GM TAPS HARRIS TO HELP LURE WOMEN: MICH.-BASED AGENCY TO PROVIDE RESEARCH, PLANNING FOR AUTO GIANT

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General Motors Corp. has hired Harris Marketing Group as its agency of record for marketing to women, believed to be the first such designation by an automaker.

The Ann Arbor, Mich., shop will act primarily as a consultant, providing research, strategic planning and results measurement to GM and its car divisions, said Phil Guarascio, VP-general manager, marketing and advertising of North American Operations.

There will be some oppor-tunities for creative, he added.

NO REVIEW

Harris Marketing, which has done project work for GM and was given this assignment without a review, will provide "a lot of value with their knowledge of the marketplace," Mr. Guarascio said.

GM will more than double its daytime TV ad spending to reach women this year vs. 1992. That's the year GM returned to daytime programming after an absence of more than a year. Spending then was estimated at about $5 million.

Harris also has offices in Los Angeles and New York, with annual billings of around $20 million, said Janice Shukle, 44, agency president. She said the GM contract is open-ended on billings.

The agency has done work for Ford Motor Co. and, more recently, Nissan Motor Corp. USA. But the formal relationship with GM limits the shop to GM.

GM wants its brand managers to use Harris Marketing as part of brand planning as an added resource to reach the women's market, Mr. Guarascio said, explaining, "The real issue is not for Harris to deal with GM but the brands-those brands with a high opportunity or those that have lost business" in the women's market.

MUST CONSIDER DIVERSITY

Under GM's year-old brand management system, brand managers are now required to include diversity segments in their marketing plans, a Buick manager told Advertising Age when GM instituted the system.

Harris earlier did research for GM's Cadillac unit and, in 1993, brought GM in as a sponsor of Manhattan's "7th on 6th" annual fashion show. GM has continued to sponsor that.

Harris also developed GM's Concept Cure breast cancer promotion and fund-raiser last year with the Fashion Designers Council.

GM expects to do the promotion again this year.

Concept Cure was a way to reach women via a cause they care about, said Dean Rotondo, a communications manager in Mr. Guarascio's office at GM.

At GM, like at other carmakers, certain vehicles are more popular with women than men. Nearly 70% of Chevy Cavalier buyers are women; and though slightly more than half of Pontiac sales are to women, only about 43% of Bonneville sales are to women.

Women are more price- and safety-conscious than men when buying vehicles, industry experts said. Women buy well over half of small imports and entry-level vehicles, but less than half of true sports cars, luxury cars and full-size pickups.

60% OF ALL SALES BY 2000

Women are expected to account for 60% of all vehicle sales by 2000, according to J.D. Power & Associates. The consultancy said the popularity of male-dominated, full-size pickup trucks, made by Detroit's Big 3, is one reason their sales to women have declined as a percentage of each carmaker's total sales since 1990.

GM's have slipped the least-0.4 of a percentage point-to 35.1% of total sales. Ford has dropped 3.5 points to 25.1% and Chrysler Corp., 3.6 points to 29.8%.

One of Ford Division's four key 1997 strategies is to improve marketing to women, said Ross Roberts, general manager.

"Where we are female friendly, we still don't do as well as we should," he said.

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