GM Attempts to Redefine Buick Brand Via Partying

Buick is trying to shed its image as a stodgy, driven-by-your-grandparents vehicle brand with a series of “remix” parties taking place in five U.S. cities.

The events, called “Regal Remix” get-togethers, promote the automaker’s new mid-sized car introduction, the Buick Regal 2011—which is in dealerships right now—and kick off in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami. (The most recent party took place last week in San Antonio’s historic Sunset Station.) The effort is part of the General Motors brand’s foray into the mid-sized and compact luxury car market, a segment in which it’s had a minimal presence. GM, too, is trying to position Buick to appeal to younger, affluent consumers who typically buy imported cars.

GM describes the parties (which typically have about 500-plus guests) as “low pressure” affairs in prominent venues designed to generate buzz for its Buicks, namely the Regal 2011, LaCrosse and Enclave.

Buick product marketing director Roger McCormack said that for younger consumers, Buick is a blank slate. Such consumers “may have a sense for what Buick stood for in the past,” but have only “a vague sense of what [the brand] stands for or what it is today.”

To help redefine its image, Buick tapped PR firm Cohn & Wolfe and Thrillist—a daily e-mail newsletter targeted at trendsetting urban males in major metropolitan cities—to spread the word. An online video clip showing highlights from a May Dallas “remix” party shows consumers sipping cocktails, listening to music, checking out the new Buicks and changing their perceptions in between. Said one attendee: “I thought it was a BMW when I walked up to it. So, it’s beautiful, beautiful.” Added another: “It definitely rocked my understanding of what a Buick is,” he said with a wink and a thumbs up.

There’s some evidence that such sentiment is spreading. Data from Zeta Interactive, an interactive marketing agency in New York, shows that Buick moved from being No. 17 to No. 8 in terms of auto tonal buzz (a ratio of positive versus negative chatter about the brand) as of June 1.

The increase moves the brand up alongside trendier foreign cars like Nissan, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. The firm also found that the daily volume buzz surrounding the brand has “increased steadily by 29 percent on average” since Memorial Day, at a time when the general auto market is down following key sales periods.

Plus, consumers are moving away from words like “old,” “classic” and “comfortable” to terms like “parties” and “fun” to describe Regal, Zeta Interactive CEO Al DiGuido said.

Buick, which has been turning more to social media and word of mouth to market its cars, is closely watching those metrics. “Ultimately, we want to sell cars, but the immediate return is buzz. It’s positive consumer opinion, awareness and buzz,” McCormack said. The long-term payoff is to “get us in the stream of consciousness of some consumers who hadn’t considered us before.”

That’s especially important since the Regal 2011 boasts features such as 30 miles per gallon of highway fuel efficiency designed to appeal to younger, environmental conscious buyers.

A general market campaign breaking next month via Leo Burnett will also focus on that—and other performance features—as well as the $26,995 price point.