GM's 'Apprentice' task reaps eye-popping ROI

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General Motors Corp. and producer Mark Burnett are crowing over the results of Pontiac's brand integration in a recent episode of "The Apprentice."

The appearance on the NBC series generated strong buzz and advance orders for the Solstice roadster as 1,000 people registered in just 41 minutes to buy the first cars off the assembly line.

"This is our biggest success so far," said "Apprentice" producer Mr. Burnett, a vocal proponent of branded-entertainment deals. "When you see instant results, it's a great thing. It's a way to totally link exposure with sales. They spent money and they know they got sales for the dollar."

Pontiac said it used its April 14 appearance on Donald Trump's reality show to gauge the public's reaction to the Solstice and to help determine production estimates for the vehicle, since the industry's entire two-seat convertible segment accounts for just 100,000 units per year.

Pontiac sponsored a task in which the show's teams created a marketing brochure for the sleek car, which rolls into showrooms this summer. During the program, traffic to rose by 1,400% over a typical Thursday night, said Dino Bernacchi, advertising manager of Pontiac. The site attracted 966,110 unique visitors through April 17, 580% above the average for the same period.

A 10-day online offer, announced during the show, sent consumers to a Web site to register to buy the first 1,000 Solstices built. It closed out in 41 minutes. An additional 4,800 people who registered will be placed on a waiting list. Consumers had until April 24 to preorder an additional 5,000 Solstices. As of April 17, the site had received 36,197 registrations, a Pontiac spokesman said.


The winning team's brochure captured the emotion of the convertible, Mr. Bernacchi said. Pontiac's agency, Publicis Groupe's Chemistri, Troy, Mich., printed and distributed the winning brochure, with "99.9%" of the original design generated from "Apprentice" candidates, he said. It was available at dealerships the next day.

In the show, the team presented its 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.

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, Mr. Burnett-who has had a relationship with GM since the first season of his "Survivor" in 2000. Terms weren't disclosed, but marketers have paid up to $2 million to integrate their brands into "The Apprentice."

"This was dead-on branded entertainment" since the audience matched the car's target, said Jim Sanfilippo, exec VP of Omnicom Group's auto consultancy AMCI. The deal moved "mundane Pontiac to aspirational in one show," he said.

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