General Motors' telematics program OnStar is outgrowing its identity as a "just in case" subscription-based application for drivers in need of help. Instead, OnStar will be a lifestyle program that goes beyond safety and emergencies -- as well as a pure subscription model -- to social media, entertainment, apps, Bluetooth, phone interfacing and remote diagnostics, among other things.
To get the word out, the company is relaunching with a new campaign, "Live On" with the theme line: "Safely connecting you in ways you never thought possible."
The campaign, via Campbell-Ewald, which has had the account since OnStar's inception in 1997, is a definite shift in character and tone. Instead of talking about the little blue button as a "just in case" godsend in an emergency -- an instant contact with a real, live person -- the focus will be a brighter, more lifestyle-centered message that OnStar gets you what you want when you need it, whether it's an emergency or directions to the pizza place. Launching Sept. 20, it includes print, broadcast, and online elements, as well as grassroots programs and a new look for the logo.
The division's CMO, Sam Mancuso, said awareness of the OnStar brand equals that of Microsoft or Sony. "We have extremely high favorable opinion, and over one-third of new vehicle buyers want it in their next vehicles."
OnStar campaigns have run the gamut from a tie-in with Batman (he had OnStar) to the successful "Real Calls" radio campaign featuring people who were actually saved by the OnStar feature. "Saving lives is the most important thing we do; our marketing has created a strong feeling of safety and security, and the new campaign retains all that but adds the idea of powerfully simple connectivity," said Mancuso.
Mancuso said the new ad campaign, which shows a mix of people doing everyday things using various new OnStar services, uses a brighter color palette "to encompass a more optimistic view." The ads are set to contemporary music and lifestyle images. He says the message is that OnStar is much more than an emergency response service. "It's not about waiting for something to happen, but something people can use every day."
Mancuso said digital will also play a major role, and outdoor boards will include New York's Times Square and a wallscape that is visible as one approaches that city's Holland Tunnel. There will also be grassroots efforts such as a truck tour of mobile OnStar command centers.
Chris Preuss, president of OnStar, said real people are still OnStar's "killer app." All Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC vehicles come with the technology, which is subscription-based, although all buyers of new vehicles receive a free six-month subscription.
"About 50% of those people will subscribe to OnStar after that," he says, adding that for those people -- the company says about six million people are subscribers -- OnStar as a safety feature is non-negotiable. "The interesting thing is that the 50% number really doesn't change appreciably whether we raise or lower the subscription rates. These core buyers want that security," he says, adding that if you exclude people who exit OnStar because they are no longer driving a GM vehicle, fewer than 1% of subscribers terminate their subscription. p> Preuss said the company has been investing in "dozens of new and embedded ways to deliver a perpetual connection between a driver's smartphone and the car. He says the "secret sauce" is the OnStar back-end system, called ATOMS for "advanced telematics operations management systems." Two technology pillars are the basis of new applications for OnStar: text to voice and "geo-boxing" which allows the vehicle to "know" its location in relation to a designated place on a map. Preuss said geo-boxing will allow for advanced routing and traffic management. "You will know and understand where people are located relative to where you are."
Preuss said the company is launching a university-based "Developers Challenge" that makes the ATOMS system an open platform for applications. OnStar is also launching a program called "First Assist," in which a group of trained emergency advisors offer critical advice for 911 calls made through OnStar.