Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: GM and Couric

Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…



Winner:  General Motors

Loser:  Katie Couric




Almost two years ago, I went out on what looked like a pretty creaky limb to ask this question:  What Will They Say When GM Makes A Profit For Taxpayers?

For me the answer was clear: General Motors was going to come roaring back.  That position seemed like a long shot to many people.  After all, GM was on the ropes, having just declared bankruptcy.  The company was being kept afloat by taxpayer money and being criticized as bloated, incompetent and out-classed by a legion of competitors both foreign and domestic.

But it wasn’t a long shot if you looked at the company’s prospects through the marketing lens.  Here’s some of my argument at the time:

I really can’t believe it…Everywhere you look, General Motors is being put into an early grave.

How wrong can you be?

Consumers love their Caddies, Chevies and Chevy trucks. Yes, folks, they love these brands and it doesn’t matter how much doom and gloom comes over the airwaves and the Internet.

Forget about GM. People don’t buy a company; they buy a car.

And GM has some of the strongest car brands in the world and it’s these brands that will lead GM to profitability over the next five years. Just watch.

Less than two years have passed and:   April sales are up an incredible twenty six percent and the company is considering re-opening shuttered plants. 

Bottom line, GM is set to once again be the global car sales leader.  The brand-focused marketing was telling this story all along and as long as this focus continues, count on more great things.


Katie Couric has a big problem.  When she made the jump to Evening News, she had substantial brand equity and momentum.  After all, she was one of America’s media darlings and even the doubters –I was one— had to admit that the decision to do news seemed exciting.

But today with that choice having damaged her badly and slowed her momentum, she is in a very difficult position.

Others have straddled morning and evening successfully.

Diane Sawyer did well in both worlds –but Sawyer was different.  Sawyer started in news, cut her teeth and shaped her brand as a serious newswoman, and when she migrated to morning, she brought this gravitas with her and then displayed another, warmer, quality to her brand.

Tom Brokaw did the same.  White House correspondent and serious journalist first, then Today Show host for a spell.

Couric, though, went the other direction.   She emerged as a personality brand, not a news brand with a personality.

Not only that, but she spent years cementing this personality perception in her audience’s mind. 

The result of this was that when she made the switch to Evening News it was obvious from a marketing perspective that the experiment would fail. 

This is what I wrote at the time:

On the Today Show, Katie’s warmth, perkiness, friendliness and intelligence—(Her Brand) was consumed most positively by her loyal viewers, (mostly females) every morning as they started their day.

The secret to success in whatever you pursue is knowing your brand and keeping in mind your target market. Katie’s brand, popular among women (25-49) should have targeted an audience with a show similar to the Today’s Show Brand that was accepted in the marketplace. A talk show targeted to her demographic; the CBS Morning Show or Good Morning America would have been better choices….

This conclusion is truer than ever now. 

Will Couric become the next Oprah? 

Absolutely not. 

Oprah is Oprah and Couric is Couric.  Oprah has been consistent from the very start and arguably is the first social networker among mass media figures.  Year after year, Oprah built a network of individual fans and supporters.  Just the number of ordinary Americans who have made appearances as guests and audience members over the years must be in the many tens of thousands.  We’re talking about people who were directly invested in Oprah by her interacting with them or just being in their physical presence.  Talk about word of mouth!   This fact established a powerful bond between Oprah and so many individuals.  It was brand equity built laboriously and carefully over time.  Add to that the high octane fuel of a show on which Oprah appeared daily across the nation (named after her) and personally controlled and you have a power with which Couric cannot possibly compete no matter how likeable she is or what she does from here.

Bottom line, Couric would probably have to spend the next fifteen to twenty years following Oprah’s path and even then the outcome wouldn’t be clear.  Her foray into news has confused her brand and even on The Today Show she wasn’t the boss, even though she was an important player.

Fact is, Couric has a lot to offer but she will need to find a venue that will enable her to rebuild and expand her brand.  She might not like to hear this, but Couric probably has to go back to an established morning show to rebuild before going out on her own.

Next stop Good Morning America?

Stay tuned.

And, remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind. 






Your brand must always move in harmony with its core identity.





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