Buick's new slogan goes after buyers in off-target age group

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General Motors Corp. has already wrecked Oldsmobile. Now it's trying to wreck Buick. But slowly. And ineptly.

In the 1980s, Oldsmobile was a big seller for GM; but the world's biggest car company got nervous that Oldsmobile customers were aging at an alarming rate. So it brought out spiffy new models aimed at a younger crowd and proclaimed that they weren't your father's Oldsmobile any longer. So the fathers quit buying and the younger consumers didn't buy in big enough numbers to sustain the car brand.

Buick is pretty much stuck in the same place. Its average buyer is 62 and, like Oldsmobile, it's got a stodgy image. It too has a racy new model, the Rendezvous sport wagon, that it hopes will appeal to a sub-60 audience.

But Buick marketers are determined to make the same mistake Oldsmobile made. Rather than come right out and say they're aiming for younger buyers (and that older buyers need not apply), the Buick ad team has introduced a new slogan, "It's all good," that our sibling publication, Automotive News, says young people use as slang to mean everything's cool. But the expression is supposedly obscure enough that older people won't get the connection.

Pretty clever, huh? Older people will keep on buying Buicks blissfully unaware that the commercials are secretly being beamed to a younger, hipper group of buyers.

However, I don't think the younger target audience will get the message, either, unless GM is aiming at beer-drinking 18-to-25-year olds. I doubt seriously that people in their 40s and 50s-about the youngest buyers Buick could possibly hope for-have any idea what "It's all good" is supposed to mean.

The Buick commercial I saw makes it very difficult for younger people to identify with the venerable GM brand. The music the ad team chose to illustrate that the Century model was both luxurious and economical was "Pennies from Heaven," not exactly a toe-tapper for anyone under 60. If they were bent on using the pennies theme (in the spot, pennies come raining down from the sky), couldn't they have used music out of the '60s? "Penny Lane" might have been a better selection to bond with the pre-60 crowd if Buick really wanted to reach this segment.

A Buick dealer voiced similar skepticism. The dealer told Automotive News that the new slogan isn't "way out there on the edge," so it shouldn't alienate older buyers. "This is a slow way to reposition the product, to try to attract a younger buyer."

Even Buick's use of Tiger Woods doesn't give it a younger aura. GM is the only company in the universe that can make Tiger unhip. Contrast Buick's stupid commercials showing Tiger trying to train Tiger wannabees with Nike's very cool spot on Tiger bouncing a golf ball on his club, then hitting it into orbit with a baseball swing.

Forgive my cynicism, but I'm beginning to think that GM is only going through the motions of trying to seek out younger buyers for Buick. They tried and failed with Oldsmobile, and I think they're convinced it was an impossible task.

So GM's new approach is to convince dealers it's going after younger buyers without the expense of bringing out zippy new models (like Oldsmobile did with the In-trigue and Aurora) that probably wouldn't sell very well anyway. Sure, it's got the Ren-dezvous, but I'm sure Buick's advertising will make its traditional customers comfortable with the knowledge that the Rendezvous is really just an old-fashioned station wagon.

GM continues to lurch between ad slogans for car models within a division and slogans for entire divisions. The tagline for Buick Century, for instance, was "A luxury car for everyone," which makes more sense than "It's all good."

To go with a slogan that makes no sense, except to a younger group that Buick can't possibly attract, is a one-way ticket to oblivion. The outlook for Buick: It's all bad.

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