Buick hopes to rendezvous with interested SUV buyers

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As buick prepares to launch its first SUV, the Rendezvous, the General Motors Corp. division is seeing

encouraging responses from prospects, particularly those who have expressed interest in the vehicle via online channels.

According to Jack Bowen, brand manager for the Rendezvous, most of the 400,000 hand raisers who asked for more information about the vehicle came from online efforts that started last April. Two-thirds of the prospects opted to be contacted about more vehicle information via e-mail. In early February, Buick will follow up with a direct mail and electronic pre-sell effort directed at those who have said they want to be contacted as the Rendezvous gets closer to launch.

One of the brand's more recent efforts, a trivia game sponsored on Uproar.com for 30 days late last year, resulted in more than 60,000 leads. Mr. Bowen also took advantage of the brand's relationship with Tiger Woods and the Buick golf tour offline, displaying the Rendezvous on-site, at tour events.

Although Mr. Bowen is now in the process of researching the demographics of the prospects, he projected that those who have expressed interest in the Rendezvous are "probably in their 40s." That would make the group younger than Buick's current owner base. It's the kind of demographic that Buick hopes to attract going forward, alongside its traditional, older clientele.

The February pre-sell opportunity was a joint effort between McCann Relationship Marketing, New York, and Commerce One, Detroit. Prospects can pick from one of three option packages for the SUV and be guaranteed of delivery in the first several months of production.

The package comes with a "game of early acquisition" that includes a timer, game board, spinner and cards. Direct-mail recipients of the package can assemble the cards to form the three versions of the Rendezvous; those who receive it electronically can print it out.

Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson, Troy, Mich., is developing Rendezvous' estimated $35 million ad campaign that breaks in the second quarter.

Auto industry expert Susan Jacobs, president of consultancy Jacobs & Associates, said 400,000 leads "is a good start" for Rendezvous to mine sales. But, she cautioned, all auto brands trying to reposition themselves in today's softening market will have more difficulty wooing owners from competitors.

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