GM takes new ad tack

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General Motors Corp. this week unveils new ad approaches for its Buick and Pontiac brands, and, at the same time, introduces a separate corporate ad effort.

Spending for the combined pushes is estimated at $85 million. All three campaigns will air on CBS's "Survivor" and will run on national broadcast and cable networks through November, but there the commonality ends. GM's 60-second corporate ad, from Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Troy, Mich., is set to the music of Madonna's "Secret" and shows the automaker's models viewed through the classic View Master toy. (GM will also pass out hundreds of thousands of View Masters at events as part of the effort). Buick and Pontiac, meanwhile, feature a lost soul and the godfather of soul: Buick's ads star the "ghost" of legendary GM designer while Pontiac's are set to the music of James Brown.

`i see dead people'

Buick conjured up the ghost of Harley Earl as the centerpiece of its $35 million blitz (AdAge.com QwikFIND aan96w). Mr. Earl, who died in 1969, is played by actor James Diehl in five TV commercials directed by Tony Scott ("Top Gun" and "Crimson Tide") to hammer home Buick's new tag, "The spirit of American styling." That tagline replaces the year-old "It's all good." Buick-sponsored golf great Tiger Woods appears in two spots, and in one, he quips "I see dead people," a well-known line from the movie "The Sixth Sense."

Randall Tallerico, advertising director of the division, said Mr. Earl "defined the Buick grill" after his arrival at GM in 1927, and created the industry's first concept car. The effort, aimed at baby boomers age 45 to 59, is "a statement that his legacy lives on," said Michael Hand, manager-brand advertising and promotion at Buick. A 12-page insert follows in October across 23 titles showing Mr. Earl himself with his dramatic cars along with sexy shots of Buick's 2003 models. He'll appear in another print ad that will run through the fourth quarter.

Dave Moore, exec VP-executive creative director at Buick shop McCann, said the ads are different than Nissan North America's, which used an actor to play its first U.S. leader, Yutaka Katayama-or Mr. K-in ads from the mid-to late 1990s. Those ads, he said, didn't work because Nissan never explained who Mr. K was.

Pontiac, meanwhile, drops the 11-month-old "Pass it on" for "Fuel for the soul" in a TV campaign featuring the music of James Brown. The first spot will feature the musician's "Sex Machine"; it will also run in movie theaters.

"The important thing for us is to redefine the core of what Pontiac stands for," said Mark-Hans Richer, the brand's advertising director. George Katsarelas, group creative director at Pontiac's agency Bcom3 Group's D'Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles, Troy, Mich., said that although consumers have a pretty good idea that the brand stands for driving excitement, "the whole idea of feeling and emotion needed to come through in the work."

The former campaign also didn't reflect Pontiac's cool upcoming models, like the GTO (due in late 2003) and new Grand Prix (April) and high-performance Bonneville GXP (sometime next year), said Gary Topolewski, exec VP-executive creative director at D'Arcy. "We needed to expand the scope."

The efforts follow a move over the past year at GM to streamline its process for creating advertising. C.J. Fraleigh, exec director of corporate advertising and marketing, said GM's former mandatory ad pre-testing, via Diagnostic Research International, was "a huge hindrance" to breakthrough executions because it meant multiple ads, people and rounds of testing. He said that while GM still uses DRI, "following it blindly doesn't make sense."

sluggish

Mr. Moore said that earlier "there were complaints that GM was sort of sluggish in the way the advertising was working through the system. The company has made a quantum leap in the past year and it's all for the good," adding that Buick's new campaign wouldn't have seen the light of day under GM's old system.

On May 1, the seven divisional vehicle brand ad directors became responsible for advertising vs. the once 40-plus vehicle brand managers who had that responsibility. GM's approval process also shifted from multiple layers to Mr. Fraleigh and the respective divisional general manager. "It happened about a year ago" said Mr. Fraleigh, "but culturally it takes time to stick."

Sales and market share, too, have improved over the past year, thanks to a combination of hefty incentives and new models. GM said it sold a total of 3.37 million vehicles from January-August, a 4.2% hike from the same period a year ago. Buick's year-to-year sales for the same period rose 11.2% to 292,348 while Pontiac saw a 1.9% drop during the period to 368,335 units.

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