Pontiac's Music Tie-Ins Pull In Younger Drivers

Pontiac has lowered the median age of its customers by 13 years through successful marketing tie-ins this year with music and bands, according to Mark-Hans Richer, director of marketing for the General Motors auto brand.

"I love music, but as a marketer with a big budget, I realize I'm perceived as 'the man,' the person who many musicians see as the evil person who can ruin them" by luring them to sell out, said Richer, speaking at an Advertising Week event in New York this week.

Richer said the key to avoiding that kind of invidious association is not to ask the question, "Can music make the brand better?" but rather: "Can the brand make the music better?"

Pontiac is no stranger to music marketing. To demonstrate, Richer played some vintage ads for classics like the GTO Judge, featuring the '70s band Paul Revere and the Raiders.

More recent efforts involve relationships with groups like POD, OK Go and Highland Park, which put the brand into consideration among Gen-Y consumers (those born between the years 1981 and 1995).



Richer said through efforts such as the Pontiac Garage concert series--which brought an audience of 55,000 to Times Square, and continues in Chicago and Los Angeles--Pontiac reduced its median shopper age 13 years, and became the highest-rated auto brand among Gen Y consumers as measured by Harris Interactive.

Pontiac has used performance videos of such bands as POD and OK Go in what might seem incongruous ways. One video was used in an intro promo for a Pontiac-branded half-time segment, part of its sponsorship of the March Madness NCAA Final Four this year.

Richer said it's all part of Pontiac's "Brand Fusion" approach, in which shows, musicians, movies, and events are seen not merely as opportunities, but as complementary brands.

"We don't look at it as a sponsorship or a promotion, or product placement, but as a meeting of brands." As examples, he noted Pontiac's relationship with "The Apprentice." He pointed out that in April last year, Pontiac promoted its Solstice coupe--months before it launched--with ads within the show. He said that rather than simply place the car on the show, Pontiac and "The Apprentice" made it integral: The final six contestants on the NBC show were divided into two teams, each needing to develop a brochure for the Solstice.

In addition to the Solstice going to the winner, Pontiac ran a simultaneous online promotion, offering 1,000 special-edition versions of the first cars off the assembly line to early birds. Richer said the cars sold out in 40 minutes.

The effort, via Leo Burnett, Momentum and Digitas, garnered Pontiac 41,000 registrants, and Solstice sold out its 2005 production in the 10 days following the broadcast.

In 2004, Pontiac scored a marketing coup using Oprah Winfrey's celebration of the premiere of her 19th season to promote the G6 Coupe.

Pontiac donated 276 of the $28,000 coupes, and Oprah surprised each of her audience members with the car, literally leading the entire audience out to a studio parking lot where the cars were parked, each wrapped in a red bow and ribbon.

The total cost to Pontiac was around $7 million. However, while a typical 30-second TV ad spot on Oprah ran at around $70,000 at the time, Pontiac got much more than that, noted Richer.

Half of the episode was devoted to Pontiac, including a tour of the factory where the G6 is made, with Oprah meeting and interviewing assembly workers at the plant.

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