The company, which also has launched a raft of new TV spots touting its GXP performance sub-brand, is wrapping the NCAA football online effort around a sweepstakes and scholarship promotion. The campaign gives money to the college whose team wins a popular vote for best play of the week in a game.
The 13-week promotion, which directs consumers to Pontiac's NCAA microsite within Pontiac.com, features ESPN College GameDay hosts Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit, versions of whom appear on ESPN.com, a raft of university Web sites and CSTV.com.
On those sites, the hosts appear to stroll onscreen, atop all other Web content--whether on the Pontiac page or one of an array of college sports Web sites on which Pontiac runs banner ads.
The effort features a kind of Web-animation technique, InPerson, owned by Owings Mills, Md.-based Rovion. InPerson versions of the three--not talking heads but head-to-foot versions unconstrained by video boxes--speak to online audiences to get them to vote for their favorite plays during each week of the season.
Pontiac has used Rovion several times in the past year. One effort used "Transformers" star and Maxim model Megan Fox in an effort to promote Pontiac's Solstice and its presence in "The Transformers" and in the virtual world Second Life.
Another effort for NCAA March Madness featured Greg Gumbel talking up Pontiac's program. Chris Hornberger, advertising manager for Pontiac, says: "ESPN's College GameDay hosts personally connect online with our target audience to emphasize the message of superior performance."
The campaign has the ESPN College GameDay hosts choosing four "game-changing" plays each week of the NCAA regular season, and each play will be uploaded for voting.
The winning college or university from each week gets a $5,000 scholarship and is eligible for a $100,000 "game-changing performance of the year" scholarship. There will also be a sweepstakes component with one voter a week for 13 weeks getting a $5,000 general scholarship. All told, Pontiac is offering $300,000 in general scholarship contributions.
Len Ostroff, CEO of Rovion, says Pontiac began working with the online tech firm in 2006 on the Gumbel promotion around NCAA basketball.
"They tell me they buy it because it's the most effective exposure they can get online," he says. "It's effective because it's something not a lot of people have seen yet, and it really humanizes the Web experience. We are a generation that has grown up on TV, and we are used to seeing video images in a box; but video in a box creates a barrier." He says his company's "InPerson" product "brings a 3-D element to a 2-D space."
The company's other clients include Universal Pictures, Microsoft, several networks, and GM's GMC division--which launched a promotional campaign this weekend, part of which uses the InPerson technology and offers a chance to win GMC trucks.
The Pontiac effort involved Boston-based digital shop Digitas, creative AOR Leo Burnett, Detroit, and GM Planworks.
A Pontiac spokesperson says the online promotional effort is happening at the same time as the launch of a raft of TV spots airing on ABC and ESPN broadcasts of the games and elsewhere, with the focus on Pontiac's GXP sub-brand.
"It makes sense with GXP being Pontiac's performance series, and performance being central to NCAA." Pontiac did a branded-entertainment program on ESPN during the opening of the NCAA last week, with a broadcast performance by rapper 50 Cent on the so-called Pontiac Garage, a performance space above New York's Times Square.
One of the new TV spots shows the GXP versions of Solstice, Torrent crossover and G6 coupe with a voiceover: "The Pontiac GXP performance series isn't faster than the speed of light; but one is faster than the Porsche Boxster, and another is faster than a BMW X5."