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COVID shook up Hummer EV premiere — and could transform GM debuts forever

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — A big reveal for the new GMC Hummer EV was always a part of the plan.

The marketing team planned a May reveal in Las Vegas to coincide with a dealer event, but the pandemic pushed that team to rethink how to showcase a product that's very important for General Motors Co.'s electric future.

Instead of the May in-person event, GM will unveil the off-roading truck on Oct. 20 through streaming services and during three nights of high-profile broadcasts, including game one of the World Series. The change signifies perhaps a long-term transition from the traditional media-driven reveals to a new customer-driven reveal plan where automakers directly connect with customers on a variety of platforms. 

The GMC Hummer EV originally was supposed to debut at a May dealer event in Las Vegas. Delayed by the pandemic, its premiere will happen Oct. 20 on Twitter, YouTube and during three nights of high-profile broadcasts, including game one of the World Series.

"The numbers of channels and platforms that we're using and the breadth of the customers we are targeting, I don't believe we have done anything like this in GMC's history," said Phil Brook, vice president of marketing for GMC and Buick. "The level of innovation from the marketing campaign is in line with the extreme innovation in the product that we're launching."

Earlier this year, Cadillac livestreamed the unveiling of the Lyriq, an electric crossover. Ford Motor Co. partnered with Disney to broadcast the virtual reveal of its Bronco 4x4 family. For the F-150 reveal, Ford hired actor Denis Leary from "Rescue Me" as the host of the livestreamed reveal. 

Before the pandemic, automakers would typically put a lot of effort into informing journalists and would then send out marketing to consumers, but now it seems they are spending more time going directly to would-be buyers, said Karl Brauer, industry analyst for iseecars.com.  

"We know that they're just getting more and more targeted at their messaging," Brauer said. 

The ability to target messaging, he said, is "why you're seeing as much or more energy on the marketing side as opposed to the general kind of awareness through journalists' efforts because you can just target much more accurately now as a manufacturer."

GM stopped making the Hummer a decade ago after a potential sale of the brand to a Chinese company fell through.

The automaker announced during the 2020 Super Bowl that it would bring the Hummer back. But instead of being a massive gas-guzzler that is was last time around, the new Hummer is an all-electric soundless truck and SUV. As one of the 20 electric models GM is pushing to have by 2023, its launch and marketing success is critical for the automaker.

"We really wanted to make a big, bold statement, not only with the product, but with the way we we promote the product," Brook said. 

The way GMC decided to do that was with streaming on Hulu, Roku or Fire TV — and also on YouTube, Twitter and Twitch, a streaming service that focuses on streaming video games. GMC has partnered with five top Twitch streamers who will co-stream and share content during the reveal. 

GMC's 6-minute Hummer EV reveal video will run for 2 minutes and 15 seconds during the commercial break for game one of the World Series on Oct. 20 and during NBC's "The Voice." For those who don't see it on Tuesday, GM also purchased airtime to show a shorter version during Thursday Night Football and game two of the World Series. 

Prior to the pandemic, Brook said marketing for the Hummer EV would have been still been done through a variety of channels, but the plan now is different because the world is different. People are at home consuming media and streaming more, he noted. 

"We will certainly take lessons from this, and we'll certainly take some of the key elements that have proven themselves," he said. 

Potential GMC Hummer EV customers will be able to reserve the truck on Oct. 20 at gmc.com. The Hummer's production will start in late 2021 at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant. 

khall@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @bykaleahall