New models, new campaign for Buick

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General Motors Corp. is ready to revitalize Buick.

The division will get a new or totally redone model every year for the next four years starting in calendar 2003, said Roger Adams, general marketing manager of Buick. Those new models will have more powerful engines than current models, more elegant interiors and "gorgeous inspired exterior styling," he said, adding "what is new is our commitment" to these traits.

The marketer will tout Buick's heritage and revitalization in a new divisional brand campaign, due in the fourth quarter from Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Troy, Mich. "You have to shape the image a little before you have [new] product. You can't expect to turn on a new ad campaign Thursday and expect people to buy on Sunday," he said.

Cadillac used a similar approach in 2001 with a heritage TV commercial from BCom3 Group's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Troy, Mich. GM is also trying to bring back Cadillac's lost luster as the leading luxury car brand with new models and new ad messages.

Buick is profitable, Mr. Adams said. It sold 150,817 vehicles, or 5% more vehicles through May vs. a year ago, GM announced last week.The marketer now has five models, but will have at least six within five years. The all-new Rainier sport utility arrives in fall 2003. Mr. Adams called the limited-edition Park Avenue Ultra sedan, due late this year, "a transitional product for us."

The average Buick owner is roughly 63 years old, Mr. Rogers said. The typical customer for its 2002 Rendezvous, Buick's first truck in six decades, averages 53. Buick's new models will be targeted to buyers between 45 and 59 years old. The SUV has also attracted buyers from GM's midsize cars "because GM has so many," he added.

Mr. Adams is encouraged by what research shows about the Rendezvous buyers: 37% are new to GM, 73% are new to Buick and 35% are under 50 years old. Rendezvous, a minivan-based SUV and sibling of Pontiac's Aztek, is the only Buick getting national advertising this year, he said. The other models, the Century, LeSabre, Regal and Park Avenue, are getting regional ads with price messages.

Buick spent $152 million in measured media last year, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. Mr. Adams said his 2002 ad budget is "down a little bit," but it will rise as the brand gets more products.

Mr. Adams was Regal's brand manager since 1995, before getting the divisional post in 1998. The redesigned Regal was delayed since last September's arrival of Bob Lutz, now chairman-North America.

Susan Jacobs, president of consultancy Jacobs & Associates, said Buick's strategic role within GM isn't clear to her since other GM divisions could take its place. The automaker would be better off focusing on Pontiac and Saturn since they both are already positioned younger, she said, adding that trying to freshen both Cadillac and Buick will be difficult to do since both want to attract younger buyers. "Buick diverts GM's resources, talent and energies from GM's other brands," according to Ms. Jacobs.

Tom Kinnear, executive director of the University of Michigan's Zell-Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurship, said Buick may be able to fill Oldsmobile's place and its own former role as a premier stop-over on the way up market to Cadillac. Under the model established by Alfred Sloan, GM's president from 1927-37 and chairman from 1937-56 who believed there was a car for every pocketbook, the pricing ladder started at Chevrolet, moved up to Pontiac, then Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac. The problem with GM's failed attempt to resurrect Oldsmobile was the brand "tried to go both ways" on the ladder and "ended up blurred" in consumers' minds, he said. He believes Buick has a good chance of surviving and thriving with a buffed-up image and new models.

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