1,000 People Register to Buy Solstice in 41 Minutes

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The deal: General Motors Corp.’s Pontiac sponsored the April 14 episode of NBC’s The Apprentice to show off its upcoming Solstice roadster.

The result: The appearance sends nearly 1 million people to Pontiac.com from April 14-17, a gain of 580%. A 10-day offer giving viewers the chance to register to buy the first 1,000 Solstices closed in 41 minutes.

DETROIT -- General Motors Corp.'s integration of a Pontiac promotion into an episode of The Apprentice appears to have been wildly successful, generating strong buzz and advance orders for the new Solstice roadster.
In less than an hour 1,000 viewers went online and registered to buy Pontiac's new Solstice roadster.

In the April 14 episode, Pontiac sponsored a Donald Trump task in which the show’s two teams of candidates had to create a marketing brochure for the sleek two-seater that rolls into showrooms this summer.

The winning three-person team created a brochure that captured the emotion of the convertible, said Dino Bernacchi, advertising manager of Pontiac. He said the car didn’t just impress all of the show’s candidates, but elicited positive comments from New Yorkers about the car, including “sexy, cool and hip,” words which the team’s leader fed into the promotional piece.

But it wasn’t just the show’s competitors that Pontiac impressed.

1,400% spike in traffic

Shortly after its Thursday night appearance on the show, the Solstice sent viewers to their computers. Traffic to Pontiac.com during the program rose by 1,400% compared with the same time on an average Thursday night, Mr. Bernacchi said. The site attracted 966,110 unique visitors through April 17, or 580% above the average for the same period.

A special 10-day online offer, announced during the show, sent consumers to a Web site (www.pontiac.com/apprentice) to register for the first 1,000 Solstices built, and closed out in the first 41 minutes. The first 1,000 cars off the assembly line will have a certificate of authenticity.

An additional 4,800 people who registered will be placed on a waiting list in case any of the first 1,000 consumers don’t qualify. (Registrants must be licensed drivers and not an employee or family member of GM staff, GM suppliers or GM dealers). Consumers have until April 24 to preorder from an additional 5,000 Solstices, a Pontiac spokesman said. As of April 17, the site had received 36,197 registrations to participate in the 10-day presale program.

Gauging public interest

Pontiac wanted to use the deal to gauge the public’s reception of the Solstice, since the industry’s entire two-seat convertible segment only accounts for some 100,000 units annually, a spokesman said. The preorder program will help GM with its production estimates.

Pontiac’s agency, Publicis Groupe’s Chemistri, Troy, Mich., printed and distributed the winning brochure. Mr. Bernacchi said "99.9%" of the original design generated from The Apprentice candidates was used. It was available at the auto brand’s dealerships the next day, and by April 18, was selling on e-Bay for $6.75.

In the show, the team presented their work to Pontiac at the New York offices of Publicis agency Kaplan Thaler Group. Mr. Bernacchi was joined on Pontiac’s judging panel by Mark Hans Richer, marketing director of the brand, and Cheryl Catton, retail development director.

General Motors Mediaworks

Interpublic Group of Cos.’ dedicated GM media buyer, General Motors Mediaworks, Warren, Mich., brought the deal to the automaker and negotiated directly with the show’s producer, Mark Burnett. Terms weren’t disclosed, but in the past marketers have paid up to $2 million to integrate their brands into the show and sponsor tasks.

“This was dead-on branded entertainment” since the show’s audience matched the car’s target, said Jim Sanfilippo, executive vice president of Omnicom Group’s auto consultancy AMCI. The deal moved “mundane Pontiac to aspirational in one show,” he said. Plus, the car’s base suggested retail price of $19,995 makes it attainable for many buyers.

The stunt created a halo effect not only for the Solstice but also the Pontiac brand, Mr. Bernacchi said. A West Coast couple that registered online visited a local Pontiac dealer for the first time in many years to put down a deposit on the Solstice. The “wife fell in love with the G6” sedan and bought it, the spokesman said.

More branded entertainment deals

Pontiac has a few other branded-entertainment deals in the wings, Mr. Bernacchi said.

The eight-cylinder Grand Prix GXP will be driven on FX’s cop show The Shield by Det. Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) in several of the final episodes starting in late April. In June, Pontiac’s GTO appears in an episode of Spike TV’s new series Super Agent. The advertiser is also working with Sony Pictures Entertainment on co-marketing opportunities for Stealth, an action movie due in late July. It stars Jamie Foxx, with the GTO getting a prominent role in a major action scene. Stealth is directed by Rob Cohen, who has worked with Pontiac and the GTO in other movies in recent years.

G6 giveaway defended

Responding to criticism that Pontiac’s deal last September that gave away 276 G6 sedans on an episode of Oprah on live TV didn’t help the car’s sales, the carmaker's spokesman said the average "transaction price" of the G6 is $5,000 more than the Grand Am it replaced and that the price doesn’t include incentives. G6 retail sales, which excludes fleet sales, were 98% and 57% higher in February and March, respectively, than for the Grand Am in those months a year ago. “We’re selling more of them at a higher transaction price," the spokesman said, "and that’s a failure?”
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