Saturn's Work for Bon Jovi 'Gig' Pays Off

Rock Band Talent Search Sponsorship Draws the Interest of Car Buyers Too

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The deal: General Motors Corp.'s Saturn division sponsored iconic New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi on the recent national tour for their "Have a Nice Day" CD and launched a concurrent battle of the bands that reached deep into local markets with live events, radio promotions and internet buzz. Winners opened for Bon Jovi on several tour dates, with the overall winning band playing the opening slot at Giants Stadium and getting a demo recording deal.

The result: The project, dubbed "Have a Nice Gig," generated nearly 10,000 leads for Saturn and helped show off its expanded portfolio of cars to a desirable young demographic. The qualified buyers, a number that usually hovers around 30% of those expressing interest during Saturn outreach, shot up to 50% at "Have a Nice Gig" activities.

The band that's gets to have a nice gig is The Yards, from Pittsburgh.

The members of Bon Jovi know what it's like to start from scratch, peddling their demo tapes to radio stations more than two decades ago, and so does General Motors Corp.'s Saturn division, a brand born in the '80s when the rockers were still working on their big break (and big hair).

So the carmaker and rockers teamed up this past summer for a tour sponsorship and contest that launched a nationwide search for the best unsigned rock band. The project, called "Have a Nice Gig," fanned out into local communities with months worth of radio promotion, TV coverage and live music events that gave the marketer a rock-star-style makeover with young consumers.

"We were given the chance to emerge as a company, and so the idea of emerging artists was very intriguing to us," said Tony Parrottino, Saturn's national-sales-promotion manager. "This program allowed us to modernize and be seen as much more contemporary while still being true to ourselves."

Working with rock star's football team

Saturn executives already had been working with Jon Bon Jovi and the Philadelphia Soul, the Arena Football League team he owns. The marketer struck up the relationship because the games provide affordable entertainment for the family, a good match in demographics and messaging. It also allowed them to home in on a key car-buying region.

For "Have a Nice Gig," Saturn and Bon Jovi worked with Los Angeles-based Monarch Entertainment Group and tour promoter AEG Live to put together a national program with local tentacles. Unsigned bands were invited to submit audition tapes to local radio stations in a number of markets around the country. The entries were whittled down, and the top five bands performed live in cities such as Chicago, Dallas and Seattle.

Around the contest and the live shows, local radio stations, TV and websites provided several weeks of nonstop promotion. Saturn executives said that buzz was vital in pushing its brand awareness.

There were 30,000 votes online for "Have a Nice Gig," and an existing deal between Yahoo and Saturn gave the contest additional web exposure.

Live battle of the band events

At the live battle-of-the-band events, which lasted several hours, Saturn showcased its newly expanded lineup, including the Sky roadster, the Aura sedan and the Outlook sports utility vehicle. And the heavily female crowd proved to be a fertile audience for the car maker. The percentage of qualified buyers, usually about 30% of those expressing interest in Saturn, was significantly higher at "Have a Nice Gig" events.

"We were at 50% and above for qualified buyers," Mr. Parrottino said. "That put us in a very focused place from the consumer point of view."

Media coverage continued around the winning hometown bands as they opened for Bon Jovi during the "Have a Nice Day" concert tour. The overall winning band -- Pittsburgh natives the Yards -- played the opening spot at Giants Stadium, the final concerts of the tour. They also won a demo recording deal with John Shanks, a Grammy-winning music producer.

"Saturn really embraced this idea," said Joseph Bongiovi, president of Monarch Entertainment Group. "Jon's made it known that he wants to give back -- to help unsigned acts -- and Saturn worked so well with that concept."

One part rock star, one part businessman

Mr. Bon Jovi, ever the businessman, also worked marketers such as AOL, XM Satellite Radio, Sprint and Comcast into the tour. It's difficult to know how much the partner involvement moved the needle, but the tour and CD were unqualified successes.

The "Have a Nice Day" record sold more than 1.2 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, and the Bon Jovi tour sold more than 2 million tickets on 89 dates. The band sold out 33 stadiums around the world. It grossed $109 million, according to tour promoter AEG Live, and Pollstar ranks Bon Jovi as the fifth-grossing pop concert tour of the year, behind juggernauts like Madonna and U2.

There's talk of a Bon Jovi greatest-hits CD coming out sometime in 2007, with a subsequent tour. Saturn executives said they're interested in the band's plans going forward but there's been no deal inked at this point.

The marketer has been cultivating a relationship with the Yards, with rights to some of the young band's music, and will continue working with them.
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