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GM turns to MTV for help

As youth shift from cars, auto firms pay attention to consumer connectivity.

autos Updated: Mar 23, 2012 23:08 IST

Ross Martin, 37, is a published poet and a former drummer in an alternative rock band. Wearing Nike high tops and loosefitting jeans, who wouldn’t attract a second glance on the streets of Brooklyn, where he lives. Martin is the executive vice-president of MTV Scratch, a unit of the giant media company Viacom that consults with brands about connecting with consumers.

He and his team are trying to help General Motors (GM) solve one of the most vexing problems facing the car industry: many young consumers today just do not care that much about cars.

That is a major shift from the days when the car stood at the center of youth culture. Today Facebook, Twitter and text messaging allow 20-somethings to connect without wheels. High gas prices and environmental concerns don't help matters.

“They think of a car as a giant bummer,” said Martin.

In 2008, 46.3% of potential drivers 19 years old and younger had drivers’ licences, compared with 64.4% in 1998, according to the US federal highway administration. Cars are still essential to driver of all ages, and car cultures still endure in swaths of suburban and rural areas. But automobiles have fallen in the public estimation of younger people.

The five-year strategic vision that Scratch has developed for Chevrolet, stretches beyond marketing to a rethinking of the company's corporate culture. The strategy is to infuse GM with the same insights that made MTV reality shows like “Jersey Shore” and “Teen Mom” breakout hits.

The partnership is intended to transform things as diverse as the milieu at the company’s headquarters, the look of its Chevrolet cars, the dealership structure and the dashboard technology.

Automakers are realising that if they do not adjust to changing youth tastes, they “risk becoming the dad at the middle school dance,” said Anne Hubert, senior vice president at Scratch, who leads its consulting practice and works closely with GM.

The New York Times

First Published: Mar 23, 2012 23:07 IST