Desperately Holden on to Aussie hearts and wallets
Is Holden about to change its advertising slogan to “Football, Magpies, Kangaroos and Holden cars”, a nod to its 1970s jingle? Don’t bet against it.
Holden just announced its platinum sponsorship of the AFL’s Collingwood Magpies in a three-year multimillion dollar deal.
The news came 24 hours after Holden announced the three-year sponsorship of the NRL football code, the State of Origin series and the Kangaroos national squad. Both deals are Holden’s first major football sponsorships in 15 years, and are said to be worth more than twice the sum it spends on V8 Supercars.
After years of trying to step quietly away from its blokey image, Holden is suddenly wrapping itself in the Australian flag – and our sporting culture – because it senses a risk of being perceived as less Australian than ever.
Holden’s “Australian-ness” has been the cornerstone of the company since American giant General Motors established the brand in 1948 – while rival Ford has long been perceived as an American company even though its locally-made cars have just as much, if not more, Australian DNA.
But in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Holden shied away from its rugged image and tried to give its brand some European polish, which was made easier by the fact that much of its foreign line-up was sourced from Europe. With roaring Commodore sales and a strong small- and medium-size car line-up, Holden bordered on becoming a badge snob. It even let go of the iconic Holden Precision Driving Team in 1999 – which it had sponsored for 30-plus years.
The daredevil drivers travelled to country shows across Australia to thrill crowds in their brutish Holden V8 cars. They re-formed under a new name in 2003 but were axed again at the end of 2006. In what can only be described as an epic own-goal, that team of skilled drivers now strut their stuff in Toyotas. Today, most cars in Holden showrooms come from South Korea and Thailand, even though 60 per cent of all cars it sold last year were made in Australia – the same ratio as it was 10 years ago. The difference, however, is that Holden is building and selling a fraction of the cars it did a decade ago.
But Holden hopes the big-buck sponsorships and marketing spend will help reverse that. The company is ready to push itself off the ropes after posting its lowest sales in 19 years – in last year’s all-time record new-car market – with six significant models due this year alone, including a new Holden Commodore that is set to be our last.
Holden is priming us for life without the Commodore as we know it. At the Detroit motor show the company told reporters than the about-to-be-released VF Commodore will be phased out in 2016 to make way for the as-yet unnamed second model to be built alongside the Cruze small car until at least 2022. The Commodore issue is emotional. By the time it bows out it will have been around for 38 years – almost twice as long as the iconic Kingswood – and our top seller for 15 years.
When Holden’s NRL sponsorship was announced yesterday – estimated to be worth $10 million – some people on social media queried if it was funded by the taxpayer. Holden will receive $275 million in government assistance in return for its own investment of $1 billion to keep making cars until at least 2022. Holden argues it is prudent to market and advertise its brand in order to create demand for its vehicles, about 60 per cent of which (at the current rate at least) are made locally.
“In order for us to have a strong brand [the public] needs to know about our products, and one of the best ways of doing that is confident, appropriate advertising,” Holden boss Mike Devereux told News Limited. “If we want to be strong and sustainable you have to do these [things].”
Furthermore, Devereux says, football is not exclusive to “blokes”; it has a big family following and a massive TV audience. The third round of last year’s NRL State of Origin attracted 4 million viewers, while Collingwood regularly attracts a huge AFL crowd and has one of the biggest club memberships.
“I think [football] is a perfect match for the brand and it will hopefully signal we’re back, we’re on the front foot and we’ve got a lot of new cars coming,” he said. “We had the opportunity to grab this … and frankly we jumped at it. We’ve been in the wilderness in sports sponsorships for too long.”
But if General Motors’ Australian outpost is really serious about restoring its earthy image across this wide brown land, it should resurrect the Holden Precision Driving Team. Not everyone watches football, you know.
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