Madison+Vine: Pontiac gets major mileage out of $8 million 'Oprah' deal

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Oprah Winfrey isn't just giving away Pontiacs to her entire studio audience. The long-range plan integrating the General Motors marque into the show calls for the TV diva to later revisit at least two members of the studio audience to explore how their Pontiacs changed their lives.

Those future video features will heavily reinforce the extraordinary branding impact already achieved with the car giveaway, which has a total retail value of nearly $8 million.

Last week, when "The Oprah Winfrey" opened its 19th season with a "Wildest Dreams" theme, Ms. Winfrey electrified the studio audience by giving every one of the 276 people in attendance a new, fully loaded Pontiac G6 sedan worth $28,400. The program also included footage of Ms. Winfrey helping on the G6's production line and her praise of a variety of product features, including GM's OnStar communications system.

The event appears to have set a new benchmark in the field of branded entertainment.

Aaron Walton, president of Radiate Entertainment Group, part of Omnicom Group, characterized the stunt as one that set an example of how a marketer can get a product on the air in a way that makes a deep and lasting impact on viewers. "I TiVoed it," Mr. Walton said. "It was so emotionally uplifting. It is an A-plus in marketing and brand entertainment. It's got talk value, PR spin, there's an emotional connection. It is something you couldn't have paid for."

Mark-Hans Richer, marketing director of Pontiac, citing estimates from the show's producer-syndicator King World Production, said the car giveaway will generate $20 million worth of unpaid media coverage and public relations. Mr. Richer also revealed that the ongoing strategy calls for Ms. Winfrey to keep the buzz going with the future visits.

sole sponsor

As part of the overall deal, the G6 will be the only corporate sponsor on for 90 days. A link from Ms. Winfrey's site to offers the "Dream it. Win it" sweepstakes-the chance to win one of four performance models. The stunt helped generate 250,000 unique visitors to Sept. 13, an all-time record for the site, Mr. Richer said.

He credited his ad manager, Mary Kubitskey, and Susan Hull, the car's launch account chief at Publicis Groupe's Chemistri, Troy, Mich., with the initial idea "to do something with Oprah."

The idea was hatched nearly a year ago and expanded to giving the G6 to the entire audience. But GM was unable to get a meeting with Ms. Winfrey's staff to pitch the idea.

It wasn't until Larry Woodard, president of GM's urban-youth agency, Vigilante, New York, ran into one of Ms. Winfrey's good friends in an airport several months ago that the project got on track, Mr. Richer said.

Once the ball got rolling, "Oprah" producers decided to do the giveaway on the season-opening show. "We had three weeks to pull the entire thing together. ... It worked out very well," Mr. Richer said.

He indicated that there was debate within GM about the unusual idea. He said some executives, whom he would not name, "didn't understand" the concept's scope. But he said it was supported from the beginning by Gary Cowger, president of North American operations; Mark LaNeve, new VP-general manager for advertising and corporate marketing; and C.J. Fraleigh, general manager of Pontiac.

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