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Old 20th May 2004, 14:30   #1
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DETROIT — Coming to the small screen in June is a big-budget, full-length movie starring Dennis Hopper ... and a passel of Pontiac GTOs.

So much for traditional 30-second or one-minute commercials to sell cars and trucks.

The GTO’s star turn in the film “The Last Ride” is part of a three-month-old effort by General Motors Corp. to rev up marketing at its Pontiac, Buick and GMC brands.

A new team led by advertising wunderkind C.J. Fraleigh is looking to cut through the clutter and highlight vehicle attributes such as power, performance and amenities.

“The marketing will be sharper — some advertising messages will change,” Fraleigh said.

Fraleigh, 40, made his name by helping GM turn around its once-inert Cadillac division. A combination of edgy new products and the use of music by hard rockers Led Zeppelin in commercials has helped convert Cadillac’s image from has-been to hip.

On Feb. 1, Fraleigh moved to Buick and Pontiac-GMC as the division’s general manager. He was joined by Jim Bunnell, 48, a former Pontiac executive who spent the last half decade running GM’s Northeast region.

While GMC’s lineup of pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles is delivering sales and profits, Pontiac remains a work in progress. GM is repositioning the brand to focus on its performance image.

“A couple of times in our history we fell off that path,” Bunnell said. “We’re taking Pontiac back to its roots, its true performance, not only straight line acceleration but great handling and a true driver’s environment.”

Pontiac’s advertising tag line “Fuel for the Soul” will be retained for now, but Fraleigh and Bunnell are looking to bring home the brand’s performance image in a bigger way, hence the made-for-television movie “The Last Ride.”

The movie debuts in June on USA Network and features several generations of the iconic muscle car.

Pontiac vehicles are also getting exposure on several cable television networks through the end of the month on what is essentially a 30-minute long commercial titled “Secrets of the Stuntmen.”

The long-form commercial takes viewers behind the scenes as four Hollywood stuntmen plan and execute a two-minute chase scene featuring the Pontiac Vibe GT, GTO, Grand Prix GTP Comp-G and Bonneville GXP.

“We’re looking for different avenues for showcasing our products other than the 30-second TV spot,” Bunnell said.

Using movies to target a specific type of consumer can actually be more cost-effective than short commercials on network television, said Jim Sanfilippo, an analyst with automotive marketing consultants AMCI Inc. in Warren.

“Network cost increases are allowing marketers to consider other ways to reach their targets,” Sanfilippo said. “Putting GTO in a car chase is a great idea for that car — there’s nobody that’s not going to want to see that car demonstrated.”

Positive buzz over the G6, which replaces the Grand Am this fall, and the 2006 Solstice, a two-seat convertible, has put Pontiac on an upward trajectory.

Sales are up 13.3 percent this year on strong demand for the Grand Am, Grand Prix and Vibe.

Buick is another story. Sales are off 4.8 percent this year. The recasting of the brand as an American luxury marque on a par with Toyota’s Lexus marque begins in earnest with the upcoming LaCrosse, which replaces the Century and Regal.

“(Buick) takes things one step further,” Fraleigh said. “One step further and one step better. How we’re going to bring that to life hasn’t been decided.”

There will not be any direct comparisons with Lexus or any other competitive brands in Buick advertising, Fraleigh said. Instead, ads will focus on “quietness and premium of ride.”

“Buick is trying to get slightly younger but trying to move slightly more upscale,” said Jeff Brodoski, an analyst with J.D. Power and Associates.

“But you have to be very calculated, and Buick has to take time and investment to do it and not just try to throw a brand new Buick at everybody right away.”

Buick is spending $3.2 billion to revamp its product line, which is likely to include some version of the Velite four-seat convertible concept car and its first minivan — the 2005 Buick Terraza.

The one brand under Fraleigh and Bunnell’s umbrella that is relatively trouble-free is GMC.

Five years ago the brand sold less than 400,000 units annually, but Bunnell predicts GMC will sell more than 600,000 pickups and SUVs this year on the strength of the two attributes they hope to attain with Pontiac and Buick: solid product and a clear definition of them in the marketplace.

“We’re there with GMC,” said Fraleigh, “and we’re getting closer with Pontiac and Buick.”

Source: Det News

It's being produced by the same person who produced Fast & Furious and not sure of that's a good thing.
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