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AUTO MARKETING;CAGEY MEDIA TRICKS PAY OFF IN SALES DIVIDEND;SNARING BOOMERS REQUIRES ARTFUL AD BUYS AND ATTENTION TO SEGMENT LIFESTYLE

By Published on .

Joey "boom Boom" Morgan settles into his recliner in front of the TV to catch Dan Rather's CBS report. Since his birthday last month, he gave up on NBC's Tom Brokaw. He wasn't sure why. But now, at age 50, he feels more comfortable with the Tiffany Network.

His wife Barbi enters the den. "Here's your Ensure, Boom Boom," she announces, distracting him from the Buick Riviera commercial on the screen.

This scenario, outrageous as it seems, would be an ad agency media planner's delight. If only people acted their age when choosing their preferred media.

MEDIA HABITS STATIC

"Upon reaching a certain birthday one's media habits don't change," says Betsy Frank, exec VP-director of strategic media resources, Zenith Media Services, New York.

In the days when "Leave it to Beaver" aired in prime time, the media choices were as simple as the Cleavers' family values. Today, the options have expanded to include cable TV, direct broadcast satellite, multiplying magazine titles, infomercials and, now, the online universe of the Internet.

Finding the baby boomers in this variegated landscape is becoming more art than science.

But as the leading edge of the post-war demographic bulge breaks the 50-year-old age barrier, automotive marketers are intent on keeping this group in their advertising crosshairs. Because of their numbers, boomers represent a highly desired and oft-targeted market for carmakers, ever since the group reached driving age.

Today, this group is even more attractive. With more disposable income and fewer practical restraints, the aging boomer can be a lucrative car customer.

"Significant numbers of baby boomers who own businesses or work as professionals or managers are entering their peak earning period, a time when people typically begin to consider luxury cars," says John O. Grettenberger, Cadillac general manager at General Motors Corp. "The tastes and preferences of this group are driving the growing entry-level luxury market and reshaping the rest of the luxury car market as well."

JEEP TRACKS LIFESTYLES

The success of Chrysler Corp.'s Grand Cherokee is largely due to the acceptance of upscale sport-utility vehicles by buyers in their 40s. (The average age of Grand Cherokee buyers is 44.) When it comes to media planning, however, Jeep tracks life-style attributes as much as age.

"We leverage our merchandising and advertising to focus on lifestyle activities to reach buyers and intenders who portray the highest propensity to purchase," says Mary Meyers, Jeep brand advertising manager.

For example, Jeep found that many of its customers are active in snow skiing and cooking. Jeep translated this observation into event marketing coordinated in-house, including Jeep's sponsorship of the "King of the Mountain Series" of skiing contests, in conjunction with Sports Illustrated, and the "Wine & Chili Fiesta" in Santa Fe, N.M., sponsored by Outside.

While these are highly targeted efforts, Jeep also turns to the reliable reach of network TV for the launch of new vehicles such as the 1997 Wrangler. Because this vehicle appeals to younger drivers as well as boomers, Jeep's agency, Bozell, Southfield Mich., developed a spot relevant to the two diverse age groups (see related story on Page S-24).

NETWORK TV CRITICAL

Despite the fragmentation of media, network TV and broad-based magazines remain the media of choice for making a big splash, especially around new-model launch time.

For example, Toyota Motor Sales USA's Lexus division and its agency, Team One Advertising, El Segundo, Calif., carefully identifies the target market for upscale vehicles, including boomers and older.

But when the division in February introduced its new LX 450 sport utility, it implemented what it called a "stunt night" on network TV. Lexus bought almost the entire NBC prime-time schedule on Thursday, the network's most popular night.

"That [shotgun approach] strategy will be used for a long time," says Bonnie Chan, communications director at Team One.

For sustaining TV advertising efforts, however, finding the baby boomer is more difficult.

Ms. Chan describes boomers as "appointment viewers," offering allegiance to specific programs rather than stations or networks.

CLOSE LINK TO CATERA

Cadillac division and its ad agency, D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., are expending considerable effort to study the baby boomer generation in preparation for the fall introduction of Cadillac's first "entry-luxury" car, the Catera.

Traditionally, Cadillac country has been the over-50 crowd. The Catera, therefore, will be the division's foray into the leading edge of the boomer market as they age.

"These customers [boomers] tend to be sophisticated shoppers," says Dave Nottoli, Catera brand manager. "They are the ones who take time in the grocery store to read the labels. They shop around, read magazines like Consumer Reports, and talk to their friends and relatives."

Clearly, this is a generation that wants information. The question is how best to deliver it.

For that, Lexus plans to turn to the World Wide Web, oft-frequented by boomers. The company opened a new Web site (http://www.lexuscars.com) last month, ostensibly offering information about arts and cultural events but also offering information about its automotive lineup.

This site is Lexus' second Web effort. Between November and January, the company tested the interactive waters with a site dedicated to the Lexus Challenge, a PGA charity golf tournament it sponsored.

Ms. Chan said 25,000 individuals accessed the site, although she granted that tracking the "hits," or identifying demographics of people who connected to the site, remains problematic.

Conventional wisdom might indicate the majority of people surfing the Web are young, technically hip Generation Xers, but Ms. Chan insists older individuals are the fastest-growing group using the Internet.

The new Lexus Web site will be geared to this group, lending a hand as they learn to navigate the Internet. The site features a "concierge" named Alex who will help walk the "newbies" through the intricacies of downloading software or hot-linking to other sites.

Lexus and Team One built the Web site, but the question remains whether boomers will find it.

The company faces the same media problem of reaching its target audience to inform them about the new site as they do with their car advertising. Ms. Chan said the site will be promoted with small-space ads in traditional media, such as buff books, business magazines and newsweeklies, supplemented by electronic billboards with hot-links from other likely Web sites.

Is the Web the answer to car marketers' pursuit of the boomers?

NOT YET WEB-HEADS

"The jury is still out," says Ms. Frank.

"The older, white-collar worker has less time to devote to it. They need clarity and relevance and neat navigational tools. They represent a potential audience, but the medium will have to change."

Of course, in the media world, the only thing certain is change.

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