The Commodore has always been the flagship model in the Holden range. In 2012, the chunky sedan accounted for over 27 percent of Holden sales in New Zealand, and the vehicle had come to typify how consumers saw the brand. Renowned for its power and raw performance, the vehicle held a particularly strong place in the petrol-headed psyche of blue-collar New Zealanders. So in 2013, when it came to the release of the new Commodore VF, Holden had high hopes that Kiwis would once again show their loyalty to the brand.
On the plus side, the new car market had recovered quite significantly after the Global Financial Crisis, and there was expected to be a five percent year-on-year increase in sales.
However, there was no guarantee that these sales would translate into a positive result for the Commodore. At the time, the large passenger car segment was undergoing a difficult period, as buyers turned to SUV s or smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. From 2007 to 2012, the large passenger car segment had slipped from 12.2 percent of the total new car market to only 5.4 pecrent, and this downward trend didn’t show any inclination of slowing.
Add to this the fact that a growing number of competitors—particularly from Korea—had launched new models with strong price appeal and decent reliability, and an already small market was starting to look very cluttered (sales from vehicles other than the Commodore and the Falcon, the traditional stalwarts, had grown to account for 31.8 percent).
And although Holden had responded to the changes in consumer behaviour by diversifying its portfolio to offer 14 models across all segments, the Commodore—due to its high contribution to the company’s overall sales—was still integral to success.
At the outset, Holden’s marketing team aimed to reinforce the Commodore’s traditional strengths in terms of its appeal to petrol-heads, but also identified a need for some sophistication: the boy racer had to grow up.
In evolving the Commodore’s image, Holden had to find a way not to alienate the loyal Westie evangelists while simultaneously appealing to a broader customer base, which included modern Kiwi families who wanted reliability rather than sheer power.
To do this, Holden tapped into the success of Kiwi drama Outrageous Fortune, which portrayed the shenanigans of a career criminal family from West Auckland. The theme music for the show was ‘Gutter Black’, a Westie rock anthem, and this provided the ideal score to accompany the release of the new vehicle. But rather than simply using the rough-around-the-edges original version by Kiwi rock legends Hello Sailor, Holden had the song rewritten and performed by a string quartet—thereby providing a clear link between the vehicle’s Westie roots and its new-found sophistication. This rendition was combined with another Westie anthem, this time by AC /DC , to create the strapline ‘Back in Black (tie)’. As the multi-channel campaign rolled out on TV, online, via outdoor executions, in cinemas and in print, further anthemic titles were similarly used to relay the message that the Holden Commodore had evolved.
The launch of the Commodore VF well exceeded the targets set by the team. The vehicle tallied an unparalleled 55.1 percent of the large car segment and became the fifth highest selling car of any type (particularly impressive for a vehicle in a segment that provided only 4.7 percent of total vehicle sales). And this success when combined with the effectiveness of the campaign in changing consumers’ perceptions across the vehicle portfolio allowed Holden to consolidate its position as the nation’s third biggest selling car brand by achieving an impressive year-on-year share growth of 10.5 percent, the highest among any of the top seven brands.