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DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co is tapping a wide range of cars from its past and present, including the new Chevrolet Volt, for a "Chevy runs deep" advertising campaign that begins on Wednesday night.
Chevrolet will use the opening game of Major League Baseball's World Series to launch the campaign with four television ads aimed at changing perceptions about the brand, GM executives said.
"We want to take all of the great lessons that we had from before that made GM great for many, many, many years," GM U.S. marketing chief Joel Ewanick said. "We want to put those other things that didn't behind us."
The U.S. automaker emerged from a government-supported bankruptcy last year and is expected to complete an initial public offering within a month that will allow the U.S. Treasury to begin to reduce its nearly 61 percent stake in the company.
GM's challenges include rebuilding a U.S. market share that stood at 19 percent so far in 2010, down from nearly 24 percent in 2007, and erasing its public perception as "Government Motors" after $50 billion of U.S. taxpayer funding.
GM does not disclose its ad budget, but its U.S. spending in 2008 was estimated at $2.23 billion by Kantar Media, and Ewanick said his 2011 U.S. advertising budget would be "a couple of percentage points" above the 2008 level.
The Chevrolet ad campaign follows a series of marketing missteps by GM since it emerged from bankruptcy in July 2009, including an ad with former Chief Executive Ed Whitacre that touted the full repayment of government loans. The ad gave the impression that taxpayers were repaid fully even though loans comprised just a small percentage of actual taxpayer funding.
Ewanick, a former U.S. marketing chief for Hyundai Motor Co, took over GM's U.S. marketing in May in the fourth shake-up of GM's sales organization since its bankruptcy.
The first three TV ads running Wednesday night target a wide audience with cars and trucks from Chevrolet's past, present and future. Each ad is narrated by comedian Tim Allen and ends with the brand's bow tie logo.
The fourth ad focuses on the Volt. The plug-in vehicle, which runs up to 50 miles on batteries and has a gasoline engine to extend its range, is scheduled to go into production in early November and serves as the brand's high-tech future.
"Are we going to wrap ourselves in the American flag? No, we're not, but we are going to wrap ourselves in the values and the character that has been part of this country for centuries," Ewanick said. "That's what we want to be."
Past Chevrolet campaigns have focused on the "Heartbeat of America" and "An American Revolution." The new campaign tugs on similar themes including the memories of first cars, dogs and babies for the initial TV ads.
In May, GM named San Francisco-based Goodby, Silverstein & Partners to lead brand advertising on Chevrolet, a move Co-Chairman and Creative Director Jeff Goodby likened to being chosen for a movie with director Steven Spielberg.
The agency is a unit of Omnicom Group.
Chris Perry, hired by Ewanick away from Hyundai in August to lead U.S. marketing for Chevrolet, said the spots are much more about the brand than individual vehicles and are a first step in a long campaign.
Ewanick said GM's 2011 U.S. advertising budget will be more focused after the restructuring cut U.S. brands in half to four. Chevy, which accounts for seven of every 10 GM sales, will receive roughly that share of the ad budget.
The budget will allow for big "tent post" events such as the World Series and the National Football League's Super Bowl that draw large TV audiences, and for typical monthly spending on brands, Ewanick said.
GM has looked to create "distinct swim lanes" for its Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC brands to eliminate the overlapping that occurred with the automaker's eight brands in the United States in past years, Ewanick said.
Ewanick believes interest in the nearly 100-year-old Chevrolet runs deeper than for other brands. He pointed to an internal GM memo that cautioned GM employees not to use the shorter-form Chevy in reference to Chevrolet that touched off debate when it was leaked publicly in June.
"We have a soul that our strongest competitors don't have," Ewanick said, adding that he did not expect rivals Ford Motor Co, Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co Ltd to sit back and let GM's message dominate.
The Chevrolet ad campaign will be more balanced across the lineup than past commercials that emphasized trucks.
Ewanick also said the commercials would be "a small piece" of the overall plan for print, TV and Web-based advertising that aims at improved social engagement, more effective brand websites and other areas.
"We will start getting our pace by the time we get to the first quarter, by the time we get to the Super Bowl, and we'll start moving this idea farther and faster down the road," Ewanick said.
Reporting by David Bailey and Ben Klayman; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Richard Chang