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Oldsmobile's big centennial year is sputtering.

The General Motors Corp. division is supposed to be enjoying rising sales from an influx of new products and a celebration of its 100th anniversary. Instead, it has inventory troubles caused by GM's labor problems, and advertising headaches caused by a potentially controversial new campaign for its Silhouette minivan.

The woes currently affect two of the division's four key 1997 products and could soon spread to a third. The only one unaffected is the Bravada sport-utility vehicle.


Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, is reworking a $30 million Silhouette campaign that had been scheduled to break in late April. Executives close to Olds said consumer research showed African-Americans might be offended by one of the campaign's mascots, a monkey.

August Buenz, Olds' public relations director, said he had not heard anything about the ads being offensive. He said dealers complained that the ads weren't upscale enough for the marque's new image and that talking animals were becoming too common in commercials.

Three different TV spots from Burnett featured a monkey and penguin demonstrating "creature comforts" such as dual-control heating and cooling.

"We are re-evaluating the tone" of the Silhouette campaign, said Holly Crilly, account supervisor on Olds at Burnett.

Olds will show the redone Silhouette campaign to select dealers at the end of May. The division is already selling the 1997 Silhouette, and first-quarter sales were up almost 20% compared to a year ago.

Olds hasn't advertised Silhouette in recent years.


Separately, Olds recently pulled national TV ads for the 1997 Cutlass sedan, just weeks after they broke, when a strike by the United Auto Workers union against a GM plant in Oklahoma City halted Cutlass production.

Several Olds dealers said they're sold out of the model, which has a $30 million national ad budget this year. One dealer, who asked not to be named, said his regional ad group also pulled Cutlass ads.

Dealers, who suffered sales slides through Olds' lean years, are frustrated by the current problems.

The division's sales were down 14.5% last year to 331,286 units. Through the first quarter of 1997, sales were down 12.8% to 64,449.

"We have great products [but] we need to get the products into the showrooms," said a second dealer. "We have Bravada, Aurora and the Eighty Eight, but we need our core products."

Ms. Crilly of Burnett confirmed Cutlass advertising is "on hold" because of the strike.

Another UAW local has voted to strike, and that could shut down production of the all-new Olds Intrigue sedan. If that happens, the Intrigue's $30 million campaign planned for this year could also be delayed.


Burnett last week invited the media to Los Angeles for the May 16 shooting of the Intrigue campaign, directed by Hollywood action-movie director Tony Scott.

But Burnett later canceled the event, citing weather conditions. In fact, shooting has been going on for several weeks without media presence. Ads are

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