On June 21 (which not coincidentally is the summer solstice), General Motors Corp. staged a flashy rock concert in New York City's Times Square to hype the introduction of the Pontiac Solstice, the division's first 2-seat roadster.
The performance in outdoor advertising's epicenter featured the band Jet (which Rolling Stone magazine calls “rock's new party boys”) as well as an interactive multi-media billboard and stage. A light show and pyrotechnics topped it off.
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“The solstice represents a turning point in the seasons, and we felt it was important to celebrate this particular solstice as a turning point in the renaissance for Pontiac,” says Mark-Hans Richer, Pontiac's director-marketing and advertising.
The Solstice is a low-volume car carrying high expectations for spicing up Pontiac's flat brand perception of late.
“The Solstice is more than just selling 20,000 cars a year,” says Richer. “It's also about getting our mojo back.”
The Big Apple extravaganza was intended as another eye-catching execution of Pontiac's “product fusion” marketing approach in which a new product is tied to one that already is established, well known and successful.
That technique has generated memorable marketing moments lately.
The first was in September, when Pontiac, for its G6 launch, gave away 276 of the sedans to every audience member of Oprah Winfrey's TV show. The “Oprah” show is a product, as is most entertainment, says Richer.
The giveaway cost $8 million. Ritcher says it was well worth it: “Because of that show, the G6 reached a national awareness level of 70% two-thirds faster than a typical new-car launch.”
For the Solstice, Pontiac fused its new product to Donald Trump's reality TV show, “The Apprentice,” in which young entrepreneurs vie to be the last left standing, and thus get a job from the high-profile billionaire, who one by one, tells the others, “You're fired.”
In an April episode, two teams of go-getters were told to create Solstice sales brochures. The winning effort actually ended up at dealerships.
Throughout the hour-long show, the Solstice got attention and praise from various people, including Trump.
“Just before a taping, I was standing next to Donald Trump and he said, ‘Tell me something about the car,’ recalls Richer. “I said, ‘Well, it's a sexy, gorgeous 2-seater.’ When the taping started, he looked at the camera and said, ‘This is a sexy, gorgeous 2-seater.’”
Right after the show, 1,000 viewers within 41 minutes placed orders for the car. Hits on the Solstice website jumped by 1,400%, Richer says.
Pontiac approached “The Apprentice” to pitch the supercharged product-placement idea. The show was Pontiac's second choice for that. Richer won't say what TV show was the first choice because “I'd still like to try to do something with them.”
The Times Square event aimed to link the Solstice “to New York City as a product itself,” he says.
In trying to sharpen Pontiac's image, Richer wants to put the division and its vehicles “on the cutting edge of what's hip and cool.”
He adds: “We're not hiding from the fact that Pontiac has had difficulty in the last few years riding on old product.
“We're at a turning point. Pontiac's heritage is powerful, sexy and stylish. Whenever we've executed that in products we've been successful. When we've violated that we've had failures.”
Joanne Herrmann Milch, vice president of Mark Buick-Pontiac-GMC in Yonkers, NY, says Pontiac's new way of marketing "is going about it the right way."
She adds: "Oprah was great. Reaction from ‘The Apprentice’ was fabulous. The marketing and the new product are creating a level of excitement we haven't seen in a while.”
Steve Finlay is editor of Ward's Dealer Business.