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General Motors Corp. has devised a three-level rating to help schedule ad spending under its new regional program that began April 1.

The regional ratings, based on GM's total U.S. market share, are above average, average and below average, according to two GM managers close to the situation and two dealers, all of whom requested anonymity.

Since April 1, GM has been spending the bulk of regional ad dollars in the above-average markets to advertise high-volume brands, the managers said. Before the change, which eliminated GM's regional dealer ad associations, retailers were concerned that regional ad dollars would move to areas in which GM was trying to increase its market share. The dealer groups spent about $600 million on advertising annually.

GM declined to make national marketing executives or regional marketing managers available to discuss the new operation.

A spokeswoman said about 85% of GM dealers have signed up for the new co-op ad program for their individual stores. Still, some have been groping to understand the changes and what they ultimately will mean for local advertising.

Ave Butensky, president of the Television Bureau of Advertising, has talked with many local TV stations his group represents and said there seems to be a "communications gap over how this is supposed to work, at least as portrayed to us by the [former GM] dealer groups."

At least nine dealers, several of whom serve on newly formed dealer advisory boards, said the regional marketing staffs have left them in the dark about ad plans. All said their defunct regional ad associations have money left over, which they now are spending. Several of the new advisory boards are meeting for the first time this month.


Although dealers said they haven't been informed of regional ad details, at least two report positive signs. A Boston-area dealer said he's seeing many more ads on early-evening news programs of major local stations, which his association had been unable to afford. A Florida dealer said he has seen TV commercials for a new statewide lease program, which he assumes were done by the region.

Unlike GM's defunct dealer associations, GM has stricter criteria for buying ad time in local markets, Mr. Butensky added. GM is seeking "pod exclusivity."

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