GM abandons Concept:Cure

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General Motors Corp. last week canceled its 2001 model-year Concept:Cure charity-marketing and ad program.

The move is a blow to Harris Marketing Group, Ann Arbor, Mich., named women's marketing agency of record in 1997 for GM, its largest client. Concept:Cure, however, is the boutique shop's only project for the auto giant.

Signs of uncertainty surrounding the program appeared last summer, when GM cut the budget for the breast-cancer awareness and research fund-raising program from $13 million to $4 million (AA, June 6), although GM denied it. Then several months ago, GM announced it had ended its sponsorship of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, its partner in Concept:Cure in which designers reworked the interiors and exteriors of vehicles. Mercedes-Benz USA quickly took over the sponsorship.

"This decision [to pull out of Concept:Cure] was a marketing decision, not an agency decision. It's not like we picked another agency," a GM spokesman said. "We're making a business decision based on how to more effectively use our marketing dollars."

But the $4 million allocation to Concept:Cure is a pittance compared with the nearly $3 billion in measured media the auto giant spends each year.

Insiders at GM questioned the cost of the program vs. the money raised, said an executive close to the situation. The GM spokesman, however, wouldn't comment beyond saying the program raised more than $3 million for the cause since it started in 1996.

That's substantially less than the total for Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Division. According to a Ford spokesman, the division raised more than $30 million for breast-cancer research from 1997 to 1999, citing the most recent figures he could get. The amount is separate from Ford's costs for ads and sponsorship of Race for the Cure events.

GM's total for Concept:Cure now stands at $3.9 million, said Donna Fontana, the exec VP at Harris on the account who arrived last May from GM. "Concept:Cure is cause marketing and it's a marketing program," she said. The cause is used to "engage your customers because it's something they're interested in," Ms. Fontana added. The 2000-model year program, which ends March 31, has been "hugely successful," she said, helping to improve GM's image and sales of the featured car, the Chevrolet Cavalier.

GM planned to inform Harris it was abandoning the program in a letter, but as of Feb. 23, that missive hadn't arrived, Ms. Fontana said. She said the agency is in the midst of several new business pitches that could replace the lost GM work.

Harris earlier was linked to a controversy involving an audit of the car maker's corporate advertising and marketing department after the departure of GM marketing executive Dean Rotondo, who worked closely with Harris on Concept:Cure (AA, Feb. 7, 2000).

Last year, the automaker dismissed talk that it started an internal audit of its corporate ad department after Harris let Adagiso "Nick" Mancini go in 1999. Mr. Mancini, who had coordinated logistical issues for Concept:Cure, is the brother of the ex-wife of Mr. Rotondo, who departed abruptly in fall 1999. The two men pleaded guilty in 1997 to non-GM-related charges that they created false purchase orders to a subsidiary of the Little Caesar's pizza chain. They paid nearly $200,000 in restitution as part of their three-year probation, which prohibited them from having contact with each other. When Harris discovered Mr. Mancini's felony conviction, it notified GM.

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