Of Hummers and Zen

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General Motors Corp. shows the softer side of Hummer in an all-print brand campaign breaking Aug. 13.

The first Hummer work from independent Modernista, Boston, shows gorgeous Chilean vistas, and what little copy is used carries an emotional air. Past Hummer ads from Pyro, Dallas, showed the tough SUV plowing through snow and streams.

The pricey, rugged sport utility is small in the expansive, deserted scenes. One of the headlines among the eight spreads says: "How did my soul get way out here?" All ads carry the new tag "Hummer. Like nothing else." They also carry the cornerstone line "Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere. And sometimes in the middle of nowhere you find yourself. The legendary H1."

GM acquired marketing rights to AM General's Hummer name for civilian vehicles in December 1999. AM General keeps profit-and-loss responsibilities for the H1 model, including the estimated $3 million media spending for the new campaign. GM will have those responsibilities when its smaller, all-new, less-expensive H2 arrives next July. H2 is destined to get a far bigger campaign, reflecting its higher sales volume.

H2's all-new plant can make 40,000 units annually. AM General sold 875 Hummers last year.

H1, the biggest and most expensive SUV in the market, starts at $83,733.

"We know we need more buyers" for the H2 model, said Liz Vanzura, advertising director of Hummer and former ad director of Volkswagen of America.

Ms. Vanzura said research showed Hummer has about 50% awareness among buyers of full-size SUVs, mainly due to Hollywood movie makers, since AM General did very little advertising. AM General traditionally spent less than $1 million annually in measured media-all print. "We are taking control of the brand rather than let Hollywood position it for us," she said.

Research also revealed from 13% to 20% of full-size SUV buyers consider Hummer. "This campaign will get Hummer out there in a way it's never been before" and help convince more consumers to consider Hummer.

Ms. Vanzura called the effort a bridge campaign aimed at "rugged individualists" that will link H1 to the upcoming H2 model and help change perceptions about Hummer. GM's extensive Hummer research revealed consumers' current perceptions of the brand are equated with the vehicle's military heritage, Arnold Schwarzenegger and rich buyers.

For H2, Hummer is targeting buyers with an average age of 42 and annual household incomes above $125,000 vs. H1 owners' average of about 50 with household incomes above $200,000, said Marc Hernandez, brand manager of Hummer.

Lance Jensen, creative director and co-founder of Modernista, said the new ad tag is "half about the product and half about the people" who buy them. Many Hummer owners "feel like they get a bum rap" as show-offs, he said, "but they feel these ads show the other side of them."

The media buy, which runs through year's end, includes Wired, Spin, Red Herring, The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, Business Week, Skiing and Cigar Aficionado.

Ms. Vanzura said next year's launch campaign for the H2 will include TV and keep the new tag.

Wes Brown, an analyst with marketing researcher Nextrend, said Hummer's styling sends a macho, muscular message. To lay the groundwork for H2, Hummer is "trying to strike chords of emotional attachment" for the brand, he said. "With the copy in these ads, they are clearly trying to get you to feel some other emotions you wouldn't normally associate with Hummer and create a stronger emotional aspiration."

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