What Is 230? General Motors Seems to Know

But Automaker Staying Mum on What It Actually Is

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Perhaps you've seen the mysterious (and maddening) advertising blitz popping up on cable TV, elevator-TV screens and the internet this week. It features a smiling and winking electrical outlet that end up being the zero in the number 230, which itself appears above the numbers "8-11."

Some virtual detective work by Advertising Age -- and rounds of phone calls -- reveal the marketer behind the effort is General Motors Co. But neither the company nor its agencies would say exactly what the campaign is for.

"I'm glad it's getting out there," but no one wants to talk about it until next Tuesday, said Mike Rosen, president of GM agency Starcom, New York, who then declined to offer further comment.

A Chevrolet spokesman said he had no information on the 230 site and whether it was linked to the Chevrolet Volt, GM's upcoming electric car. He added that GM has scheduled a press conference for Aug. 11, but he cautioned it is not necessarily related to the 230 teaser site. He declined to make further comment.

The most frequent guess pins the campaign to the plug-in Volt, which will likely get its juice from the 230-volt outlets used to run heavier appliances such as air conditioners and washing machines. (UPDATE: Another guess being made by commenters and now being backed up by industry insiders is that the 230 refers to the miles per gallon the Volt will get. Though we'd love to see that math!)

Either way, why run a teaser campaign for a car that doesn't go on sale until next year -- and one that's been known about for some time? After all, the marketer has been beating the drum for the car for more than a year.

Another contender is a just-announced Buick cross-over SUV plug-in hybrid. According to auto blog GM-volt.com, the vehicle will be launched in 2011 "and is expected to be the first commercially available plug-in hybrid SUV produced by a major automaker."

Other guesses floated on the web included a prototype for a 230-mpg car (seen in this CNN video clip from last year), something to do with Apple, or the conversion of the entire U.S. electrical grid from 120 volts to 230.

Despite the curiosity in some quarters, though, the mystery and frustration haven't exactly spread like wildfire. There is a whatis230.com site, a Flickr photostream, a blog, a YouTube channel and a Facebook group -- none of which seem to be gaining the sort of traction that would make such a viral effort a true pop-culture phenomenon. (Though it does seem to be flirting with a backlash.)

Indeed, the Facebook group was one of the biggest clues. Meghan Winger, a staffer of Chicago agency All Terrain, is the creator of the What Is 230 group. She also posted a teaser about the campaign to the "What is 230?" YouTube channel. All Terrain, which among other things is touted as a "social-media expert" on its website, lists Chevrolet at the top of its client roster. Others who oversee the Facebook page include: All Terrain marketing coordinator Noor Aweidah, who today Tweeted that "should know what 230 means"; Jeff Schwartz, who lists GM and Chevy Riders as his favorite products on his Facebook page; and Ashley Berlin, a media planner and buyer for Starcom Mediavest Group, a GM agency.

Ms. Winger and others did not reach out to phone calls or e-mails seeking comment.

So yes, "What is 230?" is an ad campaign. It's for a GM product. But that's all anyone's saying at this point.