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Holden faces up to fake news, calls on Aussie actor to show New Zealanders the brand is here to stay

While Holden has earned a place in many New Zealanders’ hearts, news that the General Motors-owned brand was stopping manufacturing in Australia last year led some to believe the brand was also on the way out. And as that misperception continued to grow, Holden has decided to face up to it and set the record straight with the help of Aussie actor Michael Caton. 

The campaign via Special Group launches this weekend and aims to show New Zealanders that “Holden remains committed to New Zealand and is very much here to stay,” said managing director Kristian Aquilina in a release. 

“As Mark Twain once said, the report of our demise is greatly exaggerated. Some people thought incorrectly the closure of the factory in Australia last October meant the end of Holden altogether, but nothing could be further from the truth. Holden offers an award-winning range of cars, we’ve just launched the all-new Commodore and Equinox SUV and the incredible new Acadia SUV is waiting in the wings. We are enjoying a product renaissance and have a very exciting future to look forward to.”

Holden is also pushing its technology focus and a “multi-year $50 million investment in the future of the brand in New Zealand across the areas of customer experience, facilities and people”. 

“Plus, we have just launched the Holden Street Smart young driver road safety initiative. These are all significant commitments to the long-term presence of Holden in New Zealand.”

Holden has, over the past few years, looked to make a strategic shift from its fairly boganic heritage to a modern, urban target market. 

“Holden is deeply woven into the social fabric of New Zealand,” said Aquilina last year at a launch event for the Equinox. “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 and again features in the latest campaign.

“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.”

Holden vehicles have not been produced in the New Zealand market since the early 1990s, which means Aquilina is in a somewhat privileged position of focusing on evolving the perception of the brand and showcasing the full breadth of the range without having to win back customer trust, rather than dealing with a full-on PR crisis. 

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.

While the New Zealand appetite for sedans is abating to some degree, Aquilina points to opportunity in the weekend warrior’s vehicle of choice.   

“The medium SUV segment is the largest and fastest-growing part of the new vehicle market, accounting for almost 17 percent of sales at the end of August year to date,” says Aquilina. “Holden is now in a position to debut an all-new nameplate into this important part of the market and will be taking the fight to established players with the launch of seven different specification levels of Equinox.”

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