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General Motors Corp.'s Buick Motor Division is trying a variety of marketing techniques as it repositions itself as a younger brand, including diversity pushes and relationship marketing.

Several 1997 models are targeted at men and women in their 40s and 50s. For example, the midsize Regal sedan, to be launched later this month, will be targeted at 40-to-49-year-olds. The Riviera coupe, being introduced this week, is aimed at 40-to-55-year-olds (see story at right). Buick's average owner is 60 years old.


Buick, which spent $146 million in measured media advertising during the first three quarters of 1996, believes GM's new brand management system will help it hit the mark when matching its cars to its target customers.

One problem for Buick is it doesn't have any entries in the popular truck, minivan or sport-utility segments.

Buick did different kinds and more research to learn how to meet customer needs with its '97 vehicles, said Karen Ebben, marketing services manager. She said the research will be translated in the creative work.

"Some groups have a need for humor, some a lack of humor. Some require comparative [vehicle] information, some more emotional and some are more lifestyle driven," Ms. Ebben said.

Riviera buyers are more emotional, and customers for the midsize Regal sedan market like more comparative data, she said.

Focus groups had more targeted consumers than in the past, she said, noting that new methods included role playing-asking consumers what the brand would be if it wasn't a car.


Twice the amount of research as is usual was done, said Ander Wensberg, a senior VP at McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Troy, Mich., and "brand champion" on the Buick account.

But some auto experts still believe the GM division is unsure what the Buick brand stands for.

"Buick needs to determine what they want to be and, until their products demonstrate that, they won't be there," said George Peterson, president of consultancy AutoPacific. His research showed low consideration for Buick-only 3.7% as a second choice among new-car buyers and leasees in 1995 and '96. Ford was tops with 20% second-choice consideration.

"Buick needs to do something dramatic and outside the norm in styling or product," said David Kalmus, auto consultant with researcher Questar.

Chris Cedergren, managing director of auto consultancy Nextrend, said the GM unit could successfully reposition itself as a brand for 50-to-60-year-olds, which would let it tap into the first wave of baby boomers.

All three auto experts said Buick's 1997 models are nicer looking than past models.

Later this year, Buick expects to conduct regional pushes, including ads and events at dealerships, to reach Hispanic and African-American markets, Mr. Wensberg said.


Earlier this year, McCann tapped Vidal, Reynardus & Moya, New York, to help reach Hispanic customers. McCann has worked with Wimbley Group, Chicago, for a couple of years for the African-American market.

Buick is also working on relationship marketing. There will be direct mail to Buick buyers in various stages of their ownership experience, as well as communications tied to their lifestyles, including golf and fashion, he said.

Buick will tout its PGA golf sponsorship in an estimated $10 million TV campaign breaking the week of March 17. Three spots will feature a different golf pro tied to Buick, the official car of the PGA.

Chip Beck, Ben Crenshaw and Steve Elkington talk about their games and the

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