Mainstream push supports GM's BuyPower site

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General Motors Corp. will drive the national rollout of its Web-site buying service with a $25 million push. The effort, primarily TV, breaks during the Academy Awards' March 21 broadcast on ABC.

Few car marketers have used traditional media to specifically push consumers to a Web site. Most automakers merely list their Web addresses at the bottom of print ads or TV commercials in small type.

SHIFTING COLORS

D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Los Angeles, has created at least two new TV spots touting GM BuyPower and the convenience of shopping at home. In one, the action shifts from a couple's home as they discuss different car colors to the showroom where the car changes colors. Both end with BuyPower's logo. There is no tag.

Ann Blakney, national director of BuyPower, said the media buy includes an "aggressive online" effort as well as print in select newspapers.

GM offers the program free to U.S. dealers and 5,693, or 73%, have signed up, she said. But dealers

ink contracts requiring them to have a certified manager for the program, who takes two days of training and must respond to consumer

e-mails within 24 hours. Ms. Blakney said dealers decide whether that person is dedicated entirely to Web work or also works on the showroom floor.

Preliminary data from consultancy J.D. Power & Associates' upcoming "1999 Dealer Satisfaction With Online Buying Services" revealed car dealers that have Web-only sales staff on average sell considerably more vehicles online than dealerships that attempt to handle Web leads through their regular sales process.

Chris Denove, a director at Power who worked on the study, said 80% of Internet users who shop for a car online go to at least one car manufacturer's site. The same percentage also go to an independent online car shopping site, he added.

"There's a perception the manufacturer's site is biased." Third-party, non-manufacturer car sites are perceived as providing more useful data, he said.

BIGGER SHOPPING LISTS

Internet car buyers also put more vehicles on their shopping lists than non-cybersurfers--as many as 20, he said.

BuyPower offers information about GM vehicles, incentives, locators for five nearby dealers based on Zip code and competitive vehicle data.

State franchise laws protect dealers, so consumers still must go to showrooms to close deals, said Mr. Denove. While Daewoo Motor America has gotten clearance in California to complete car sales on the Web, Mr. Denove said, it does not have franchisees; rather, it has corporate-owned dealerships.

DODGE BLAZES TRAIL

DaimlerChrysler's Dodge Division appears to have been the first to prominently tout its Web site in a TV ad. BBDO Worldwide, Southfield, Mich., created a :30 that broke last fall showing shots of telephone wires interspersed with shots of all its vehicles. Near the end, during a shot of an electrical outlet, actor Edward Hermann provides the only voice-over: "Consider this a plug for the new Dodge."

Dodge's Web site and Dodge's toll-free phone number appear in large print in the final seconds.

"Five years from now we'll look back and see that last Christmas was really the turning point when the Web moved into the mainstream of advertising" by moving into traditional media, stated Mr. Denove. "A year ago I would have said car companies should spend advertising dollars on Internet-related ads like links and banners," he said. "However, now automotive Internet usage is so mainstream that car companies trying to establish their premier Web sites are almost forced to go to traditional media to ensure their Web site becomes the point of entry on the Web."

GM extended a six-month test of BuyPower in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington to a year to get more information. GM said more than 600 vehicles were sold during the first nine months of the test that could be directly attributed to the site.

Copyright March 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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