Whoever tugs at the car giant's heartstrings most effectively in an essay will get to drive the pace car in the Indy 500 May 27, marking the first time a consumer will be in the car's driver's seat. The catch: You have to prove you owned an Oldsmobile sometime during the brand's 103-year history.
Two other new twists: The pace car will actually be a sport-utility vehicle, an Olds Bravada, and all this Indy effort is fueling a car model that's been put on the road to oblivion.
The unusual promotion was developed to cast Olds' 2002 Bravada in a positive light, despite the recent news that GM plans to eliminate the Oldsmobile marque over the next two to four years.
GM hopes to use the opportunity to assure racing fans of its commitment to the Indy Racing League, where its car engines have been dominant for several years. This year marks the eleventh time an Oldsmobile has paced the Indy 500.
`BRIDGE TO CONTINUITY'
"This promotion is a way of reaching out to our customers emotionally and creating a bridge to continuity with GM," said Jim Vurpillat, Bravada brand manager.
Between March 22 and April 30, Oldsmobile owners are being invited to submit essays of 100 words or less explaining why they should drive the pace car. The promotion is reaching Olds owners via an e-mail campaign, Web site promotion and publicity at Indy Racing League events. Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, handles.
Three winners will get free trips for two to the Indy 500; judges will select one grand prize winner to drive the car in a ceremonial lap before 350,000 fans on national TV.
Consumers can enter online at oldsmobile.com or indy500.com; an Oldsmobile vehicle identification number is required. In the first few days of the promotion, more than 300 Olds owners submitted essays.
"We've never done anything like this before," Mr. Vurpillat said, "but research shows there's a lot of sentiment out there about Oldsmobile, and this promotion helps us connect with those people."