FORMER GEO VEHICLES FIND NEW LIFE AS CHEVY BRANDS: PRIZM, METRO GET TV AD SUPPORT; TRACKER, PRINT

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General Motors Corp.'s three former Geo-badged vehicles are debuting as Chevrolet-branded models, with the 1998 Prizm getting the biggest ad push and a fresh design.

Chevy is rolling out two TV spots for the Prizm in four key markets -- Boston, Dallas, Houston and New York. National print ads break this month.

TV EFFORT WILL EXPAND

Come Jan. 5, the TV effort will expand into 27 other cities.

Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., created a new Prizm tag: "Relax. This is a great car."

The strategy is to demonstrate Prizm's "unfailing dependability," said Bill Ludwig, vice chairman-chief creative officer. "If you want a bullet-proof car that won't break down, Prizm is it."

Prizm also is getting a direct-mail push starting this month; a test-drive incentive program; Hispanic TV advertising via Accent Marketing, Miami; and private movie screenings Dec. 15 for select customers in the initial four markets.

"Prizm is the big story for us this year because it's a new model," said Rick Scheidt, brand manager of the former Geo brands.

He declined to discuss ad spending, but observers expect Chevrolet to spend about $30 million on Prizm.

The GM division spent $25 million advertising the Geo Prizm in 1996 and $11 million during the first half of 1997, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

METRO TV IN SPRING

Spot TV support for the Metro, freshened versions of this model year's vehicle, won't begin until spring, said Dianne Romanelli, assistant brand manager of Metro.

Mini-sport-utility Tracker -- which hasn't had TV exposure for a couple of years and is in the last year of its current design -- will get national print advertising, Mr. Scheidt said.

Metro and Tracker ad spending will stay about the same, Mr. Scheidt said. Metro measured media was $12 million last year and $9 million during the first half of 1997, according to CMR. Tracker got a $13 million ad push in 1996, with $7 million through June 1997.

Even though Chevy is only using regional TV for the Prizm and Metro, the three cars won't go the way of Chrysler Corp.'s Eagle brand, said Mr. Scheidt. Eagle will disappear in the 1999 model year after regional-only advertising in the '98 model year.

"We're not in that situation Eagle was in," he said. "These cars have moved into Chevrolet."

WOOING IMPORT BUYERS

Geo was born in 1989 to woo import intenders who wouldn't consider buying a Chevy. But Mr. Scheidt said the Chevy brand has the right equity.

One of the Prizm TV spots shows a woman walking through her house as items disappear -- her toaster, computer, then husband. Only the Prizm remains, to show its reliability.

Another, based on research that found 97% of Prizm owners would recommend the car to their friends, has a woman awakened by a neighbor trying to start a noisy old car. She beans him with a Prizm magazine ad wrapped around a tennis ball.

Chevrolet expects to sell about 70,000 Prizms in the '98 model year. This year, through October, Prizm sales slipped to 54,788 from 74,090 the same period a year ago, according to Automotive News.

TOTAL SALES

Total sales of the three models through October were 133,910 vs. 196,706 a year ago.

Mr. Scheidt said the ex-Geo cars won't compete with Chevrolet's Cavalier model, which sold 264,312 cars through October.

"There's nothing to show Prizm is taking sales from Cavalier," said auto

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