Advertising Meets Immersive Theater in OnStar 'FamilyLink' Demo | Adweek Advertising Meets Immersive Theater in OnStar 'FamilyLink' Demo | Adweek
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Advertising Meets Immersive Theater in OnStar Demo

GM's OnStar demos its move into the home—with fake family

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If you're an automaker-turned-tech company, do you unveil your latest product with a press conference in midtown Manhattan? Nah, apparently that's passé.

You rent a swanky SoHo loft and hire a group of actors. (And throw in a batch of fresh-baked cookies to boot.)

For the launch of its new FamilyLink service this week, General Motor's OnStar staged an elaborate demo with the "Kensington family" at their fabulous five-story home on Wednesday.  But, of course, the Kensingtons were all performers, and their to-die-for downtown apartment (with an indoor pool, which, incidentally, is where Beyoncé shot her hit song "Halo") belongs to Marcus Nispel, director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake.

 In something of a serendipitous twist, Nispel also directed the first OnStar ad in 1998. For the 50-odd reporters invited to tour the home over the past couple of days, the experience was like a mashup of being on set for a commercial shoot and entering the immersive theater extravaganza "Sleep No More."

Chad Kensington, the "family's" smart-alecky teenage son, kicked off the tour with an introduction to his dad, who's putzing around on the computer and TV, and his mom, who just took a batch of sweet-smelling chocolate chip cookies out of the oven.

After Chad escaped to what is most likely a high-tech hangout upstairs, the parents demo FamilyLink, OnStar's new $3.99 per month subscription service that helps families locate and remain updated on their vehicle.

So the script continued. Later in the performance the family was supposedly on its way to a lacrosse game, but daughter Julie wasn't back yet from an excursion with her friends. The fake parents then showed off FamilyLink by locating Julie in the family's 4G-capable Chevy Volt on a desktop screen and then Skyping with her via iPad.

Once they checked in with Julie and learned her ETA, Mom struggled to corral dad and Chad into the car, but they finally depart, realizing they can continue their movie watching and Angry Birds playing from screens in the backseat.

The performance ended with the happy high-tech family buckled into their OnStar-equipped car: Mom and Julie manned the app-filled dashboard in the front seat, while Dad and Chad gazed at their respective screens in the backseat.

Was the whole experience a little weird and manufactured? Yes. But was it also effective and more fun than a press conference? Yes.

As automaker GM continues to go high-tech with its expanding OnStar services, it’d hoping to show the industry and consumers that it's more than a car company but a technology company that can be interwoven with people's everyday lives.

"People are so used to seeing a car company do a press conference," said OnStar's vp of communications Vijay Iyer. "We wanted to show that [the technology] is used outside the car as well, and in a family environment."

Traditional press events and futuristic, connected lounges can only do so much to demonstrate the company’s technology. But by working with experiential production and event company inVNT to create an interactive experience, he said, they hope to communicate with reporters, and ultimately consumers, that OnStar, which has more than 6 million customers, interacts with families in multiple ways.

As opposed to the cold technological approach of a run-of-the-mill press conference, it was a warmer “humanistic approach,” said inVNT executive producer Jerry Deeney.

Iyer said the event, which likely had a price tag in the low six digits, was the most interactive press and marketing experience OnStar had produced so far. But, as it continues to build out its OnStar service, he said it would likely continue on that path.

The company said FamilyLink will roll out to a select group on subscribers in mid-April and become accessible to all users by the end of the year.