Pontiac models get infomercial push

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Pontiac, wanting more exposure for its new models and a boost for its brand positioning, launches a 30-minute infomercial today on national cable TV networks. It's the first infomercial for the General Motors Corp. brand since 1994.

More infotainment than infomercial, the long-form ad is dubbed "Secrets of the Stuntmen" and takes advantage of the marketer's recent outreach to Hollywood. Resembling behind-the-scenes footage on DVDs, it shows how dangerous driving stunts are done-using Pontiacs, of course.

Four performance models are shown: the 2004 GTO, the Bonneville GXP, the Grand Prix Comp G and the Vibe GT sport wagon. Pontiac engineers and designers also take the wraps off upcoming models: this fall's restyled and renamed Montana SV6 minivan; the G6, which succeeds the outgoing Grand Am; plus next year's Solstice roadster, which has already captured rave reviews.

"We have an overabundance of incredible new product and we felt we needed more time to show our products off," said Mark-Hans Richer, marketing director, Pontiac. Another goal, he said, is to drive consumers to pontiac.com/stunt, where they can enter an online sweepstakes. The grand prize is one of the four current cars in the infomercial, created by Publicis Groupe's Chemistri, Troy, Mich. He declined to reveal spending for the push, which will air some 150 times on cable TV during a pair of two-week flights this month and in late May. The infomercials will air mainly during early morning hours.

Mr. Richer has tried to "redefine the core of what Pontiac stands for" since his arrival at the brand from Chevrolet in 2002. His latest move comes as Pontiac reaches back to its roots as an exciting, youthful, performance brand.

`era of cladding is over'

Doug Scott, an analyst with consultancy Allison-Fisher, said Pontiac is smart to beat the drums for models marking the evolution of its performance positioning and addition of design. He added "a lot of the past criticism of Pontiac was its styling, and adding design as a brand attribute signals that the era of cladding is over."

Pontiac was widely panned for both the styling and extensive use of exterior plastic cladding on its Aztek wagon, which arrived in 2000. The once-proud Firebird coupe was killed off at the end of the 2002 model year. Until the GTO arrived, the brand was nearly starved for new models, because GM resources were mainly feeding Chevrolet and Cadillac. Pontiac's Vibe wagon came in early 2002, a twin of Toyota's Matrix via a joint venture. But the Vibe hasn't lived up to its hype, with sales off 30% in the first quarter of 2004, according to GM.

Pontiac sold 120,358 vehicles in the first quarter, up 12% vs. a year ago, according to GM. Pontiac was backed with $159 million in measured media in 2003 vs. $150 million in 2002, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

Pontiac had a lot of potential heading into the 1990s, the most of any GM brand, but the market shifted to sport utilities and "Pontiac had nothing to offer," said Susan Jacobs, president of auto consultancy Jacobs & Associates. When the marketer "had the chance to bring out an SUV, it brought out the Aztek," which is expected to exit this year. "Now they're getting back on track," she said.

Both experts said the Solstice could revolutionize Pontiac the way the 1990-model Miata roadster revved up Mazda. "The advantage of all convertibles is they have strong emotional appeal and can be major traffic generators" to showrooms, Ms. Jacobs said. "People are more forgiving of a brand if it has a really desirable car." She projected the GTO or Bonneville GXP model won't generate much momentum for the brand because of pricing.

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