The New Game Advertisers Play - Guess Our Product

It Is Counterintuitive to Downplay the Brand But It May Be Working

GMC Truck Ads Are All About Adventure and Validation. Are You Professional Enough to Drive a GMC?. Getty Images | Vstock | Tetra Images

The Professional Grade campaign of GMC is half a decade or more  old.  Is the campaign still serving the vehicle manufacturer well?  The words professional grade are intended to encourage consumers to think of products that are "robust, technical, and well put together." 

According to GMC Design Director Jeff Perkins,

"GMC is represented by a vehicle that’s well-built and by a stance that’s wide and planted."

Yes, But...Where Is the Market Research?

The marketing campaign is directed toward distinguishing GM products and laying the groundwork for consumers to differentiate GMC from other - especially truck - manufacturers.  Indeed, GMC designers and marketers claim that, 

"GMC will be a champion of strong design statements, pushing the boundaries with bold proportions, and being 'real premium'."

What the marketers and advertisers are not telling the consumer - outright - is that the ad campaign is a multichannel endeavor and the print ads do not stand alone well. In other words, the integrated advertising is more loosely coupled than consumers might have the patience for, since most magazine readers are not inclined to "Explore at GMC.com" just to see the videos.  

The Professional Grade Campaign Rolls On

The marketing campaign for GMC trucks has morphed for 2015 into this catchy slogan: Precision Craftsmanship. Powerful Result.  

A print ad in wide circulation shows a pair of hands with fingertips on what at first appears to be random bumps on a smooth surface, but closer inspection indicates the "bumps" are Braille. 

The caption reads: PRECISION MATTERS.  In the word "precision," the letter "C" is shaped the same way it is in the GMC logo.

Bold. Red. Block style outlined in chrome.  These words have been squeezed into the far left corner of the ad: IT MATTERS IN EVERYTHING. TO US. IT MATTERS MOR THAN ANYTHING. EXPLORE AT GMC.COM.  The placement of these words, which really are the crux of the ad, is proximally distant from the image and the key phrase: PRECISION MATTERS.

At the bottom of the ad, a tag line reads: GMC WE ARE PROFESSIONAL GRADE. Yet, the word "grade" indicates a ranking of sorts, and the "C" in "precision" is, after all, just a "C."  Consider that a "C" is just an average grade and not at all what GMC is attempting to convey in its brand message.

This level of understanding comes only after a bit of study of the print ad.  The connections between the image, the message wording, and the tag line may be clear to the advertising creatives.  However, there is no immediate perception of unity for the casual reader of the magazine for which this black and white and grey (accented with red GMC letters) ad serves as the entire back cover. 

From Power Wagon to Station Wagon

The GMC buzz around Professional Grade harks back to the time when brothers Max and Morris Grabowsky made their first hand-crafted workhorse in 1902 that has been referred to as an "ugly truckling," but was formally named the model truck.

 

The Rapid was a gas-powered powered workhorse whose primary competition at the time was a wagon pulled by a mule team.  While it was true that "the spartan Rapid was only a short evolutionary step from a buckboard," in modern jargon, the manufacturing of the Rapid truck disrupted the technology of the time, and preceded the line of vehicles popularized by Henry Ford.

Following the success of truck No. 1, the Rapid Motor Vehicle Co. was established and by 1904, the company had sold 75 trucks.  For a very short period of time, the Rapid model truck was owned by the American Garment Cleaning Co. of Detroit, Michigan.  This is how it came to pass that the first business to operate an actual truck, in what came to be known as , was a clothing laundry business.

In 1905, Albert North and Harry Hamilton, two buggy-builders, purchased the company and began turning out 15 horsepower two-cylinder engines to drive what were essentially still wagons on large, wooden-spoke wheels.

These were the 1-ton and 1 1/2 ton Model B Power Wagons.  Powerful industry macho is still conveyed by the industrial macho of heavy-duty engines and machined metal. GMC's 21st-century truck lineup represents a compelling combination of premium power and luxury.  

Sources: 

____. GMC News.  (2015, March 2). New GMC Campaign Celebrates the Art of Precision: Features entire showroom for the first time since ‘Professional Grade’ debut.

Luft, A. (2011, September).  What Is Professional Grade, And What’s GMC’s Future? 

Tim Spell, T. (2002, December 23).  Houston Chronicle. Cars & Trucks. GMC trucks make 100-year journey.