aware that recent advertising targeting younger buyers were seen by some as a rejection of the brand’s traditional buyer base.

“I would say, without pointing out any individuals or any individual piece of work, then I would certainly say that we may have swung the pendulum too far (towards younger buyers) at times,” he said.

“We’re not doing very well with females – younger or older females for that matter. We need to build the brand with younger demographics, with females, at the same time as what I like to tell my team is we’re putting our arms around and embracing our owner base, the people that have been with us forever.

“Everyone said: ‘We got to move away. We can’t be just talking about V8 Commodores and the guys who drive V8 Commodores, and we’ve got to go all the way over here and just talk to 20-year-old females.’“I’d say at times we swung the pendulum too far. The thought is right, but the execution was wrong. We can’t completely walk away from the people that have been with us forever.”

AJF Partnership has been Holden’s advertising agency for several years, but Mr Harland confirmed that a tender had now been placed for a new agency.

“We decided that after closure would be a good time to launch the next iteration of what we want the Holden brand to look and feel like,” he said.

“We thought we would challenge some agencies and we’ve put that out there.

“We had nine or 10 agencies, from smaller agencies in Australia and New Zealand to large, global agencies, really, really dig in and get excited about being part of the Holden turnaround and helping us transform the brand.

“That started late in May, and we’re now just going still through round one and we’re getting that down to a shortlist. The final selection of that agency … will probably happen mid-to-late July.”

The marketing chief also said that while the future advertising direction had not been set as yet, “I have a plan on where I want the brand to be”.

“I have some metrics I owe to the senior leadership of GM over the next three, four years, through 2020 and beyond,” he said.

“We want people to get up, take notice of Holden again, and have a conversation, and have fun, and not take ourselves so seriously. We don’t want to do it in a way that’s going to be really offensive to anyone, but we want to do it in a way that's going to be bold and it’ll get noticed.

“This next iteration of the brand, and the communications will start post-factory closure, and the proof-point of that will really be the Equinox.

That’s the first proof-point of the new brand campaign.

“Then it will all evolve obviously with the next-generation Commodore, and then … through the end of 2018, the proof-point after that will be the Acadia. So kind of go ‘bang, bang, bang’ and really start to get at this indifference that people have with Holden.

“Not having an opinion is not an option.”

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