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GMC SHIFTS TO UPSCALE BRAND IMAGE WOMEN, MINORITIES ALSO TARGETED

By Published on .

GMC Truck is beginning a long-term strategic effort to build a premium brand image, and at the same time is making a big commitment to bring in more women and minority buyers.

The mainstream Jimmy campaign from McCann/SAS, Troy, Mich., features women in four of the five initial 30-second TV commercials running in spot markets.

One gender-targeted spot focuses on ease of entry for a skirt-wearing woman, because the Jimmy has a lower step-in height than competitors like the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Other commercials featuring women emphasize product attrib-utes like smooth ride and quietness.

The drive to reach more women means some shift in media patterns, said Eddie Messenger, manager-consumer influence.

For instance, the magazine schedule includes women's fashion books and house and shelter magazines not usually used by GMC. TV will include spot in 30 key markets, network news and late-night programming, and cable networks like CNN, ESPN, Arts & Entertainment and the Discovery Channel.

GMC also will reach out to black consumers this fall with an estimated $5 million campaign by its new African-American agency, the Wimbley Group, Chicago. The effort includes TV and magazine ads to run in black media, and a 6-minute infomercial that will be mailed to an undetermined number of affluent black consumers.

That infomercial prominently features Roy Roberts, a General Motors Corp. VP and GMC's general manager, who is the only African-American heading up an automotive brand in the U.S.

Mr. Roberts has played a big role behind the scenes in urging GM brass to make diversity marketing a priority, and in working with corporate marketing executives to develop plans to implement the strategy.

Studies have shown that "African-Americans were walking away from General Motors," said Mr. Roberts, who blamed the loss on a lack of minority executives to give input.

"In [GMC's] 92-year history, we had never asked African-Americans what they wanted in a product," said Mr. Roberts, who in his two years at the helm of GMC has shaped an organization that includes, by automotive standards, a significant number of minority and female managers.

GMC also is planning to hire an agency-a decision on which could come as early as this week-to develop marketing aimed at Hispanic buyers, Mr. Messenger said.

The repositioning is intended to move GMC's image upscale from the truck offerings of sister division Chevrolet. The plan is for GMC to go toe-to-toe with current entries like the $30,000-plus Range Rover and Jeep Grand Cherokee, as well as sport-utility vehicles coming in the next few years from BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

GMC is expected to pump more than $100 million into '95 model year marketing, a big boost from the estimated $70 million being spent this year. An estimated $50 million will support the unit's biggest introduction ever, the rollout of the redesigned Jimmy compact sport-utility, priced from $18,300 to $26,500.

Light-duty trucks accounted for nearly 40% of all vehicle sales in 1993. Upscale sport-utilities have cut into luxury car sales, with affluent consumers attracted to the vehicles' usefulness and rugged, outdoorsy image.

In recent years, all GMC products have been versions of the same models sold by Chevrolet. That lack of product differentiation eroded GMC's identity, especially with younger buyers, said Nancy Sugimoto, manager-strategic planning.

For the next few years, GMC will add upscale touches like leather interiors and premium sound systems to existing products.

"Every year, you're going to see GMC move more away from Chevrolet," Mr. Roberts said. By the 1998 model year, GMC will begin marketing unique models not shared with other divisions.

One reason GMC can muster more marketing spending is that it was GM's most profitable North American vehicle brand in 1993, Mr. Roberts said. That's the result of a 15.2% increase in sales, to 392,843 units, and trucks' relatively high per-unit profit.

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