Pontiac taps into sex appeal for Solstice effort

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Two months after an explosively successful brand integration of the Pontiac Solstice Roadster in an episode of NBC's "The Apprentice," an innovative online promotion is generating superior results.

While "The Apprentice" plug generated 1,000 advance orders for General Motors Corp.'s Solstice at pontiac.com in 41 minutes, an interactive ad at laddie-title Web site maximonline.com/pickmeup racked 16,000 registrations in a three-week period. That response "probably exceeds the number of [Solstice] cars GM would sell over the course of the year," said Julie Ask, lead automotive analyst at online market-research firm Jupiter Research. The Solstice will hit dealer lots in the fall.

It's a tiny, but badly needed, success for the beleaguered GM, which among other challenges is trying to help consumers differentiate among brands. "The Solstice is a sexy, halo product for Pontiac," said Dino Bernacchi, advertising manager, Pontiac.

Pontiac employed a simple, timeworn formula for the online ad: a sexy woman and the chance to win a hot car. But part of why response was strong also has to do with Pontiac's effective use of cutting-edge technology and good targeting.

The ad features a video version of VH1 VJ Rachel Perry. She also hosts "Maxim Hot 100," a show that features the magazine's picks for hottest women.

The idea is for the Web visitor to qualify to win a Solstice Roadster by getting Ms. Perry to approve a pickup line he proffers. Ms. Perry responds in real time to a user's remarks.

Ms. Perry is actually an avatar compiled from 400 video clips, powered by artificial intelligence, explained Adi Sideman, CEO, Oddcast, the New York technology company that developed the avatar. "Any line or phrase that is typed in is checked against thousands of keywords and phrases," prompting the avatar to respond appropriately.

To a line like "What's your sign?" Rachel responds with a grimace and the remark: "Has that line ever worked?" To "Want to go for a ride?" she remarks, "Can't you come up with anything better than that?" Watch the overtly sexual language, though. If a word or phrase is not to her liking, Rachel gestures to a bouncer who blocks your view in a less-than-friendly fashion.

Lines that edge past Rachel's wise-cracking rejections push the user to a registration screen where he is not only asked for his name, address, phone and e-mail, but to opt-in to receive a Pontiac newsletter, a Maxim newsletter and to hear who the lucky winner is. The campaign was created by interactive shop Digitas and Publicis Groupe's ad agency Chemistri.

Maxim's readers mirror the Solstice's target: 25-to-35-year-old professional men, who are affluent and well-educated. "Maxim's audience fits-it's about a woman and a car-it works for both properties and both brands," Ms. Ask said.

But because any guy on the Maxim site could be engaged in the ad and they are not asked on the registration screen if they are in the market for a Solstice or any car, the effort is not entirely effective at targeting, she said.

The soft sell is deliberate, said Mr. Bernacchi. "We didn't want to club people with our product or our message," he said. Some 3.3% of the visitors clicked over to Pontiac.com for more information. "This number is higher than anticipated as there was no call to action on the site," said Alexandrea Maurer, manager, Digitas, who was a lead on the account.

Adam Sarner, analyst at market-research firm Gartner, said: "Visitors get immediate value-they get entertainment."

But the entertainment had to be innovative to capture the attention of the sophisticated, high-tech audience targeted, Mr. Bernacchi said.

ENGAGEMENT

"I can run 30-second ads all day, but if I really want to make an impression I have to showcase the brand in an engaging way," he said. He was inspired by Burger King's Subservient Chicken promotion, but Rachel not only responds (as the chicken did), she talks back, he said.

Visitors to Maxim's site can submit a pick-up phrase as often as they wish. Viewers to the "Hot 100" cable program saw "show-mercial" promotions for the Web-site contest. Just as a segment would break for an actual ad, a man from behind-the-scenes would deliver a pickup line to Ms. Perry. With the Pontiac Solstice in the background, she ridicules their line and then invite viewers to the site to try their skill. The site also was promoted in the May 16 issue of Maxim, in a Hot 100 supplement, and in online banners.

How you doin’?

The idea is for the Web visitor to win a Solstice by getting Rachel Perry to respond positively to a pick-up line he offers.

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