Carmakers pick up the beat

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The traditionally conservative auto industry is getting more daring in its attempts to break through clutter, and is increasingly using advertainment and pop culture to do it.

Auto marketers are doing deals with videogamers, musical stars or up-and-comers, and moving into sophisticated integrated promotions.

Take General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac, whose CTS sedan and Escalade EXT truck get heavy exposure in Warner Bros.' long-awaited "The Matrix Reloaded" arriving next month. Mark LaNeve, general marketing manager of Cadillac, says he's working with the AOL Time Warner-owned studio on a plan for ads showing his brand's vehicles in the movie, which has a "cult-like following we think is terrific."

Cadillac's vehicles appear in a new videogame called "Enter the Matrix," based on the movie, from Infogrames' Shiny Entertainment. Norm Marshall, president of GM's Hollywood agency bearing his name, says this is the first time a movie's directors (brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski) also worked on a videogame. Also a first: The movie and game will be released simultaneously.

It's part of the auto giant's shift from traditional media, which it isn't abandoning.

The Marshall agency also handled GM's Pontiac ad and sweepstakes promotions for Sony-aligned Revolution Studios' "XXX," starring Gen Y heartthrob Vin Diesel.

Dennis Donlin, president of GM's dedicated media planning and research agency, says such deals don't always translate to immediate sales. "But you can immediately change image and perception" of the brands, says the head of Publicis Groupe's General Motors Planworks, Detroit. "Movies are extremely powerful at framing people's viewpoint. They make a statement about your marque and what you're about."

lowering the age

Planworks measures the effectiveness of these kinds of programs for GM. Citing proprietary research, Mr. Donlin would only say that Planworks asks consumers what they think about the brands.

For the past year, Cadillac has been using baby boomer band Led Zeppelin and its "Rock & Roll" song in TV ads from Publicis' Chemistri, Troy, Mich., which also handles Pontiac. The brand has managed to bring the average age of its buyers down to the high 50s, though its newer products have played a large role too.

Chrysler Group's Chrysler brand "needed some drastic processes to catapult" its advertising to the level of its swanky new vehicles and move the brand upstream to premium, says Bonita Coleman Stewart, brand communications director. That's why, she says, the unit of DaimlerChrysler inked a $14 million multiyear deal with singer Celine Dion. Not only is the songbird appearing in Chrysler TV commercials, but the automaker is sponsoring her multiyear "A New Day" show in Las Vegas with its name on the marquee, tickets and merchandising opportunities. Omnicom Group units BBDO Detroit, Troy, Mich., and Arnell Group, New York, handle.

J. Justus Schneider considers movies "one of the most powerful marketing communications tools." As VP-marketing at DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes-Benz, he has worked on global deals for the brand with Hollywood, including last year's "Men In Black II" sequel from Sony Pictures Entertainment's Columbia Pictures. Vista Group, Burbank, Calif., handled.

Mercedes pre-launched its redone E-Class sedan in the movie; the car appeared in 22 scenes. The German automaker's TV and print ads for both the movie and its car ran in 40 countries. The deal extended to a sweepstakes, the Internet and direct mail.

"You can't use typical market research tools" to gauge the success of these kinds of deals, Mr. Schneider says. Mercedes measured the success of the tie-in on the buzz it got among young professionals-potential buyers who may not purchase the brand for years. Since brand preferences are decided at a young age, "we look at the contributions this makes to the brand in five or 10 years." He dubs the deal a success-for both the studio and the automaker.

mitsubishi buzz

Mitsubishi Motors North America is best known for its use of unknown Gen Y bands in Mitsubishi TV spots from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, Los Angeles. The campaign has generated a buzz and the marketer points to the effort as the reason it has some of the youngest buyer demographics.

James Sanfilippo, exec VP at Omnicom automotive consultancy AMCI, cites Mitsubishi's long-term incentives that include no payments for a year as an attraction to younger buyers that may not be best for its bottom line.

So many automakers are tying to popular culture "because they think it gets them into the mainstream for fewer ad dollars," Mr. Sanfilippo says.

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