GM Stays the Course With 'First' Detroit 'Style' Show

With Similar Celeb Events, Automaker Risks Losing Chance to Stand Out

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The deal: General Motors Corp. hosted its first "GM Style" event at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. But the event, which features celebrities and concept cars strutting down a catwalk, has been executed five other times under the "GM Ten" name in Hollywood.

The result: The same format and some of the same celebrities year in and year out may no longer be innovative enough for a company that really needs to make itself stand out.

Photos: AP
Double vision? Carmen Electra at the GM Ten show in 2006 (above left) and in 2004. Does this type of repetition still seem innovative?

General Motors Corp. could use a little help looking cool right about now. Sales are in a slump. And rivals continue to rev up competition with cars people actually want to buy.

So a publicity stunt that will stick in people's minds couldn't hurt.

On Jan. 6 -- just before the start of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit -- GM hosted a celebrity-studded fashion show, called "GM Style," that showed off stars alongside the company's Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Saturns, Saabs and Hummers.

Carload of celebs

Models included actress Rosie Perez, Kristen Bell ("Veronica Mars"), Nick Cannon, "America's Next Top Model" winner CariDee, surfer Laird Hamilton, Minka Kelly ("Friday Night Lights"), pro volleyball player Gabrielle Reese, Ashley Scott ("Jericho"), Cheryl Hines ("Curb Your Enthusiasm"), Mario Lopez, Christian Slater and Jennifer Hudson ("Dreamgirls"). Singer John Legend performed.

Jimmy Kimmel, host of ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live," served as host. GM's Pontiac brand has worked with Mr. Kimmel several times in recent years. The automaker advertised during the show when Mr. Kimmel broadcasted from Detroit during the 2006 Super Bowl; his show has also featured the Pontiac Garage music concerts.

The GM Style concept is cool enough: Rock music plays while a celebrity, wearing a designer suit or gown, struts down a stark white runway followed by a new GM vehicle or concept car. At the end of the catwalk, the car spins on a hidden turntable and then leads the star back down the runway and off the stage.

"The GM Style event provided a great stage for us to showcase our global design prowess," said Ed Welburn, global VP, GM Design. "We are all inspired and influenced by the world of fashion and this event is a great opportunity to bring fashion and vehicle design together."

The only problem is that it's already been done by GM five other times before -- namely in Hollywood over the past five years as the "GM Ten" event, timed around the Academy Awards.

New name, same event?

Little has changed over the years -- same white runway, same blaring music. The cars may be different, but some of the stars aren't. Carmen Electra, Vivica A. Fox, Nick Lachey and Maria Menounos have become regulars as models.

Yet GM still spun "GM Style" as a "first-ever" event, conceived by Mike Jackson, GM's VP-marketing and advertising in North America, and Mr. Welburn, with the stars in attendance corralled by Ogilvy PR's BWR, Los Angeles. (See this week's Photo Page for pics from the event.)

The Hollywood version of the show has become one of the must-attend events each year, with past GM models and performers including Oscar winners Jamie Foxx and Adrien Brody, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Kim Cattrall, Michael Chiklis, Eve, Heather Graham, Allison Janney, Jewel, George Lopez, Matthew Perry, Jessica Simpson, Justin Timberlake, Steven Tyler and Kanye West. (Not to mention Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan, natch.)

GM declined to disclose just how much it spends to produce the event, and though Mr. Welburn said, "It's a whole lot cheaper than a Super Bowl commercial," the question remains: Is it worth the millions to put the show together anymore?

The value of live events

When it comes to branded entertainment, live events certainly play a role in putting a spotlight on a brand. But events such as Heineken-backed "AmsterJam" or brand-friendly Lollapalooza are open to the masses, guaranteeing a connection with consumers who will hopefully generate buzz among their friends or online. GM's fashion shows are invite-only and are open to just 1,000 guests.

Of course, the value comes in the form of coverage. GM has guaranteed itself segments on "Access Hollywood" by having Ms. Menounos, a regular correspondent on the TV entertainment-news mag, as a model. Packages of the GM event ran Jan. 8 and 9 on the show. Those segments also appear on the show's website.

Rivals "Entertainment Tonight" and "Extra" also ran stories. And photos and short write-ups of the event also found their way in newspapers and entertainment magazines and on blogs.

"Detroit cars and Hollywood stars are two elements that help define American and world culture; bringing the two together is a natural," said GM's Mr. Jackson. "This was a great way for Detroit and GM to kick off the North American International Autoshow."

Missed opportunities

But GM could do so much more with the event. It did post nearly 60 minutes of video on its website -- the clips showed Mr. Kimmel and other correspondents interviewing celebs and GM executives on the red carpet. But Mr. Kimmel seemed bored; the other correspondents unprofessional. And no video of the actual fashion show can be found anywhere online -- a major missed opportunity considering that is the best part of the event.

After six of these events, GM may also want to consider going bigger next time. It certainly has the marketing dollars to do so. Make a deal with a broadcaster, land some bigger names and show the event on TV, the way Victoria's Secret does with its own fashion show. Sure, that show lured men to watch scantily clad women, but guys like cars too.

At the very least, GM should present the full show online. Post it on the GM website, or put it on a special page on Yahoo or MySpace. Make it a free download on iTunes. At least post it on YouTube. Don't just run a live feed of the show and then take it down so that no one can watch it.

GM execs still think spending millions to host the event is worth it.

So do some analysts. Jim Sanfilippo, exec VP of auto consultant AMCI, attended the event and called it a good idea -- a party for all the reporters visiting from around the world in town for the Detroit auto show. And GM is likely to get news coverage and some borrowed equity from the stars. The attitude seems to be: If Hollywood says it's cool, then it's cool.

Yes, but the event also needs to remain cool enough for people to care.
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