Database Marketing: GM plays cards right

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Database marketing was in the cards for General Motors Corp.

The automaker began to market new vehicles more aggressively to its database of credit-card customers when Jack Bowen, general director of the GM Card, assumed the post in December.

GM used information provided by the more than 1 million cardholders who registered at to send out relevant marketing pieces, based on permission-based customer surveys revealing the kinds of vehicles they currently own, and what and when they plan to buy next.


Using this data, GM sent a direct-mail piece in February to cardholders who indicated they may be shopping for a new car or truck at that time. The mailing, from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Mullen, Wenham, Mass., leveraged GM's "Overdrive" corporate umbrella theme, advertised via national TV and print from Interpublic sibling McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Troy, Mich.

Within two weeks of the mailing, GM recorded four of its top 10 new-vehicle sales days in the history of the credit card, introduced in 1992. Cardholders could tack their savings earned by using the card onto GM's broad $2,002 "Overdrive" incentive deal. Cardholders accrue savings on new-vehicle purchases at a rate of $500 annually for seven years, or a total of $3,500.

Mr. Bowen declined to reveal the number of mail pieces sent in the February effort, or the number of new-vehicle sales resulting from it, but said GM has maintained a steady base of 3.8 million to 4 million active cardholders for each of the past four years. In the late `90s, the automaker had a bigger base of some 8 million holders and offered bigger rewards-up to $7,000 per vehicle for the Gold GM Card.

Today, the average savings per cardholder ranges from $1,400 to $2,200, according to Todd Turner, president of consultancy CarConcepts, who added that GM sometimes offers special deals on specific models to its cardholders.

The GM Card will send out more than 50 million direct-mail pieces this year just to attract new credit-card customers. That number, about the same as GM's 2001 mailing, is consistent with other credit-card marketers.

"We're always in acquisition mode" for cardholders, said Mr. Bowen, who previously had been brand manager of Buick's Rendezvous. His team works with Household International to seek credit-worthy prospects for their co-branded card.

kenny chesney tie-in

GM is also attracting new cardholders through its sponsorship of country singer Kenny Chesney's 50-stop concert tour this year. Consumers who fill out a card application at concerts get a free music CD of Mr. Chesney and four other artists. The card's Web site, also handled by Mullen, offers holders a chance to meet Mr. Chesney at one of his tour stops.

But the automaker does not have a mass-media ad campaign for the GM Card scheduled. "We're a quiet advertiser," Mr. Bowen said. The last traditional ad campaign for the GM Card broke in fall 2000 from Mullen, with sporadic flights in 2001 and a national TV spot airing in early 2002.

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