As Pontiac Drives Into Sunset, so Does a Bit of Detroit Advertising

Slideshow: the Marque's Print and TV Ads Through the Ages

By Published on .

DETROIT ( -- General Motors Corp.'s decision yesterday to pull the plug on Pontiac marks the end of a storied brand with a rich advertising history.

Pontiac Ads
Pontiac Ads Through the Ages

Pontiac arrived on the scene in 1926, when GM introduced the brand as a companion to its Oakland Motor Car line with the six-cylinder model, Chief of the Sixes, unveiled by Oakland at the New York Auto Show. GM replaced Oakland with the Pontiac Motor Division in 1932.

The brand's longest-running and most memorable ads were themed "Wide Track," created by MacManus, John & Adams, Detroit. They ran from 1959 until 1972 before reappearing in the 1990s. The term stemmed from Pontiac's new wider, lower-slung body that suggested a crouching animal.

Some pundits credit Pontiac with starting the muscle-car era when it introduced the GTO in 1964. The car was a hit, but the oil crisis in the 1970s hurt Pontiac's high-performance image.

The marketer rolled out its "We Build Excitement" rallying cry in 1981 as Pontiac tried to find a new direction and purpose. Outstanding performance and the emotional benefits of driving a Pontaic were the pitch for new cars such as the 6000 STE, Grand Prix, Grand Am and the small, sporty Fiero.

But there wasn't much excitement over the effort; critics said the products in the 1980s and '90s didn't live up to the tagline, which was dropped in 2003. It was followed by a series of short-lived tags, including "Pass it On," (2001-2002) and "Fuel For the Soul" (2002-2003).

In 1997, under GM's brand-management system, each model got its own ad campaign. The Pontiac Bonneville introduced "Luxury with Attitude," from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., seemingly infringing on territory claimed by siblings Buick and Cadillac.

This decade Pontiac made a splash in product placement and buzz marketing. In 2004, Oprah Winfrey gave away 276 G6 sedans, each valued at $28,400, to every member of her studio audience. Pontiac cut branded-integration deals for its vehicles on popular TV shows such CBS' "Survivor" and NBC's "The Apprentice." Pontiac has also reached young consumers via the internet and deals with ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and a bi-coastal concert stage called Pontiac Garage.

In the past several years, the brand has been marketing heavily on the web. Its most recent tagline, "Pontiac Is Car," launched last September from Leo Burnett, Troy, Mich. Apparently, it will be the brand's last.

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