|In a move that raises the bar for product placement concepts, Oprah Winfrey and Pontiac gave away 276 new cars. But there's more to come.
The long-range plan that has integrated General Motor's Pontiac brand into a high-impact Oprah drama calls for the TV diva to revisit at least two members of the studio audience in the future 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.
On Monday, when Oprah 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 %%PULLQUOTE_RIGHT%% 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."
Free publicity value: $20 million
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 her future visits with new car owners to further discuss their experiences with the vehicle.
As part of the overall deal, the G6, a new brand just launched by Pontiac, will be the only corporate sponsor on oprah.com for 90 days. A link from Ms. Winfrey's site to pontiac.com 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 pontiac.com Sept. 13, an all-time record for the site, Mr. Richer said.
Mark Kubitskey and Susan Hull
Mr. Richer 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.
Three weeks to pull it together
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, the contract, GM approvals. It worked out very well," Mr. Richer said.
Mr. Richer indicated that there was debate within GM about the unusual idea. He said some officials, 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 vice president and general manager for advertising and corporate marketing; and C.J. Fraleigh, general manager of Pontiac.