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Complaints about Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, by dealers for General Motors Corp.'s Oldsmobile have resurfaced as division sales skidded nearly 13% during the first half of 1996 vs. a year ago.

Sales of the Aurora, Olds' first new-image car, slumped 32% during the period.

Burnett in 1993 salvaged the then-$125 million Olds account in a dealer-driven review.

"When sales go down, the first person you point a finger at is the ad agency," said Tom Gill, a Columbus, Ohio, Olds dealer who was a member of last year's Olds dealer governance board. "The problem is we're trying to change our customer base though we have old product we still have to sell. It's almost like you have to have two different ways of advertising."


Reports recently started circulating among GM ad agencies that Ronald Zarrella, GM's North American Operations' marketing czar, has been pressuring several divisions and their agencies to improve advertising.

A GM spokesman declined comment, but D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-the Cadillac and Pontiac agency also said to be under pressure from Mr. Zarrella-changed its top car creative last week. Noel Nauber was shifted from chief creative officer to exec creative director for DMB&B's Diversified/New Business Group. Now heading car creative at the shop is Gary Horton, formerly creative partner on the Cadillac Catera business and now chief creative officer-deputy managing director.

DMB&B denied pressure from the client caused the action.

Burnett also changed the creative chief on the Olds account recently, moving Dan Heagy, exec VP-group creative director, over from Miller Lite, replacing Greg Taubeneck, exec VP-group creative director, who now works on Hallmark Cards.

said: "When sales go south, one of the first lightning rods to get struck is the advertising agency."

But he said the problems go beyond advertising, extending to new product, leadership, the dealer body and marketing strategy.

The Olds Bravada made its TV debut Sunday in a 30-second spot shown during the Olympics broadcast on NBC.

Olds bought nine 30-second prime time slots on the Olympics, costing $4.95 million.

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