Holden continues its shift away from Westies and granddads with focus on modern explorers

Holden has been on a mission to shift perceptions of the brand and appeal to a broader range of drivers, particularly females, with its array of cars. And its latest campaign to launch the new Commodore, the model the brand has become synonymous with, is focusing on ‘modern explorers’. 

Holden has, over the past few years, looked to make a strategic shift from its fairly boganic heritage to a modern, urban target market. The new campaign via Special Group references that shift very clearly (the website, in what some may see as slightly hyperbolic terms, says the new Commodore is ‘perhaps the most anticipated car ever’.)

“Holden is deeply woven into the social fabric of New Zealand,” said managing director Kristian Aquilina last year at a launch event for the Equinox SUV. “It is iconic and it has had deep meaning for a lot of people in this country over a long period of time.”

Much of this meaning has until now been attributed to the Commodore, which has for decades been the flagship model in the Holden range. 

“So dominant was this, that Holden became Commodore and Commodore became Holden to the point where that dominance overshadowed all the other feathers we have in our cap: sweet convertibles, new Astra sports cars, a great SUV range and large trucks,” Aquilina said. “We had the range but we couldn’t get past our association with the Commodore in people’s minds.”

Aquilina says this heavy association with the Commodore led to the whole Holden brand being perceived as “Westie” and probably more suitable for “grandad” among modern consumers.

“After calling it for what it is, we knew the job that was ahead of us.”

This strategy was evident in a recent campaign by Special Group, which includes a series of 30-second spots all trumpeting different vehicles and starring a diverse array of drivers. A Kiwi bloke, a young couple in their early 20s, an animal lover and a caring friend all star in the spots, designed to highlight features and products that viewers might not be aware of. 

Viewed together, the message is clear: Holden is no longer a single-car brand for blokes, but rather a vehicle provider for a diverse array of New Zealanders. 

The best example of this shift would be Holden’s April Fools’ prank last year, which followed on from The Chop campaign and invited New Zealanders to trade their mullets for a new car. One lucky punter obliged and sacrificed his mullet to drive away in a $30,000 Astra. As far as symbolism goes, there could perhaps be no better metaphor for Holden’s intention than a scraggly mullet lying on the floor of the dealership. 

Between 2014 and 2016, the Commodore slipped from the second-best selling car model to the eighth. Motor Industry Association stats show that Holden sold 3,001 Commodores in 2014, down to 2,710 in 2015 and then to 2,455 in 2016, with the demand for wagons and sedans dropping in favour of SUVs and utes. 

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