THE MARKETING 100; KNOX RAMSEY;AURORA

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The decision to keep the Olds-mobile name off of the new Aurora luxury sedan was a controversial one.

"We had to give Aurora plenty of breathing room to grow as a brand name, not encumbered by perceptions of Oldsmobile," says Knox Ramsey, 55, general marketing manager of the General Motors Corp. division. Mr. Ramsey was an important champion of the decision to market the new car as a brand, not just another model.

The payoff came when the $32,000 Aurora showed it could attract the younger, more affluent customer usually attracted to Japanese or European luxury brands.

By the time Aurora debuted last summer, the Oldsmobile name had been tarnished by several years of declining sales and humdrum products. GM and Mr. Ramsey were counting on Aurora to reinvigorate Oldsmobile, so some questioned the decision to limit the Olds badge to some inside trim.

"When we did [consumer research], people loved the car. But when we put the Olds name on it, it worked against the automobile," Mr. Ramsey says.

By developing a clear image of Aurora as a car with an international flavor, Olds laid the foundation for a revamped product line that will be phased in over the next several years.

The ultimate vision is to remake Oldsmobile as an upscale version of Saturn, with import-competitive products and customer-friendly service.

Aurora is selling at a pace of more than 2,500 units a month, its original sales goal. Just as importantly, 20% of Aurora buyers had been import owners, and the typical Aurora buyer has a household income more than double the $54,000 average of other Oldsmobile buyers.

The Aurora campaign is handled by Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, retained by Olds after Mr. Ramsey put into motion a review of the $140 million account that shook Motor City in 1992. Burnett's heralded campaign for the Aurora introduction included a visually stunning 60-second spot in which a woman at a cocktail party enters the colorful world of an impressionistic painting to drive an Aurora.

But the spot isn't just art for art's sake. "We wanted to get the Aurora brand into the mind of the consumer, and send a very distinct signal that Oldsmobile is changing."

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