HUMMER: All About Branding

Since it was announced that GM was selling the HUMMER brand to Chinese firm Tengzhong, I’ve followed the commentary on Twitter (I’m @rogerdooley) with interest. There were a few surprises. One was that there are a lot of mindless HUMMER haters on Twitter. Despite the fact that the trucks are far from being the leading gas guzzlers on the EPA mileage list, many tweeps seem to revel in the near demise of the brand.

The second theme can be summarized as, “why would an obscure Chinese industrial company buy the right to make gas guzzling consumer trucks with weak and possibly declining market share in the U.S.?”

The answer, I’ll suggest, is branding. While the HUMMER brand has indeed become a lightning rod for critics of America’s love for SUVs, the brand has also build high brand recognition in its short life. Furthermore, HUMMERs have proven themselves to be authentic off-road performers, both in statistical comparisons (able to climb a 16″ step, navigate 24″ of water, etc.) and by the wins logged by Team HUMMER in punishing endurance races.

What better way to leverage this powerful brand image than to extend it to a broader line of industrial vehicles? If Tengzhong aspires to build a strong export market for its current and future commercial product, do you think it would be more successful if these vehicles were branded “Tengzhong” or “HUMMER”?

This would neatly defuse the whole gas-guzzling image problem as well, since Prius-driving greenies devote no thought to the fuel consumption of construction equipment, delivery trucks, and other commercial vehicles.

I found this vehicle on the Tengzhong website:

Here’s my tongue-in-cheek take on what it might look like when Tengzhong decides to start seriously exporting it:

That may be a bit extreme, but if you are a little-known Chinese equipment maker who wants to go to war with with the likes of Caterpillar, Mercedes, and Volvo, wouldn’t you like to enter the battlefield in a HUMMER?

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— who has written 956 posts on Neuromarketing.

Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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8 responses to "HUMMER: All About Branding" — Your Turn

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John 5. June 2009 at 2:50 pm

Thanks for this article – there are a lot of Americans who target the Hummer as an icon of American consumption, rather than seek to understand its purpose as an off-roading vehicle, but this has been perpetuated by GM’s marketing of Hummer in recent years. I agree with you that Hummer is a brand that could challenge the clout of Mercedes, Volvo and Caterpillar in teh industrial vehicle market, but most people still seem to be concerned with the consumer vehicle impact that Hummer may have on the Chinese car market. The LA Times piece in this video is a great example of this

http://www.newsy.com/videos/hummer_in_different_hands

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Roger Dooley
Twitter: rogerdooley
5. June 2009 at 3:38 pm

Thanks for stopping by, John. I’m hoping that common sense intervenes and people realize that 10 million Chinese consumers aren’t going to run out and buy H2s to motor around in. I’m surprised a bigger player didn’t pick up HUMMER for its branding value alone.

Roger

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Patrick Galig 7. June 2009 at 2:24 pm

Hi Roger

Very interesting thoughts. I absolutely agree with you that the Chinese could use the Hummer as a branding tool. It has been known that the Chinese can produce about every conceivable product out there (thats why they are called “copy cats”, but if it comes to branding there is definitely a deficit.

The question is how long is usually a lifetime of a brand in the “wrong” hands? I think that the longevity is not really given. A brand can be destroyed quickly…

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Peter Beck 9. June 2009 at 2:44 pm

True enough…but branding can hold up very well if handled properly.

When the Mini Cooper came back on the scene a few years ago, not many folks realized it was a BMW offshoot, not British — or that its engine was American made. Or that in its current iteration, the engine is made by Peugeot.

Very interesting comment, btw, on how “Prius-driving greenies devote no thought to the fuel consumption of construction equipment, delivery trucks, and other commercial vehicles.” I hadn’t, either…and I’m pretty sure there’s a sizable contribution to pollution, carbon etc. from that segment of transportation.

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Denise Lee Yohn
Twitter: deniseleeyohn
10. June 2009 at 5:55 pm

you make a great point, roger.
the new york times had an interesting perspective on why the chinese would want hummer (the chinese want to emulate American wasteful decadence):
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/07/weekinreview/07goodman.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=hummer&st=cse
fyi

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Roger Dooley
Twitter: rogerdooley
10. June 2009 at 9:13 pm

Denise, thanks for the link. Somehow I don’t think it’s a desire for decadence driving the deal, but I’d admit that in China there are fewer nut jobs who think it’s immoral not to drive a Prius. (Not that a Prius is all that friendly to the environment.)

It’s possible that the U.S. distribution channel could be useful as well, although most HUMMER dealers are luxury vehicle stores, not industrial equipment outlets. These dealers would be most appropriate for consumer vehicles.

I think the whole gas-guzzling decadence image is a creation of green activists whose sensibilities are offended by the idea that some people might enjoy driving a HUMMER. (Oddly, they don’t say much about Bentleys, Ferraris, Land Rovers, private aircraft, etc.) In China, it’s more likely that HUMMER would be recognized as a strong brand and as a rugged truck with the best off-road specs on the market.

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Patrick De Amorim 11. June 2009 at 3:06 am

I just wanted to mention, about “destroying the brand”; one of the things i learned that (almost) always applies to a brand is that one brand should stick to what it’s known for.

For example, i’d rather buy a Dell or a Mac instead of a Fujitsu Siemens, maybe a Fujitsu laptop is better, but i’d rather stick to the ones that are known for good computers, but then again, i’d never trust Apple or Dell to make medicines, that would destroy their “tech” image.

So my point is that if the Chinese company sticks to the brand that Hummer has, they can do well, but if they try to make a “green hummer”, they will destroy it faster than you could say “that was a very dumb idea”.

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@azmike 1. July 2009 at 7:23 pm

Coming late to your party but I saw a post yesterday about Atari the game company. I thought they went under years ago come to find out they are worldwide and the cool thing about them that may relate to your chinese company, they (Atari) picked the name Atari because it sounded Japanese, they actually were a northern California company.

Maybe the Chinese company is looking to export Hummers worldwide.

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