GM Strike Endangers Alero Debut

Burnett’s $80 Million Launch of Oldsmobile Model Is Put ‘On Hold’
DETROIT–The lingering strike at a General Motors parts plant may put the brakes on one of the automaker’s biggest ’99-model advertising launches. An $80 million introductory ad campaign from Leo Burnett for the all-new Olds Alero, originally scheduled for mid-August, may be delayed due to a lack of inventory, GM officials said last week.
“We’re playing it day by day, week by week,” said Randy Fox, Olds’ assistant director of communications. “As of right now, we’re on a tentative hold here.”
The Alero is expected to be Olds’ highest volume car line, with sales of around 150,000 units per year. As with the Intrigue and Aurora, the car was designed to bring import-oriented buyers back into Olds showrooms. GM’s Lansing, Mich., production plant had built only about 2,000 Alero units before running out of parts due to the strike, he said. One unit was shipped to each dealership. But for the strike, the plant would have been increasing production to full capacity at this point, he said.
Even if the strike were to end this week, Olds would not have sufficient volumes of the car in dealerships to warrant a full-blown ad campaign until late September, sources said. A tie-in between the Alero and daily rental car fleets, originally scheduled for the end of August, has also been put on hold, sources said.
The agency and Olds’ advertising department are “continuing to develop the launch campaign,” Fox said. “Exactly when it’s going to be launched is something we have to monitor here.”
Sources said Alero launch advertising may carry the “Start something” theme, created by Burnett’s Giant Step interactive unit and now appearing on the Alero’s Internet site.
Burnett officials directed questions about the campaign’s content and launch date to the automaker.
GM announced several weeks ago that media buyers at its GM Mediaworks unit were trying to renegotiate buys as a result of the strike. Several price-oriented promotion campaigns for various GM divisions’ models scheduled for the third quarter have already been put on hold, sources said.
The Alero isn’t the only Olds model feeling heat from the strike. Fox said the company is “still evaluating” whether or not to proceed with the planned August kickoff of a TV, print and direct mail campaign for the Silhouette Premiere minivan [Adweek, June 22]. Inventory problems exist with the Premiere as well, but the campaign, tied to a Blockbuster Video promotion, may proceed as planned.
The Olds division sold 34,325 vehicles in June, Oldsmobile’s best sales month since October 1995. Retail sales were up 42 percent compared with the same month a year ago.
“The pendulum is going in the right direction as far the perception of Oldsmobile, and we want to keep that momentum going despite the strike,” Fox said. “You can’t go silent.”
Olds is continuing some of its planned advertising, Fox said. Print ads for the luxury Olds Aurora and the new Olds Intrigue are running in July and August. Previously aired Bravada spots will be appearing in a targeted national TV campaign beginning in August, Fox said.
Another huge GM launch, for the all-new ’99 model Chevrolet Silverado pickup, isn’t scheduled until late 1998. That ad campaign isn’t likely to be delayed unless the strike continues into the fall, according to auto industry sources.