Buick Leads GM’s Efforts at Reinvention

NEW YORK General Motors’ launch this summer of the 2010 Buick LaCrosse is one of the automaker’s most critical post-bankruptcy initiatives, as the company seeks to attract younger consumers with a more sophisticated car design and image overhaul to match.

The 2010 model is drawing good reviews, but target consumers — late boomers aged 46-55, about 10 years younger than current Buick buyers — are disinclined to even visit Buick showrooms given that the brand is associated with plush, easy-driving sedans favored by retirees.

“We have a huge challenge with Buick because many people don’t know what the brand stands for,” said Cheryl Catton, general director, advertising and promotion for the Buick-Pontiac-GMC division.

As one of four remaining core brands at a manufacturer with just 18 percent market share in the U.S., it’s essential for GM that Buick attract younger consumers. Last year, Buick’s market share at GM was 4.6 percent. The brand sold 137,197 vehicles for just a 1.04 percent overall industry market share in the U.S.

Buick’s media mix underscores its new positioning efforts: Catton said the use of non-TV media is “proportionately higher” in this campaign, with its digital component including new use of social media like Twitter and Facebook. It’s also using more outdoor and, for the first time, will have a 60-second in-cinema spot (to be shown on 13,000 screens).
Buick is also doing experiential marketing, such as using ZIP-code-precise targeting, said Catton.

As for TV, Buick is buying into drama, cable and prime-time programming. It previously skewed toward early morning, news and weather, and has also been associated with golf — and recent brand spokesman Tiger Woods.
“We need to expand beyond sports,” said Catton.

While declining to disclose spending behind the launch, Catton noted that despite her division’s overall ad budget for GM cars being 50 percent smaller than a year ago, support behind the 2010 LaCrosse launch is comparable to previous introductions. In 2008, Buick spent $95 million in measured media, down from $103 million a year earlier, per the Nielsen Co. Those amounts do not include online spending.

In June, Buick broke “Photoshoot,” a pre-launch trilogy of spots featuring Buick’s Enclave SUV and LaCrosse models. In them, the cars are being prepped by fawning stylists against a reggae soundtrack. Next month, Buick will air two more spots and, in September, an additional two will run focusing on product features.

Topolewski, run by longtime Detroit automotive creative director Gary Topolewski, worked on the campaign. Buick AOR Leo Burnett handled production. GM’s media agency of record is Starcom MediaVest.

“We’re driving awareness with a national campaign, but we’re also asking whether we can figure out where these target consumers live and drill down deeper,” Catton said. “We’re using micro-local media involving digital, direct, in-home and events where we’ll go to various markets and host grassroots activities.

“The perceptions are certainly still tough,” Catton added. “There are new forces of government involvement and … there are a lot of people for whom [that’s] important, but it’s not going to stop them [from buying]. For others, it will.”

Catton noted that GM had the best sales month in June since September 2008. “Go figure,” she said. “Our goal is to get out and show the new product to people as proof that we’re a company that’s moving forward.”