Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Heineken’s effort to expand the U.S. market for its beer depended on appealing to younger drinkers. As Beverage Industry noted, ‘‘a 25-year-old averages 65 gallons of beer per year, while a 55-year-old sips 15 gallons.’’ Among 21 to 35 year olds Heineken particularly focused on urbandwelling trendsetters, ordinary but sophisticated beer drinkers. Davis told Brandweek that Heineken’s ideal consumers were younger people ‘‘who tend to be opinion leaders. They are visible, self-confident, and risk-takers.’’ The brewer also needed to counteract these drinkers’ perception that Heineken was a beer strictly for special occasions in bars and restaurants but not for everyday, off-premise consumption. To thus broaden its appeal, the brand had to strike a delicate balance between its hard-won image as a superior product and its desire to appear more ordinary.
‘‘It’s All About the Beer’’ accordingly used irreverent humor while showing the product, in television spots, being consumed in settings far less rarefied than those traditionally associated with the brand. The campaign focused on universal ‘‘beer moments,’’ occasions when the presence of Heineken significantly affected otherwise ordinary behavior. This approach enabled the brand to show its lighter, more populist side, while also managing to keep the focus on the high quality of its beer.
The first barrels of Heineken reached the United States in the 1880s, and by 1972 the brand had become America’s top imported beer. Heineken’s fortunes in America improved even further in the 1980s, as it, like other luxury items, was a prime beneficiary of the conspicuous consumption for which that decade was known, a cultural trend that was especially pronounced in Heineken’s biggest market, New York City. Heineken likewise adapted, in the 1980s, to the emerging light-beer phenomenon, introducing Amstel Light and imbuing it with an upscale image similar to that of its older sibling. Marketing on Heineken’s behalf had long been geared toward making the brand a status symbol and identifying it as the beer of choice for urban sophisticates.
Heineken’s pedestal positioning did not serve it as well in the 1990s, however. Sales slumped, and the company struggled to craft an up-to-date image for the beer that would make it relevant to a new generation of younger drinkers. ‘‘We had an aging franchise,’’ Heineken’s senior vice president of marketing, Steve Davis, told Beverage Industry. ‘‘We didn’t conjure up in consumers’ minds much energy and excitement, and we were becoming kind of ‘your father’s Oldsmobile.’ We got high marks from everybody saying we were a great beer; what they weren’t saying is that we were a great beer for them.’’ The company recognized that, if it were to increase its U.S. market share, it needed to mute its elitist image and win over young domestic-beer drinkers. After an unsuccessful marketing campaign designed to make the red star on Heineken’s label an icon comparable to Nike’s ‘‘swoosh’’ symbol, Heineken initiated an agency search, dismissing Wells Rich Greene and hiring Lowe & Partners of New York (which later merged with Ammirati Puris Lintas to become Lowe Lintas & Partners), whose chief creative officer, Lee Garfinkel, had previously helmed an effort that successfully recast Mercedes, in much the way Heineken hoped to reinvent itself, as a more approachable brand.
In the 1990s Heineken beer (imported from Dutch parent company Heineken NV and sold in America by Heineken USA Inc.) had an outdated image. An icon of 1980s luxury and excess, Heineken had not adapted to changing trends in the United States. Heineken USA understood that its future growth hinged on making the brand more approachable in the U.S. market and on connecting with the beer industry’s all-important audience of 21 to 35 year olds. The company also wanted to maintain its reputation for superior beer. Enlisting agency Lowe & Partners (later called Lowe Lintas & Partners), Heineken in 1999 launched an advertising campaign that balanced these prerogatives while reinventing the brand’s image.
‘‘It’s All About the Beer’’—the central component of Heineken USA’s estimated measured-media spend of $34 million for 1999—focused on so-called ‘‘beer moments,’’ situations in ordinary life that became dramatic or otherwise noteworthy because of the presence of Heineken. With irreverent humor and down-to-earth backdrops, the new television spots took Heineken off its pedestal and communicated an updated, youthconscious sensibility. At the same time, as the campaign’s tagline and theme suggested, the commercials’ focus was solidly on the quality of the beer itself.
The campaign helped fuel consistent increases in Heineken sales and was credited with positioning the beer for healthy long-term growth. These successes were likewise reflected in increased ad spending, as the brand’s measured-media budget grew to an estimated $50 million by 2001. Despite changing agencies twice in two years, Heineken stuck with the ‘‘It’s All about the Beer’’ concept and tagline and continued to target a youthful audience in the following years.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Judging the Harley-Davidson campaign by the most common measure—sales figures—would be somewhat misleading, given that the company could have sold every motorcycle it built with or without advertising. Indeed, Harley-Davidson exceeded its goal of selling 10 percent more bikes in 1997, reaching 13 percent, for a total of 96,216 units. But this was due to, if nothing else, a 13 percent increase in production. Had the factory turned out 50 percent more Harleys, the company could have reported a 50 percent sales increase. Yet, based on its own extensive polling of its customers and on the market, management considered the campaign a success. Based on its data, the ‘‘perception of Harley-Davidson as ‘a strong and appealing brand’ increased by sixteen percent during the campaign,’’ according to an agency press release. At the same time the number of core riders who described the company as ‘‘selling out’’—admittedly small to begin with—fell by more than half. Positive publicity continued to generate itself as the media rushed to align itself with the Harley phenomenon, always a sure sign that a brand was hot. In the area of creativity, one of the dealer television spots won a Gold Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival, one of advertising’s most coveted honors.
Harley’s strategy for the campaign flowed quite naturally out of the company’s unique history and place in the market. The shape of the campaign, however, was determined primarily by the need to reassure the core ridership that the company had not ‘‘sold out,’’ in the words of Craig Rowley, account supervisor at Carmichael Lynch Spong. The campaign’s theme, ‘‘The Book of Harley-Davidson,’’ was devised by a team led by creative directors Kerry Casey and Jim Nelson. They relied primarily on print media because of its ability to reach the target market most cost-efficiently. Although two television spots were shot for the campaign, they were designed to be used by dealers and not broadcast nationally. The print ads consisted of spreads, each purporting to be a chapter from ‘‘The Book of Harley-Davidson,’’ although only three actual chapters were represented in the campaign. These chapters were supplemented by a series of similar spreads selling parts and accessories, although not in chapter form. Headlines in the series said, for instance, ‘‘She’s a full-figured gal,’’ referring to a fully decked-out Electra-Glidecruiser, and ‘‘Drop the wrench. Stand back and look. Laugh evilly,’’ over a gorgeous shot of a Heritage Softail Classic. The ads ran in media catering to motorcycle enthusiasts, including Harley Woman, and also in national general-interest men’s magazines such as Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, and Sports Illustrated, a sure indication of the company’s focus on the large secondary market of non-Harleyowning men.
It should be noted that the campaign was supplemented by Harley-Davidson’s exceptionally thorough dealer support programs, which included a catalog that was virtually a collector’s item among Harley enthusiasts. Rowley reported that many dealers would not give a catalog to a prospective customer until he bought a bike, the catalog then serving as a surrogate until his motorcycle was delivered two years later. The company also earmarked a significant portion of its marketing budget in support of its owners groups, known as HOGs, or Harley Owners Groups, a practice that Harley-Davidson had pioneered long before Saturn automobiles, for instance, began announcing picnics for owners and related support programs.
Any company that owned 50 percent of its category, as Harley-Davidson did of cruiser motorcycles, might easily be thought of as not having serious competition. Yet because demand was exceeding supply and creating a remarkable two-year waiting period for buying a Harley, the door was open to a handful of competitors, each looking to increase its share of the market at Harley-Davidson’s expense. Foremost among these were the four big Japanese motorcycle manufacturers—Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Suzuki—each of which had begun building its own heavy cruiser motorcycle in the previous three years. These Harley clones were characterized by big engines and an authentic look. Each could be mistaken by a non-Harley novice for the real thing. Unlike the real thing, however, these motorcycles were ready to be driven away from the showroom. More troubling in some ways were a pair of companies preparing to offer an alternative American bike right in Harley’s own neighborhood. In Minneapolis, Excelsior Henderson, a classic American motorcycle company that had failed, was threatening to come to life again and produce its own, truly authentic line of bikes. At the same time Polaris, a large manufacturer of snowmobiles, had plans—and the resources—to market a moderately priced cruiser in the $8,000 to $10,000 range. Against this background Harley-Davidson was not content to rest on its laurels, even if it could still sell many more bikes than it actually produced.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Harley-Davidson’s core rider had always defined its primary target market. That rider was most likely to be a male (91 percent), although his mate, if he had one, tended to be as enthusiastic about the bike as he was. He rode the motorcycle and lived the lifestyle. Yet, unlike consumers of many other high-ticket products, Harley owners spanned a broad socioeconomic spectrum. Visitors to the massive Harley-Davidson meets that took place in Sturgis, South Dakota, and in Daytona Beach, Florida, encountered riders from every strata of American life. But all of them embraced, if only for a weekend, the Harley credo of freedom, self-reliance, and individualism. The advertising invariably addressed itself to those riders who lived the credo, who in fact already owned a Harley. Jack Supple, for many years the executive creative director on the account at Carmichael Lynch Spong, described bluntly the tight focus Harley-Davidson’s advertising maintained on the core rider: ‘‘We don’t pander to the broader public.’’
Yet there was a secondary target market the advertising also reached, the segment of the broader market that was interested in Harley-Davidson motorcycles because of their reputation. In many ways this segment was every bit as important as the primary group, for it was from this group that increased sales came. Existing Harley owners might buy a new bike from time to time, but they would never fuel 10 percent or higher annual growth. This market also tended to be predominantly men who had grown up with the Harley legend in some form or other but who did not own one. It was a tribute to the company, the advertising, and the motorcycle itself that these men did not need to be convinced of the superiority of the product, as they might if they were shopping among Japanese bikes. They merely needed to be exposed to the legend frequently enough.
Founded in 1903, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company was among the original companies building and selling motorcycles to racers and other thrill seekers. Among a crowded field of starters, it had the distinction of being the only motorcycle company to survive the next 80 years, and thus it came by its legendary status honestly. During the late 1970s, however, the company was troubled by a reputation for poor quality, lagging innovation, and serious competition from abroad, most notably from Japanese manufacturers. During an unfortunate period of ownership by AMF Corporation, the company even produced Harley-Davidson golf carts. Finally, after a group of investors bought the company back, it began a remarkable turnaround. In 1979 the company hired the Minneapolis ad agency Carmichael Lynch Spong to help reverse some of the negative perceptions that were plaguing it. Jud Smith, group creative director of the agency team that worked on the account at the time, said in an Adweek article, ‘‘The image was that it [the motorcycle] was owned by dirtballs and decidedly uncool.’’ Although Harleys were seen as distinctively designed, honest machines, many of the competitors were offering more user-friendly motorcycles, especially for less-experienced riders. Easier to maintain, some of the other bikes were even faster than the legendary Harley. Still, Harley-Davidson had developed a near fanatical following of riders whose deep emotional attachment to their bikes had already crept into American culture. Harley ‘‘Hogs’’ were perceived as simple but tough and as embodying the rebellious facet of the national character.
By 1984 Harley-Davidson had turned an important corner under its new management, introducing a new line of bikes while significantly improving quality. The advertising began to communicate the changes, and at the same time it drew upon the passion the motorcycle inspired in its core riders with themes like ‘‘Things are different on a Harley’’ and ‘‘Harley through and through.’’ The advertising even broke with its rule of always making the bike the hero of the ad by employing high-profile—and highly passionate—Harley riders like Malcolm Forbes, Jay Leno, and Mickey Rourke, who agreed to do the ads for a dollar if it would help their favorite motorcycle company. By the 1990s an improved product and savvy marketing had turned Harley-Davidson from the motorcycle of ‘‘dirtballs’’ to the choice of free-spirited American individualists. Along with them came a legion of consumers who wanted to own part of a legend and could afford to pay as much for a bike as most people paid for a car. Despite the long waiting period, sales edged ever upward.
As a symbol of brawny industrial power, no-nonsense technological prowess, and pure American individualism, it would be difficult to surpass the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Even as flagship Americans products, from automobiles to television sets, were overtaken, outdesigned, and outmarketed by competitors from Asia and Europe, the Harley stood defiantly apart, refusing to give an inch, much like its famous champions, the Hell’s Angels-style bikers of modern legend. At least that was the image most people held after nearly two decades of ambitious product development by the company, helped along by generally inspired advertising from its agency. And as demand for the highpriced motorcycles exceeded supply, the company launched a line of ‘‘genuine’’ Harley-Davidson accessories and clothing, including cigarettes and cologne. These marketing successes, however, came at a cost. Potential Harley buyers, unable to ride away on the bike they wanted and unwilling to wait the average two years until it became available, were turning to Japanese brands. Japanese companies had begun marketing a line of Harley clones, heavy cruising bikes designed to capture the low-slung style of the classic Harley, sometimes with more power and features. At the same time,Harley’s very success in selling to a wider market was causing some of its core riders to question the company’s commitment to its values. Company research found that ‘‘a small but vocal group of core riders are saying that Harley is ‘selling out.’’’ To counter this trend, a new advertising campaign was launched in 1997. The campaign, dubbed ‘‘The Book of Harley-Davidson,’’ was designed to remind core consumers that the company that ‘‘wrote the book’’ on Harley was not about to stray from its principles. In this way the campaign hoped to reinforce positive brand perception among new buyers, while reversing any negative perceptions core riders might have. The company had ambitious sales objectives as well, for it hoped for a 10 percent increase over 1996 figures. Sticking mostly to print advertising, the campaign presented a series of spread ads in national men’s magazines as well as in books for enthusiasts. Each ad was a ‘‘chapter’’ that sold the romance of both the motorcycle and the American road. For example, chapter 5, which sold touring bikes, was titled ‘‘Waking Up in Strange Places,’’ while chapter 8 was called ‘‘Is That Thing Street Legal?’’ an appropriate headline for an ad touting racing bikes. By all measures, the campaign succeeded inmeeting its objectives. By 1998 unit sales had increased, positive perceptions by new buyers had improved, and negative perceptions by core riders had been cut in half.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Making its mark in the ad industry, the campaign in 2004 snagged a Clio Award in the Integrated Campaign category. At the 51st Annual Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, the ‘‘TurnOut’’ television spots won 5 of the 89 available awards. According to postcampaign surveys, unaided awareness for ‘‘TurnOut’’ increased more than 50 percent with exposed populations—meaning that most people who saw the spots remembered them. Data also showed that individuals exposed to the campaign were more receptive to discussing LGBT rights, one of the campaign’s main objectives. Nadine Smith, executive director for the advocacy group Equality Florida, told Business Wire, ‘‘Encouraging greater civic involvement around LGBT issues is critical for any positive, lasting change to occur.’’
Election results in 2004 were more daunting. Many candidates who supported LGBT rights were replaced by conservatives who did not. Nonetheless DDB and the Gill Foundation felt that the campaign was a success in that it educated its audience and encouraged wider public participation in LGBT issues, two achievements that were necessary for the expansion of civil rights.
When the Gill Foundation awarded DDB its advertising work, it presented the ad agency with research. One study showed that more than 80 percent of Americans believed that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should not be tolerated in the workplace. Making this statistic its starting point, DDB, in collaboration with director Doug Pray of the production company Oil Factory, filmed minidocumentaries to expose work-related discrimination. According to Gutierrez, ‘‘TurnOut’’ had been originally slated for early 2004, but after San Francisco’s mayor stirred up media attention by issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples in February, DDB and the Gill Foundation delayed the launch. The foundation feared that the political climate had become too volatile for ‘‘TurnOut,’’ the intent of which was to encourage a more cerebral discussion of LGBT issues.
With the November election approaching and the media fervor about LGBT issues showing no sign of abating, the Gill Foundation finally aired the first ‘‘TurnOut’’ television spots on July 5, 2004. The minidocumentaries appeared on TV in states that allowed employees no legal recourse if they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Modeling the campaign after past civil-rights cases, DDB wanted to portray real people coming out in the face of opposition. Finding volunteers to do it was difficult but necessary, according to Pray, who filmed the spots. Gutierrez told Advertising Age’s Creativity, ‘‘In our concepting phase, we realized there’s probably no moment in the Civil Rights era that better illuminated white folks than the Rosa Parks bus incident. Her small act of courage served as a great national commercial for civil rights.’’ Detroit native Herrera came out by setting a picture of her girlfriend on her work desk. Calhoun, another subject for ‘‘TurnOut,’’ sent a note that explained to his bosses that he was gay and about to be in a commercial. The six television spots then directed viewers to http://www.TurnOut.org to read about the outcomes of the employees’ actions. All six employees received a range of responses. Kimya Ayodele was fired after she came out. According to the Denver Post, her tires were also slashed, and coworkers verbally abused her after she dated someone from work. Herrera had a different experience. ‘‘More people would come up and talk to me,’’ she told the Denver Post. ‘‘Everyone is more helpful. It’s more like a team now. I don’t feel like the outside person.’’ Once people visited http://www.TurnOut.org, they were exposed to a wider range of issues regarding LGBT rights. One bullet read, ‘‘Did you know . . . Forty-six states have failed to enact laws that address crimes motivated by prejudice against gender identity?’’ Other campaign efforts involved sending voter-mobilization tool kits to more than 250 organizations with a collective audience of 4 million voters. Three different print ads appeared, featuring copy such as, ‘‘For gays and lesbians, America is 14 states that recognize our right to live free from job discrimination, and 36 states that don’t.’’ The campaign’s website went offline after the election.
Focus on the Family Action (FOTFA), a political lobbying organization spearheaded by James Dobson to ban same-sex marriage and abortion, targeted the Evangelical Protestants that made up 23 percent of the U.S. electorate in 2004. Frustrated by previous Supreme Court decisions, Dobson began endorsing political candidates he thought would galvanize his religion-charged agenda. He appeared on TV talk shows such as ABC’s This Week and on Fox News to express his distaste for same-sex marriage, claiming that it exacerbated what he referred to as a ‘‘culture war.’’ Despite Dobson’s influence, President George W. Bush refused to screen Supreme Court appointees according to their position on same-sex marriage. Bush also condoned civil unions if the state law allowed it.
Leading up to the election, FOTFA organized mass voting drives intended to register at least 1 million voters. Latinos were targeted with paid radio programming that aired across Spanish radio. FOTFA sponsored groups called ‘‘family policy councils,’’ which operated in 35 locations throughout the United States. One such group based in Ohio even sponsored the initiative that eventually banned same-sex marriages in that state. Dobson’s personal efforts included barnstorming the battleground states in the months before the election. He urged Christians to ‘‘vote their values’’ at a rally titled ‘‘Mayday for Marriage’’ that FOTFA organized in Washington, D.C. More than 13 thousand Hispanic churches were sent mailers that outlined how the congregation should vote. Also the group donated some $60,000 to support an Oregon measure banning same-sex marriages. Many analysts credited FOTFA for Bush’s reelection, the placement of congressmen opposed to same-sex marriage, and the ousting of Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who had previously blocked a vote on an amendment prohibiting gay marriage.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
According to Eric Gutierrez, a creative director at DDB, ‘‘TurnOut’’ targeted voters who ‘‘might be open to a discussion about rights in the workplace.’’ Polls conducted by the Gill Foundation showed that, out of a wide range of LGBT issues, equal rights in the workplace was considered highly important; more than 80 percent of straight people felt that everyone should have such rights. These findings prompted DDB to center the campaign’s most prominent aspect, the television spots, on this issue. Rodger McFarlane, executive director of the Gill Foundation, told Business Wire, ‘‘Numerous studies, including our own, reveal that a majority of ‘straight’ people are appalled when they know that non-discrimination protections don’t exist for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens.’’ The campaign was also aimed at the 56 percent of Colorado voters who did not support gay issues.
The ‘‘TurnOut’’ television spots showed six real people dissatisfied about hiding their sexual orientation from coworkers. Filmed as minidocumentaries, the spots featured the employees coming out at work. Lisa Herrera, for example, ended five years of silence about her personal life by placing a picture of her girlfriend on her desk. Steve Calhoun, a prototype tester at Detroit’s Ford Motor Company, said his coworkers were not supportive when he came out. Each person also lived in a state that permitted employers to fire people for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Gill Foundation volunteers told the Rocky Mountain News that the biggest challenge for ‘‘TurnOut’’ was getting straight, like-minded voters, specifically those under the age of 35, to vote. Even though volunteers felt that they could make a bigger impact by talking to voters oneon-one, ‘‘TurnOut’’ allowed the Gill Foundation to make gay-rights issues visible inside voters’ homes.
In 1992 Colorado voters passed an amendment to their state constitution that negated the power of laws protecting Americans from sexual-orientation discrimination. Four years later the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the amendment. The issue, remaining relatively undisturbed for years, exploded in 2004 when San Francisco’s mayor allowed the city to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.
In 2004 Colorado Republicans Musgrave and Allard proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that banned same-sex marriage. If passed the amendment would affect survivor benefits for children and spouses
in same-sex families. At the time, same-sex families were also denied more than a thousand federal benefits that opposite-sex families qualified for. At the state level only three states granted same-sex marriages the same rights and responsibilities bestowed upon so-called traditional marriages.
The Gill Foundation, which had been founded by software tycoon Tim Gill in the 1990s, reacted by rallying voters to support same-sex marriages and antidiscrimination laws. As part of the ‘‘TurnOut’’ campaign, voter-mobilization tool kits were sent to some 250 organizations around the country, encouraging voters to elect candidates such as Colorado’s Stan Matsunaka, who did not support the proposed amendment. Ted Trimpa, a Colorado attorney and gay-rights lobbyist, told the Rocky Mountain News that it was time to politically ‘‘go after people who go after us.’’ Many in LGBT communities feared that if the wrong candidates were elected, they could hinder the rising momentum of the gay-rights movement. ‘‘We can’t afford to lose,’’ Trimpa continued in the Rocky Mountain News. Gill Foundation organizers were telling volunteers to encourage similar-minded voters to ‘‘vote like your civil rights depend on it.’’ Television spots for the ‘‘TurnOut’’ campaign focused on antidiscrimination issues, specifically in the workplace. At the time, only 14 states protected citizens from being fired because of their sexual orientation. Surveys conducted before the campaign indicated that mainstream voters felt sympathetic about the problem of workplace discrimination.
In 2004 the issue of same-sex marriage catapulted into the media spotlight when San Francisco’s newly elected mayor, Gavin Newsom, allowed city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Colorado became a focal point for the issue after two of its politicians, U.S. Representative Marilyn Musgrave and U.S. Senator Wayne Allard, proposed an amendment that banned same-sex marriage. Also based in Colorado, the Christian group Focus on the Family Action began campaigning to preserve what it considered ‘‘traditional’’ marriage. In response Denver-based Gill Foundation, America’s largest contributor to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations, launched the ‘‘TurnOut’’ campaign to drum up voter support for same-sex marriages and sexual-orientation antidiscrimination laws. Between 1994 and 2004 the Gill Foundation invested nearly $54 million in LGBT-related issues, and in 2003 it contracted advertising agency DDB Seattle to create the ‘‘TurnOut’’ campaign for the months preceding the 2004 presidential elections. Television and print advertising appeared in July and targeted cities that had no laws to protect Americans from losing their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Six television spots played like minidocumentaries, showing real people coming out in their workplaces. These employees described what it was like to keep their personal lives secret at work and explained how they planned to disclose their sexual orientation to coworkers and management. The spots ended by directing viewers to http://www.TurnOut.org, a website that revealed the results of each person’s effort and explained other key LGBT issues.
Although Musgrave was reelected in 2004 and Allard was reappointed to serve as a deputy majority whip in 2005, a survey showed that, by the end of the ‘‘TurnOut’’ campaign, its audience felt more receptive to same-sex marriage issues. From an ad industry standpoint ‘‘TurnOut’’ was highly successful; it won five awards at the 51st Annual Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival as well as a Clio Award.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Once the crown jewel of the General Motors Corp. (GM), the Oldsmobile division had fallen on hard times. As a result, GM went so far as to contemplate terminating the venerable Oldsmobile nameplate, but it opted to reinvent the division instead. Beginning in 1994 Oldsmobile introduced new cars designed to appeal to younger consumers and help win back sales from competitors. Moreover, GM designated Oldsmobile as its import-fighting wing. To this end Oldsmobile created the Alero, a compact car designed to take on such best-sellers as Honda Motor Co.’s Accord and Toyota Motor Corp.’s Camry. With a planned launch date of September 1, 1998, Oldsmobile turned to its longtime ad agency, the Leo Burnett Company, to create a campaign that would generate excitement about the Alero. For this $80 million kickoff campaign, Oldsmobile adopted the tagline ‘‘Start Something.’’ The commercials were unlike anything Oldsmobile had ever done before. In both the 15-second teaser commercials (which debuted August 3, 1998) and the 30-second commercials (which began on September 1), quick-cutting images were set to a pulsing electronic sound track, scenes of screaming teenagers were interspersed with shots of the Alero, and red ovals spelled out such commands as ‘‘Start to Scream’’ and ‘‘Stop Commuting. Start Driving.’’ Every spot closed with the ‘‘Start Something’’ moniker. Leo Burnett also created print pieces and savvy Internet ads. The Alero and its supporting marketing campaign were deemed a success by General Motors executives as well as industry insiders. The campaign also managed to reach its target audience of younger consumers. GM predicted that 1999 sales of the Alero would reach or surpass 100,000 vehicles. Based on its success, the campaign was continued in 1999 and expanded to include the entire Oldsmobile line of vehicles. Early in 2000 the tagline ‘‘Start Something’’ was modified depending on which vehicle was being promoted in the specific spot. The initial success of the Alero was brief, however, and by the end of 2000 Oldsmobile sales were again on the decline. In December 2000 GM announced that it was ceasing production of Oldsmobiles.
Oldsmobile had once been perceived as a ‘‘status’’ car, a high-powered American car for the stylish executive with a family, said an article in the July 15, 1991, Adweek. Between 1983 and 1986 the division sold more than one million cars per year. In 1987, however, Oldsmobile’s fortunes waned. GM’s policy of ‘‘badge engineering’’ resulted in Oldsmobile’s vehicles becoming indistinguishable from other GM lines, diluting the brand’s cachet. In addition, the company was slow to introduce new products that kept up with consumers’ tastes. Although Oldsmobile’s 1988 campaign, ‘‘This Is Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile! This Is a New Generation of Olds,’’ was lauded by ad critics and popular with consumers, it did little to bolster the brand’s sinking sales. By 1996 Oldsmobile’s share of the U.S. car market had reached an all-time low of 2.2 percent (down from its 1995 share of 2.6 percent). Its 1996 sales were 14.5 percent lower than in 1995. According to Fortune magazine, Oldsmobile’s loyal customers were aging and had either ‘‘died or defected to Buick.’’
The division took stock of its situation in the mid-1990s and committed itself to revamping its entire product line. In 1994 Oldsmobile debuted the Aurora, which served as ‘‘the centerpiece of [the company’s] strategy to boost sagging sales by attracting buyers younger than its traditional sixty-something crowd,’’ noted USA Today. The redesigned Bravada sport-utility vehicle (model year 1996), the Silhouette and Cutlass (1997), and the Intrigue (1997) followed. So adamant was Oldsmobile to reach younger drivers that in 1997 it teamed up with The X-Files, a show that had a cultlike following among Generation Xers, for a major promotion. Nevertheless, Oldsmobile had no entry-level car that could draw consumers into the Oldsmobile line, so as the entire Oldsmobile line struggled to shed its geriatric image, Alero was pegged as the division’s entry-level vehicle.
Priced between $17,500 and $22,000, the Alero was designated as the entry-level vehicle of the Oldsmobile line. The division intended it to be a high-volume car and set a prelaunch goal for Alero of eventually accounting for 40 percent of Oldsmobile’s sales. ‘‘Start Something’’ was grounded in the premise that the bulk of the consumers who would ultimately drive these sales would be those between the ages of 30 and 50. Within this broad demographic group, Oldsmobile focused on ‘‘well-educated singles or young families with children,’’ according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. The division’s lingering reputation for ‘‘fogey-mobiles’’ made this a challenging audience to win over. Nevertheless, it was an important segment for Oldsmobile to capture. The grail for all car companies was to have consumers ‘‘grow’’ within a line of cars—to start with low-end vehicles and progress to ever-more expensive cars as they became older and wealthier. Market research had shown that brand allegiances were often formed early and tended to be long lasting. If Oldsmobile were to survive, it had to introduce consumers to its line.
To indicate that the Alero represented a new direction for Oldsmobile, Leo Burnett crafted a campaign that was meant to stand out from the array of other car commercials and seize viewers’ attention for itself. ‘‘At first glance, it doesn’t look like car advertising—it’s not supposed to,’’ the division explained in an August 26, 1998, press release. To add to the aura of uniqueness, Oldsmobile opted not to use actors in the commercials. ‘‘These are real people with real lives and passions. They closely reflect the attitude and character of the Alero,’’ said Mike Sands, Oldsmobile’s director of advertising. Moreover, the commercials had a high-energy, youthful feeling. Images of children, teens at a concert, a martial artist, and a man jumping off a mountain into the snow were the core of the spots. The sound track was modern and pulsing, and the quick-cutting cinematography resembled a music video more than a standard car commercial. ‘‘We want people who are willing to try something new,’’ Sands told Automotive News. But Oldsmobile was careful not to position itself too far outside the mainstream. The company wanted women to account for 50 percent of its sales, and conventional wisdom held that this demographic responded well to family-oriented messages. As a result, the division included upbeat domestic scenes in many of its ads. ‘‘The spots are trying to communicate a certain way of thinking and living,’’ a Leo Burnett spokesperson told Adweek. ‘‘[The campaign] speaks to a consumer set that is very new to Oldsmobile.’’
Oldsmobile pitched the Alero not only to younger drivers but also to minority groups, most notably Hispanics and African-Americans. The U.S. Census predicted that Hispanics would account for 42 percent of America’s population growth between 1998 and 2008, while only 2.3 percent of Oldsmobile’s 1997 sales had come from Hispanics. African-Americans were also underrepresented among Oldsmobile consumers. ‘‘There is a huge potential for the Alero to gain Hispanic and African-American customers who had never before considered buying an Oldsmobile,’’ Oldsmobile’s brand manager Bob Clark explained to Automotive News in September 1998. In its bid to pitch Alero to Hispanic and African-American consumers, Oldsmobile created separate ads that targeted these distinct communities. For instance, Alero’s Hispanic-oriented advertising used the tagline ‘‘Vivelo,’’ which meant ‘‘To Live,’’ because ‘‘Start Something’’ translated poorly.
As GM’s ‘‘import-fighting’’ line, Oldsmobile wanted the Alero to compete against comparable compact sedans by the established import players—the Honda Accord, the Toyota Camry, the Nissan Altima, and the Mazda 626. Alero’s task was a difficult one because it involved ‘‘mak[ing] conquest sales in a shrinking market segment,’’ according to Automotive News. Sales in the lower midrange segment that Alero sought to enter had seen shrinking sales, as increasing numbers of consumers bought sport-utility vehicles and other light trucks instead of cars. It was a highly competitive market, and Alero’s rivals conducted savvy campaigns designed to keep their share of the market. Claiming converts would be a challenge. Foremost among the Alero’s rivals was the Toyota Camry, which was the best-selling car in the United States in both 1997 and 1998. Since fall 1997 Toyota’s ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, had advertised the Camry as part of the company’s overall branding campaign: ‘‘Everyday People.’’ The Camry figured prominently in these print and television spots that showed the versatility and practicality of Toyota. Toyota’s overall share of the U.S. market grew from 8.1 percent in 1997 to 8.7 percent in 1998. The Honda Accord was the second-best-selling car in the United States in 1997 and 1998. For model year 1998 Honda had launched a completely redesigned Accord. Spots by Rubin Postaer & Associates used the tagline ‘‘An Accord Like No Other’’ to tout the Accord’s roomier interior, performance, and quiet engine. This $100 million campaign ‘‘was almost paying homage to the Accord over the past 22 years,’’ a Honda spokesperson told Advertising Age. In October 1998 Honda switched strategies with two new national Accord commercials (also by Rubin Postaer) that did not use ‘‘An Accord Like No Other.’’ Instead the spots presented the Accord not just ‘‘as a car you need,’’ but more as ‘‘a car you want,’’ a Honda representative explained in the October 5, 1998, issue of Advertising Age. In one a frazzled woman left an airport, and, by using her remote-control key, was able to freeze all action around her until she reached her Accord. The tagline proclaimed, ‘‘It’s not just a car. It’s a state of mind.’’ Honda’s overall share of the U.S. car market rose from 6.2 percent in 1997 to 6.5 percent in 1998.
Oldsmobile also viewed the Mazda 626 and the Nissan Altima as direct competitors of the Alero. Since spring 1998 Mazda, which controlled a 1.5 percent share of the U.S. car market, had used the slogan ‘‘Get In. Be Moved.’’ in advertising for all its offerings. As part of this campaign, Mazda’s ad agency, W.B. Doner & Co., created a commercial for the 626 that sought to build a more energetic and sophisticated image for the car. Set to David Bowie’s song ‘‘Rebel Rebel,’’ the commercial portrayed an attractive woman driving across town in her 626. She stopped at a sign announcing a PTA meeting and walked inside carrying a cake. ‘‘Do not go gentle into that good PTA meeting,’’ the voice-over intoned, in a spoof on Dylan Thomas’s famous poem, ‘‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.’’ Mazda ran a similar commercial for the 626 in May 1999. Nissan, whose share of the U.S. car market was an impressive 4.0 percent, pulled the plug on its ‘‘Enjoy the Ride’’ branding campaign in 1998 and initiated more product-specific spots that failed to have their desired effect. The company consequently inaugurated a new branding campaign in 1999 with the tagline ‘‘Driven.’’
‘‘Start Something’’ was designed to generate excitement for the launch of the Oldsmobile Alero. Just as the component advertisements strove to convey the car’s fun-to-drive and distinct image, Oldsmobile’s marketing efforts attempted to make the Alero’s introduction highly visible to the car’s target audience. ‘‘We really need to establish this vehicle with a big splash,’’ Oldsmobile’s Sand was quoted in the August 17, 1998, Adweek. The teaser commercials were an essential component of this plan. Even before the Alero had arrived at dealers, these 15-second spots ‘‘offer[ed] more of a sneak preview than a full disclosure of what l[ay] ahead,’’ Oldsmobile explained in a press release. By the time the full 30-second spots aired on September 1, Oldsmobile had piqued viewers’ curiosity. Print ads ran in major monthly magazines and newsweeklies after September 1. Oldsmobile employed atypical media strategies to ensure that the Alero received a considerable amount of attention. The Internet figured prominently in the ‘‘Start Something’’ campaign. According to Brandweek, the Internet was the ‘‘centerpiece of its media blitz.’’ In addition to scores of banner ads displayed on popular websites, Oldsmobile even offered test drives at home for consumers who signed up online. Incorporating the Internet into its marketing venues was a logical choice for Oldsmobile. ‘‘We think the Internet is used by very youthful, very technologically savvy consumers who are similar to the consumer profile that we want to attract with the Alero,’’ Sands told Automotive News. To raise the Alero’s profile further, Oldsmobile announced its ‘‘Start Something Tuesdays on ABC Sweepstakes’’ in August 1998. This promotional tie-in with ABC’s Tuesday evening prime-time lineup encouraged viewers to enter a sweepstakes in which 200 Aleros would be awarded.
Because Oldsmobile included Hispanic and African-American consumers in its target audience, the division used slightly different methods to reach these groups. For instance, Alero advertisements bearing the ‘‘Vivelo’’ tagline appeared in national Hispanic magazines and on Spanish-speaking networks. Oldsmobile concentrated its Hispanic-oriented efforts on large cities such as Los Angeles and Miami, as well as in regions with substantial Hispanic populations, such as Texas and the Southwest. GM declared October 13, 1998, to be ‘‘GM Hispanic Awareness Day.’’ At the company’s Miami symposium that day, a GM executive said, ‘‘I think the Alero speaks volumes about our commitment to, and expansion into, the Hispanic community.’’
In 1999 GM expanded the ‘‘Start Something’’ campaign to encompass all of its Oldsmobile vehicles in what company executives described in Advertising Age as a ‘‘divisional branding campaign,’’ or ‘‘divisional effort.’’ Karen Francis, Oldsmobile’s general marketing manager, told Advertising Age that in 1999 Alero’s marketing tagline, ‘‘Start Something,’’ was being moved to all Oldsmobile vehicle models and that the expanded campaign would kick off with television spots during the 1999 Super Bowl. A new campaign to support the introduction of the Oldsmobile Aurora sedan began in April 2000; it featured the ‘‘Start Something’’ theme, but with a subtle twist. Francis explained to Advertising Age that each vehicle in the Oldsmobile line would have a different word after ‘‘Start.’’ For the Aurora the tagline was ‘‘Start Obsessing,’’ and the Alero’s modified tagline was ‘‘Start Connecting.’’ The strategy took a different spin in late 2000 when GM announced that the redesigned Bravada sport-utility vehicle would be the last vehicle released under the Oldsmobile brand. Leo Burnett created just one 30-second TV spot supporting Bravada’s launch; it was scheduled to appear on syndicated cable for three weeks followed by a run during the ‘‘March Madness’’ basketball coverage. The spot featured a Bravada racing down a road with a herd of wild horses running alongside it. A voice-over stated, ‘‘A new beast on the road.’’
Both GM officials and industry analysts heralded the Alero’s launch as a success. Although GM’s overall 1998 performance was sluggish, the Wall Street Journal called the Oldsmobile division GM’s ‘‘one bright spot’’ and stressed the importance of the Alero to Oldsmobile’s positive results. Sands informed the January 11, 1999, Adweek that the Alero campaign was the first Oldsmobile effort that had ‘‘truly resonated’’ with this younger target audience. ‘‘It was like a light bulb went off in [consumer’s heads] that Oldsmobile had changed,’’ he exclaimed. An Oldsmobile dealer further emphasized the division’s turnaround to Automotive News on February 15, 1999:
‘‘We’re attracting non-Oldsmobile owners into the showrooms to buy Oldsmobiles.’’ The company predicted 1999 sales of the Alero to exceed 100,000. The Alero’s debut was made all the more impressive by the challenges it overcame. In June 1998 a labor dispute led to strikes at major GM production facilities, which delayed the Alero’s initial release. Some dealers and analysts therefore predicted a tepid reception for the car. ‘‘We’ve got a lot of advertising support and market interest generated and now people come in the door and there’s nothing to show them,’’ one dealer complained to the Capital Times. But these fears proved to be overblown.
Following a brief rise on the crest of the ‘‘Start Something’’ campaign, in December 2000 Oldsmobile sales took a disappointing nosedive. GM executives soon announced that the entire Oldsmobile line would be phased out. The launch of the redesigned Bravada sport-utility vehicle in 2001 would be the brand’s swan song. According to an Advertising Age report, Oldsmobile’s plans for a 2001 first-quarter divisional branding campaign were canceled. ‘‘Obviously, we’re not into brand building, we’re into brand selling,’’ a GM spokesman said. Further, amidst complaints from Oldsmobile dealers that the advertising failed to clarify fully the brand’s new positioning, the unit’s general manager Karen Francis and advertising director Mike Sands both resigned, and Oldsmobile conducted an agency review. Included in the review were incumbent Leo Burnett; McCann-Erickson Worldwide, which was the agency for the Buick line; and E. Morris Communications, the agency handling Oldsmobile’s African-American advertising. Following the review Leo Burnett retained the account and created the final advertising for Oldsmobile. In 2004 the last new Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly line.
In the early 2000s General Motors Corporation (GM) found itself the victim of its own success. Improved quality in its vehicles had resulted in less warranty work for the service centers of GM dealerships, which very much depended on the revenues. All of GM’s 7,400 dealers were brought under the Goodwrench program (a national chain of GM dealer repair shops), and the ad agency chemistri (later called Leo Burnett Detroit) was given the task of building up the brand to attract more nonwarranty work to the service centers. The marketers decided to revive the Mr. Goodwrench character, not seen in GM ads for almost a generation but still alive as a cultural icon. The result was the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign.
Rather than portray Mr. Goodwrench as an actual person, as was done from 1975 to 1985, chemistri revisited the concept by creating an oblivious reporter character, played by comedian Stephen Colbert, known for a similar role on Comedy Central’s program The Daily Show. He set off on a never-ending quest to find the one and only Mr. Goodwrench, never quite able to comprehend that every one of GM’s 80,000 technicians was, in essence, Mr. Goodwrench. In addition to 30-second TV spots, the campaign consisted of radio spots and print ads, supplemented by an updated website.
In the first year GM spent $50 million on the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign, which began in March 2003 and succeeded in elevating the Goodwrench brand in the minds of consumers. Colbert’s rising stardom also helped the campaign, and he was retained for a second set of TV spots, launched in October 2004, and for a third in 2005.
To promote its network of dealership service centers, in 1975 GM’s Service and Parts Operations (SPO) introduced Mr. Goodwrench, the everyman of General Motors technicians, along with the slogan ‘‘Keep that great GM feeling with genuine GM parts.’’ The character remained the focal point of GM SPO ads for a decade. In the ensuing years, however, GM SPO received fewer advertising dollars and produced no memorable campaigns. In the meantime the quality of General Motors cars improved, resulting in a significant erosion in income for the shops, which concentrated on performing warranty work. In 2002, for example, GM cars had 130 problems per 100 vehicles, an 11 percent improvement over the prior year, placing the company third in quality behind Toyota and Honda. Because their cars had fewer problems, GM consumers also became lax about taking them in for scheduled maintenance and repairs, adding further to the loss of business at GM repair shops. It was estimated that dealers performed 15 to 20 percent less warranty work in 2002 than in 2001. GM dealers became concerned that the loss of warranty work would reduce the amount of money they could invest in mechanics’ training and service facilities and that this would produce a downward spiral of diminished service quality, poor reputation, and further erosion of sales. The obvious way to offset the loss of warranty repairs was to boost nonwarranty business. To do this GM decided to beef up its Goodwrench program, in which only about half of the GM dealerships were participating. Starting in January 2003 all of the dealers were required to participate in the program. As a result Goodwrench became the largest automotive service network in the United States and had more financial resources at its disposal. For advertising GM turned to chemistri, an agency based in Troy, Michigan. Chemistri was heir to D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, whose connection to GM dated to 1915, when the agency fashioned ads for Cadillac. In 2002 D’Arcy’s parent company, Bcom3, was acquired by Publicis Groupe SA and disbanded. D’Arcy’s Detroit operation was kept and renamed chemistri, its purpose to focus exclusively on GM clients.
The target market for the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign consisted of both male and female owners of GM vehicles whose ages ranged from 24 to 54. A GM spokesperson quoted by Alice Z. Cuneo in Advertising Age described the coveted demographic as ‘‘Starbucks suburbanites.’’ It was with this type of person in mind that the marketers made their decision about who would represent the brand in the new campaign.
As Goodwrench service centers attempted to expand beyond warranty work, they began competing against a multitude of local mom-and-pop shops. On the national scene Goodwrench had to contend with Ford’s Quality Care service centers, which were in much the same plight, looking to drum up repair work to make up for the loss of business that had resulted from improved vehicle quality. Quality Care was spending about $40 million a year on advertising, as was another national player, Midas Muffler Company, which had been hurt by the introduction of longer-lasting mufflers in the 1990s. Midas was attempting to reposition itself as a general car maintenance center instead of just a muffler shop, and it had the benefit of a well-recognized brand to aid in the effort.
Goodwrench also faced regional competition from smaller muffler shops, such as Meineke Discount Mufflers, which had changed the name of its 900 shops in Canada and the United States to Meineke Car Care Center. Although it lacked the budgets of other companies, Meineke had the advantage of a celebrity pitchman, boxer George Foreman. Another muffler chain stepping into the fray was the 600-unit Monro Muffler and Brake. Moreover, the repair field was crowded with competitors of a different type: auto parts retailers—such as Pep Boys and the northeastern chain Strauss Discount Auto—who were opening supercenters to install the parts they sold.
Given the crowded auto repair field and the difficulty of standing out, GM was committed to spending at least as much as Ford and Midas on advertising. ‘‘We want to get this program launched at industry-leading levels,’’ Jon Brancheau, director of brand marketing for GM SPO, told Automotive News’s Dave Guilford.
As the new Goodwrench campaign was being developed, GM requested that chemistri expand its marketing approach beyond creating TV spots. The agency was asked to think in terms of wider marketing plans and to bring in partner agencies with expertise in direct mail, interactive advertising, diversity affairs, and other areas. In crafting the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign, chemistri received significant input from GM’s Dealer Fixed Operations Advisory Board. The agency also got marketing advice from the Optimization Group, a Detroit consulting firm, and hired Six Degrees, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, to provide research assistance. In an interview with Guilford for Automotive News Brancheau said that the decision to bring back the Mr. Goodwrench character, even though he would be nothing more than a phantom, was a ‘‘no-brainer.’’ Research showed that, despite an 18-year absence, Mr. Goodwrench remained firmly entrenched in the mind of consumers. The marketers elected to use humor, but because it was important to portray the technicians as skilled professionals, they had to walk a fine line. The challenge, therefore, was to find a way to relay serious information—such as the fact that dealer technicians used the latest in diagnostic tools and had received more then one million hours of combined training in the previous year—and still be funny. Humor also helped to address another potential pitfall: focusing too much on the need for service, which might carry the implication that GM products were not trustworthy. Moreover, humor helped spice up what was a less-than-exciting subject for consumers. Marketing director Beth Grotz told Theresa Howard of USA Today, ‘‘Your typical automotive service ad is a technician or service manager pleading with you to come in. We thought we’d take a little different approach to see if we could get more interest in the category.’’ To serve as the focal point of the new Goodwrench campaign, GM elected to hire a comedian and settled on Stephen Colbert, a reporter on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, a satire of an evening news program. Colbert’s deadpan delivery and well-honed dimwit persona made him an ideal choice to play the role of a reporter searching to find the one and only Mr. Goodwrench. While many people may not have recognized Colbert at the time, he was well known by the target market.
The ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign was multifaceted. In addition to TV spots, it included radio, print, and Internet elements. Print ads appeared in such magazines as People, Newsweek, Time, Sports Illustrated, Better Homes and Gardens, and Ebony. All ads mentioned theGoodwrench website,where consumers could find additional information and locate their nearest service center. The focus of the campaign was four 30-second television spots, which aired during both network and cable programs. In addition, chemistri created five spots that dealers could air on their own, and GM established 30 local marketing groups to fund local advertising. The national ads first appeared in March 2003, in time to be shown during telecasts of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. They were also shown during other sporting events, including NASCAR races, a major venue for promoting anything automotive. Moreover, GM Goodwrench sponsored a race car, which would be featured in one of the TV spots.
All four of the first wave of ads in the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign featured Colbert’s clueless reporter attempting to uncover the identity of the man called Goodwrench. The spot called ‘‘Service Bay’’ showed Colbert in a safari vest that would become the character’s trademark. He interviewed three GM service technicians, asking, ‘‘Mr. Goodwrench—who is this one and only GM expert?’’ They all claimed to be Mr. Goodwrench, confusing Colbert, who resorted to a bullhorn to ask the real Mr. Goodwrench to please step forward. The spot closed with the line ‘‘Find Mr. Goodwrench at over 7,000 GM dealerships nationwide.’’ A second spot, ‘‘Mitre Saw,’’ was broken into two parts. First, when told that Mr. Goodwrench had more than one million hours of training, the disbelieving reporter quipped, ‘‘Doesn’t leave much time for Mrs. Goodwrench now, does it?’’ Colbert then asked a technician what kind of tool Mr. Goodwrench would be if he were a tool. When the bemused technician answered, ‘‘Wrench,’’ Colbert was quick to reply, ‘‘No, the correct answer is mitre saw.’’
The final two spots in the initial ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign took Colbert out of the service center. In ‘‘NASCAR Garage’’ he visited with the driver of the GM Goodwrench-sponsored race car, Kevin Harvick. Colbert was again skeptical when Harvick confirmed that Mr. Goodwrench knew GM cars better than he did and could be found both at the track and at GM dealerships. The spot closed with Harvick expelling Colbert from his race car, where Colbert was pretending to be a driver. In the last spot, ‘‘On the Street,’’ Colbert approached people to question them about Mr. Goodwrench, capping off the interviews by outlandishly asking whether he did root canals as well as service work on GM vehicles.
There was no doubt that Colbert’s work on the TV and radio spots was the cornerstone of the success of the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign. When the ratings of The Daily Show improved dramatically during the U.S. presidential campaign of 2004, Colbert’s visibility grew. The show’s ‘‘Indecision 2004’’ coverage was especially popular with a younger demographic, part of which admitted to getting most, if not all, of their real news from the fake news show. GM’s Goodwrench service centers enjoyed Colbert’s reflected popularity. GM even became a sponsor of The Daily Show’s website. Market research indicated that, after the launch of the campaign, GM experienced significant gains in unaided brand awareness, ad awareness, and brand consideration. In October 2004, in an attempt to build on the momentum created over the previous year, GM began airing two new spots in the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ campaign. Colbert was again featured, this time joined by a sidekick, comedian Brian Posehn. Together they traveled in a tiny three-wheeled truck with ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ emblazoned on the side. In the spot titled ‘‘Stakeout’’ they tried using high-tech equipment in a dealership parking lot to find Mr. Goodwrench. In the second spot, ‘‘APB,’’ Colbert asked a mounted police officer to put out an all points bulletin (APB) for Mr. Goodwrench, noting that Mr. Goodwrench claimed to spend more than a million hours a year training. ‘‘Do you know what that means?’’ he asked. ‘‘Expertise?’’ suggested the officer. ‘‘Two words,’’ replied Colbert, then offered three: ‘‘Labor law infraction.’’
Three new ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ ads appeared in the summer of 2005. While the little truck made an appearance when Colbert challenged Harvick to a race, Posehn did not. Instead, Colbert was solo once again, questioning technicians and customers alike in his ongoing search for Mr. Goodwrench, a concept that continued to provide the copywriters with enough humorous situations to exploit Colbert’s talent and promote the Goodwrench brand.
GM was extremely pleased with the ‘‘Looking for Mr. Goodwrench’’ ads. As Grotz told the online resource the Auto Channel, ‘‘GM has broken away from the pack . . . Most vehicle service ads feature a technician holding a part in his or her hand, but we moved away from the typical spot and connected with consumers through unique settings in addition to the dealership environment, and through humor.’’ The campaign was recognized by the advertising industry, winning a Bronze EFFIE Award (Automotive Aftermarket Products and Services category) in 2005. Meanwhile, Colbert’s high profile, both in films and on Comedy Central, added luster to the ongoing campaign.
When General Motors Corporation (GM) acquired the commercial marketing rights to the Hummer truck, the civilian version of the U.S. Army’s Humvee, it faced the challenge of promoting a vehicle that was never intended to be sold in high numbers. Part of the solution was to design smaller, less-expensive versions, the H2 and H3, but much of the success would have to depend on the marketing. Rather than turning to a roster of ad agencies it usually worked with, GM hired a young Boston creative boutique, Modernista!, in 2000. The initial goal of the $35 million campaign, begun in August 2001, was to establish Hummer as a luxury brand. Thus, images ofmud-splatteredHummers that played up the vehicle’s off-road capabilities were scrapped in favor of shots that made it seem jewel-like. Once the brand was repositioned, the marketers’ goal was to pitch the lower-priced H2 and H3 to a wider market, hopefully to more women. Factors such as rising gas prices and the perception that the Hummer was oversized for most consumers proved to be major hurdles for the marketers. However, by the end of 2003 the campaign had succeeded in redefining the Hummer brand, and with the introduction of the H3 in 2005, the marketers took on a new challenge: selling the Hummer to a mass market.
The Humvee was designed for the U.S. Army in 1979 by AM General Corp., based in South Bend, Indiana. The 3.5-ton vehicle became a star of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, spurring consumer demand for a civilian version, which was introduced in 1992 as the Hummer. It catered to an exclusive market, as demonstrated by the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the first buyers. The vehicle never received much advertising support; AM General spent less than $1 million on marketing the Hummer in 1999, when it sold about 700 of the trucks. Nevertheless, AM General did enough business to attract the attention of General Motors, and in the end bought the Hummer brand in late 1999.
GM signed a seven-year contract with AM General to produce the next generation, GM-designed version, the Hummer H2 sport-utility vehicle (SUV). The agency Modernista! was hired to promote the brand. Prior marketing efforts had played up the military connection and the Hummer’s off-road capabilities, billing the vehicle as ‘‘the world’s most serious 4x4.’’ Modernista! won the account because it was the only agency that attempted to fashion a wider appeal by going beyond the tough-guy, army-truck image.
The principals involved in the campaign did not lack experience in selling cars. Modernista!’s cofounder, Lance Jensen, had worked with Hummer’s advertising director, Liz Vanzura, when she was at Volkswagen of America and he was with the Boston-based ad agency Arnold Communications. Both played key roles in developing Volkswagen’s award-winning ‘‘Drivers Wanted’’ campaign. Vanzura commented that, while the Volkswagen ads were aimed at ‘‘cool, young people,’’ her new mission was to sell Hummers to ‘‘cool, rich people.’’
Even before hiring Modernista!, GM had done a great deal of market research. According to Ted Evanoff, writing for the Indianapolis Star, ‘‘In 1999 researchers stumbled across the notion that an unlikely cross-section of America—surgeons, dot-com millionaires, rock stars, high school students, corporate execs—prized their individuality. And they regarded the rugged Hummer as a symbol of individuality, especially compared with the typical sport-utility common in suburbia.’’ Modernista! was given 2,200 pages of market data to distill into an advertising message. The agency was also handed a brand that skewed very much toward males, averaging 50 years in age and with an annual household income of more than $200,000. The target buyer for the less-expensive H2, while still male, was 42 years old on average and had a household income above $125,000. Vanzura told Chris Reidy of the Boston Globe that the coveted audience included ‘‘rugged individualists, adventurous entrepreneurs, and adrenaline junkies.’’ In other interviews she described the target market as ‘‘successful achievers’’ and ‘‘style leaders.’’ She also told Evanoff that Hummer had to vie with other purchases the well-to-do might consider, such as yachts or vacation houses, stating, ‘‘We’re really not competing in an automotive category.’’
The yacht, vacation house, and other status symbols notwithstanding, Hummer competed in the luxury-SUV category against other SUVs, including the Lincoln Navigator, Land Rover’s Range Rover, and the Lexus LX 470. But Hummer’s chief opponent was DaimlerChrysler’s Jeep Wrangler. Boasting similar military roots but extending back to World War II, Jeep had defined the SUV category and at its height in 1993 controlled nearly 30 percent of the traditional SUV market. Over the following several years, however, the brand failed had to introduce new models, and its lessexpensive ones faced increasingly stiff competition, resulting in a severe erosion of sales. As long as Hummer was not a direct competitor, DaimlerChrysler took little notice of it, but as soon as GM acquired the right to mass-market the Hummer, DaimlerChrysler recognized the threat at the high end of the SUV category and became determined to hold on to Jeep’s reputation as the premier heavy-duty, off-road brand. The two vehicles had slightly different target markets, however. Jeep appealed to consumers who loved the outdoors and might attend one of the dozens of Jeep Jamboree off-road events held throughout the year. Typical Hummer customers, on the other hand, wanted the off-road capabilities the vehicle had to offer but were more interested in the image it created. They were as likely to drive their Hummers to an upscale mall as up a mountain.
In preparation for marketing the lower-priced H2, Modernista! instituted a bridge campaign, paid for by AM General, to sell the H1 while repositioning the brand. As Will Uronis, an associate creative director at Modernista!, explained to the Boston Herald ’s Greg Gatlin, ‘‘Hollywood had defined what Hummers stood for—war, explosions and arrogance . . .We just took a look at another facet of the truck.’’ Jensen added, ‘‘We went out and talked to guys that drove them . . . they don’t all hunt and kill things.’’ Nevertheless, Hollywood movies had done a good job of making consumers aware of the Hummer. Market research conducted in 1999 indicated that as many as one in five buyers of full-size SUVs considered purchasing the Hummer. The bridge campaign was intended to play to the ‘‘rugged individualists’’ who, research revealed, were attracted to the Hummer and to set the stage for the launch of theH2 by creating an emotional attachment to the brand that transcended the hard-edged image fostered by Hollywood. According to Evanoff, writing in the Indianapolis Star, the promotion of the H1 was intended to create a ‘‘halo’’ over the brand, providing ‘‘the foundation for a brand image that will carry the smaller H2.’’ The first national ads for the GM-owned Hummer began appearing on August 13, 2001. It was an all-print campaign that featured photographs of the vehicle in lush locales in Chile. Not only did the pictures suggest where the H1, with its off-road prowess, could take the viewer, but they also made the big truck look small. It was the first time Hummer was not portrayed covered in mud or linked to the military. Reinforcing the visual message of the ad was the text, which included the headline ‘‘How did my soul get way out here?’’ and the concluding text ‘‘Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere. And sometimes in the middle of nowhere you find yourself. The legendary H1.’’ Hummer’s longtime tagline, ‘‘World’s most serious 4x4,’’ was replaced by ‘‘Like nothing else.’’ The four ads ran through the rest of 2001, appearing in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Esquire, Spin, Wired, and Red Herring. Hummer’s 50 dealers were also encouraged to use the ads created by Modernista! to bring continuity to the brand’s makeover, with some of their media costs being reimbursed by a cooperative advertising program. The H2, based on GM’s Chevrolet Tahoe full-size SUV, was introduced in July 2002. A second model featuring a small pickup bed and a cargo door was supposed to be offered at the same time, but the launch was pushed back, partly because the vehicle needed more work but also as a way to extend the marketing buzz the brand was creating. The new H2, with a base price of $48,000, was about half the price of the H1 and, despite being called the ‘‘baby Hummer,’’ essentially the same size. But it featured a smaller, less noisy gas engine rather than a cumbersome diesel one, and it had comforts and customizable options the H1 lacked but that were expected in a luxury SUV.
The introduction of the H2 was supported by another print campaign developed by Modernista! While the ‘‘Like nothing else’’ tagline of the previous ads was retained, the look of the new ads was markedly different, relying on dramatic close-ups set against bold, sky-blue backgrounds.
Like the first ads, the new ones ran in a wide range of magazines, with the text tailored to the publication. For example, in the Robb Report, which covered all things luxurious, the text read, ‘‘Excessive. In a Rome at the height of its power sort of way.’’ The Vanity Fair text read, ‘‘Threaten the men in your office in a whole new way,’’ part of an effort to increase the number of women buying the vehicles. Another ad proclaimed, ‘‘Perfect for rugby moms.’’ About 10 percent of H1 owners were women, and one goal of the H2 campaign was to increase that number to 25 percent. Outdoor ads were also produced, running in 14 major markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Detroit. Print and outdoor ads were made available for the use of dealers. The first Hummer television ads aired in mid-August 2002. The initial three 30-second spots, intended to romanticize the truck, were shot in Iceland and in Vancouver, British Columbia, and featured both natural and urban locations. They showed friends in a Hummer speeding over the tundra of Iceland or a professional woman weaving through traffic in a city. Set to rock music, the only words in the spots were text statements such as ‘‘Maybe if you can, you will.’’ A second phase of the television campaign played on people’s perception of the Hummer as a gas-guzzling road hog. In one spot a young boy constructed a small wooden version of the Hummer to enter in a soapbox derby, while The Who’s ‘‘Happy Jack’’ played in the background and the little girl next door looked on. At the start of the big race the other boys scoffed at little Jack and his less-than-streamlined racer, but he prevailed by abandoning the asphalt course, breaking the rules to go cross-country and win the race and the girl. Through the humor of the spot Jack was iconoclast, offering subliminal reassurance to potential Hummer customers who might feel guilty about buying a vehicle that got about 13 miles to a gallon of gas on the highway. A second Hummer spot, also displaying a tough side, hearkened back to the Asteroids video game of the 1980s, with a spaceship blasting boulders only to confront an indestructible Hummer, which chased the ship off the screen.
GM and Modernista! succeeded in introducing Hummer to a wider market, but after a strong showing in 2003, sales began to tail off, partly because of high gas prices. To regain lost ground, in 2004 GM introduced the H2 SUT (sport-utility truck). This was followed by the unveiling in 2005 of the H3, a midsize Hummer priced from $29,500 to $32,000. Almost 17 inches shorter, 1,700 pounds lighter, and more fuel-efficient at 20 miles per gallon, it was a vehicle GM hoped women and younger drivers would find more appealing. In pitching the vehicle to a mass market, Hummer and Modernista! faced a new task. Putting a positive spin on the challenge, Jensen told Jeremy W. Peters of the New York Times, ‘‘The brand has a lot of different personality levels . . . You can do the serious capability stuff, the real rough-and-tumble rock climbing stuff, the peaceful back-to-nature stuff.’’ Industry analyst Mary Ann Keller disagreed, telling the New York Times that it was impossible to sell Hummer to the masses:
‘‘How in the world can you possibly fathom that something that looks like a military vehicle is practical for the average driver?’’
Sunday, June 21, 2009
In December 1996 General Motors Corporation (GM) became the first major automaker in almost 80 years to market an electric car, dubbed the EV1. The car’s debut came just months after the California Air Resources Board had reluctantly decided to postpone a mandate requiring that 2 percent of cars sold in the state by 1998 be powered by electricity. Regulators agreed to change the mandate to 10 percent by 2003, but only if automakers began voluntarily introducing electric cars. With the EV1, GM effectively shifted the discussion about electric cars from the fringe to the mainstream. By most accounts, the car was a technological marvel. Its sporty aerodynamic design, which included an allaluminum frame, magnesium seats, and low-resistance tires, earned GM engineers 23 patents. But while the introduction of the EV1 was undeniably a watershed event, there were obstacles to the car’s success. It could travel just 80 to 90 miles before needing to be recharged, which took about three hours. The price was high, with lease payments coming to about $480 a month after various federal, state, and local tax incentives. And since there were only a handful of public charging sites, drivers would need to lease a charging unit for their garages or workplaces for another $50 a month.
Thanks to a steady stream of media coverage, there was pent-up curiosity about the EV1 when it became available on December 5, 1996. The $10 million advertising campaign developed by Hal Riney & Partners of San Francisco added to the mystique of the EV1. The campaign did not delve into the intricacies of the car’s technology but instead was aimed at building awareness and excitement about the fact that an electric car was available and that GM was behind it. While the target market for the EV1 was expected to be affluent people with an interest in technology and the environment, the early stage of the campaign was aimed at reaching a broader, more general audience. Teaser billboards and newspaper ads inaugurated the campaign, which was kicked off in full force on December 5, 1996, with the broadcast of a $1.5 million television commercial that featured an endearingly lifelike brigade of home appliances.
During the 1990s California earned the dubious distinction of having the dirtiest air in the nation. Car and truck exhaust could be blamed for at least half of the state’s air pollution, which spurred regulators to create a mandate for electric-powered vehicles. Similar clean-air mandates were in the works in other states, such as New York and Massachusetts that were also alarmed by worsening air quality. The laws that were passed varied, but in general they required automakers to begin offering vehicles that met the ultra-low-emissions-vehicle (ULEV) standard or the zero-emissions-vehicle (ZEV) standard. The mandates were controversial. The principal question was whether states should mandate production of the cars and hope that consumers and ample public charging stations followed or if consumer demand should determine how many electric cars automakers built. GM’s research suggested that consumers were receptive to electric cars, even if it meant sacrificing some of the conveniences they enjoyed with gas-powered automobiles. The lack of a public infrastructure was worrisome but not insurmountable to GM. In southern California, for example, utility companies had already begun installing charging sites in locations such as shopping centers, restaurants, hospitals, theaters, and public parking structures. By being the first to bring a car to market, GM would be able to stake a claim to technological leadership going into the next century.
Many in the industry believed that the EV1 and other electric cars could legitimize a new approach to transportation that would dramatically lessen air pollution. John Dunlap III, the chairman of the California Air Resources Board, was enthusiastic about the EV1: ‘‘This has the potential of being a revolutionary step.’’ Others, however, worried that if the EV1 failed it could set back development of alternative-fuel vehicles for years to come.
Not surprisingly, GM selected California as a launch state for the EV1. Arizona, the other launch state, also made sense, for its warm climate allowed for optimal performance of the car’s battery. A key marketing decision was made that, while the car would carry the GM badge, it would be leased through the Saturn Corporation subsidiary. The two-seater EV1 seemed to be a good fit with Saturn’s young, environmentally conscious buyers. Moreover, by offering the EV1 at Saturn dealerships, where 73 percent of sales were to people whose second choice was not a GM vehicle, GM saw an opportunity to reach import-loyal customers. Oddly enough, marketing the EV1 was as much about determining who should not drive it as who should. GM was quick to point out that the EV1 was not right for everyone. Joseph Kennedy, the Saturn vice president for marketing, told Popular Science, ‘‘Because the EV1 is a two-seat vehicle and does not have the longdistance range [of] 200 miles or 300 miles, it will play a role in the owner’s portfolio of vehicles.’’ He explained that the EV1 was not a primary household vehicle that could fulfill all driving needs but one appropriate for ‘‘shorter, quicker uses around town.’’
The groundwork for introducing the EV1 was laid in 1994, when GM’s PrEview Drive Program gave people in 12 cities the chance to drive a prototype model for two weeks. ‘‘We saw that it wasn’t going to be an ordinary buyer,’’ Necole Merritt, manager of corporate communications for Saturn, observed. ‘‘It was someone attuned to innovation, the kind of person who bought the first cell phone or first computer.’’ The PrEview Drive Program and other research suggested that potential drivers would be affluent college graduates, usually white, middle-aged men who were leaders in their fields. They were expected to be 35 to 54 years old, with an annual family income of more than $125,000 and a high interest in technology and the environment. Frank Pereira, GM’s EV1 brand manager, noted that the car ‘‘really speaks to those who have a desire to be in the forefront of directing the evolution of technology.’’ Once the vehicle was in the Saturn retail facilities, sales consultants narrowed the target market even further. Each facility had a consultant trained in EV1 technology who screened customers to be sure that an electric vehicle was appropriate for their needs. Next, would-be customers made an appointment with an electric vehicle marketing specialist who spent up to 12 hours making certain that their driving habits and expectations were a good fit with the EV1. ‘‘It’s important they convey to customers what this car can and cannot do,’’ explained Donald Young, Saturn’s representative for the EV1 program. ‘‘We don’t want to sell it to someone who drives 60 miles to work each way.’’ The specialists also coordinated a home and garage inspection to determine how to install the EV1’s charging unit.
In 1996 a reporter for the Los Angeles Times wrote that, ‘‘while other major auto makers have held their electric vehicle cards close to the vest, GM has been center stage.’’ Every major automaker, however, was under the same clean-air mandate, and they all kept watchful eyes on the public’s reaction to the EV1. What they observed was a market, albeit a small one, emerging. Other automakers followed on GM’s heels. Toyota produced an electric version of its RAV4sport utility vehicle, but for government or company fleet leasing only. In 1997 Ford produced an electric vehicle for fleet use. Ford, however, seemed to be taking a different approach from GM, with its efforts directed at creating alternative-fuel vehicles that would meet ULEV standards. Consumers’ Research Magazine reported that Ford offered the best range of ‘‘street-worthy’’ alternative-fuel vehicles, including the electric Ranger pickup truck, a Taurus sedan that ran on methanol and ethanol, and several other sedans that ran on compressed natural gas. In May 1997 Honda presented the most formidable challenge to GM’s electric car yet when it introduced its EV Plus, which boasted a longer-life nickel-metal hybrid battery and a greater driving range. Advertising for the EV1, however, did not address any of the emerging competitors. For the time being there was plenty of room for all electric carmakers on the playing field.
To build public awareness of the EV1’s introduction, GM hired Hal Riney & Partners, the same marketing and communications partner that had created Saturn’s award-winning advertising. Teaser billboards in Los Angeles and San Diego were the first element of the campaign to be unveiled. The billboards displayed a lightning bolt and the words ‘‘You can’t hear it coming, but it is.’’ The day the cars went on sale, new billboard ads went up with a photograph of the EV1 and the words ‘‘The electric car is here.’’
The campaign’s centerpiece was a 90-second television commercial that showed animated household appliances greeting the battery-powered EV1. Its eyecatching special effects were created by Industrial Light and Magic, a studio started by Star Wars creator George Lucas. The commercial began with a thunderstorm that knocked the electricity out in a home. When the power came back on, the appliances sprang to life. They unplugged themselves and waddled out the door to watch as the EV1 approached on the street. ‘‘It’s intended as a celebration of the arrival of the electric vehicle,’’ explained Saturn’s Kennedy. Both 30- and 60-second versions of the commercial also aired for 12 weeks in late 1996 and early 1997.
Newspaper ads during the introductory campaign tried to show consumers what a dramatic departure the EV1 was from gasoline-powered cars. For instance, a two-page ad in the Los Angeles Times depicted reeds blowing in the wind as the car drove by. It read, ‘‘There is no noise. No pistons. No valves or exhaust. Just the whir of an AC motor. And the wind. And your thoughts, of course. As you drive the electric car.’’ Because the automobile was available only in limited markets, the heaviest concentration of newspaper advertising was regional. Newspapers ads appeared in the California edition of the Wall Street Journal and in the Los Angeles Times, Arizona Republic, and Phoenix Gazette. Magazine advertising during the introductory period was placed to reach leaders in technology and innovation. The media plan included such periodicals as Business Week, Inc., Scientific American, Wired, and American Benefactor. Magazine ads had the same thoughtful, laid-back approach as the newspaper ads. One ad, for instance, showed the blur of the car on a stretch of highway and read, ‘‘You will never again use the words ‘fill’er up.’ Or ‘check the oil.’ Never utter the need for a tune-up. Or a smog check. Nope. You will simply say, ‘Unplug the car and let’s go.’ When you drive the electric car.’’ Following the 12-week introductory campaign, the marketing efforts for the EV1 shifted into a lower gear. The remainder of the advertising budget went primarily into direct-mail pieces and a handful of ads in magazines favored by technology buffs.
Time magazine’s Margot Hornblower criticized the marketing approach used for the EV1. Describing a billboard that showed a single headlight in the darkness and the words ‘‘Electrohydraulic power steering, digital clock, EV1,’’ Hornblower wrote, ‘‘The low-key print campaign has been so esoteric as to be nearly incomprehensible.’’ This subtle approach also was frustrating to members of the EV1 Owners Club, who felt that the car’s features should be spelled out more clearly in order to lure potential drivers. In fact, Marvin Rush, cofounder of the club, purchased airtime on KFI in Los Angeles with his own money and ran unauthorized spots for four weeks in early 1998. Rush told the Los Angeles Times that EV1 owners ‘‘consider ourselves evangelists. We’re trying to get GM to change its advertising.’’ In the end GM’s lawyers reviewed the radio ads for misstatements, found none, and opted to let the renegade campaign run its course. ‘‘They’re actually pretty good,’’ EV1 brand manager Frank Periera confessed to the Los Angeles Times.
The EV1 advertising campaign received critical kudos. Bob Garfield, a reviewer for Advertising Age, wrote that the television commercial used ‘‘eye-popping digital effects to communicate the revolutionary significance, the drama and the exciting implications of this introduction.’’ He added, ‘‘The march of the electronivores! It’s a wonderful concept, wonderfully realized. Even the unplugged among us will not be able not to stare at the futuristic vehicle Californians and Arizonans can buy right now.’’ A print ad for the EV1 took home the prized $100,000 cash Kelly Award for best magazine advertising as well as nonmonetary Kelly Awards for meeting the campaign’s objective and for design and graphics.
While the EV1 got rave reviews for its advertising, the car itself had no shortage of critics. Automotive analyst Christopher Cedergen told CBS News, ‘‘Overall, the electric car concept is premature. The technology really isn’t there yet.’’ Richard de Neufville, professor of transportation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was quoted in Time magazine as saying, ‘‘They gave a party, and nobody came.’’ GM declined to make sales projections when the EV1 rolled out, but industry sources speculated that fewer than 2,000 would be leased in the first year. That figure proved to be optimistic, for only 300 EV1s were actually leased. Some speculated that the advertising had missed the mark by failing to link the EV1 with Saturn dealerships. Joe Ricciardi, who led GM’s EV1 effort in Arizona, acknowledged in the Arizona Republic that ‘‘there are a lot of people who don’t know it [the electric car] is out there and don’t know where to find it.’’ To some the EV1 was most remarkable in its role as a stepping-stone to other clean-air transportation solutions.
Phil Hodgetts, president of the Electric Vehicles
Association of Southern California, said in the Los Angeles Times, ‘‘The biggest advantage of the EV1 has been to excite public interest in cars that will be nonpolluting, in pure electric vehicles running on batteries. I think it’s the start of something big.’’ GM executives contended all along that the goal of the EV1 was to build a market for alternative-fuel vehicles and that sales volume was less important than giving early drivers a good experience. Despite tepid leasing numbers in 1997, GM’s commitment to the EV1 remained firm going into 1998. The car was introduced in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco and Sacramento, the advertising budget was increased from $10 million to $15 million, and GM stepped up efforts to create an infrastructure by committing $750,000 for the development of public charging sites in the car’s markets.
While the basic approach remained the same, advertising leading into 1998 introduced a welcome touch of humor to the sometimes awestruck tone of the 1997 campaign. A few print ads even cleverly capitalized on the public’s dubiousness. An ad that ran in newspapers in northern California, for example, showed an overhead view of the EV1 and stated, ‘‘All the skepticism in the world can’t stop it. The electric car is here.’’
Although ownership of a Cadillac was for decades widely considered a part of the ‘‘American Dream,’’ Cadillac Motor, a division of General Motors, saw its share of the luxury-car market begin to decline in the 1990s. The company also saw the rise of a new subcategory in the luxury-car field, the entry-level luxury car (or ‘‘entry-lux’’), exemplified by new models such as the Lexus and new, lower-priced Mercedes models. Cadillac responded to these trends by taking a risk in 1997 with a new entry-lux model, the Catera. The sporty, comparatively affordable Catera was unlike anything Cadillac had ever sold before. It was also the first Cadillac made entirely overseas (in Germany). To launch this groundbreaking new model, Cadillac implemented a marketing campaign unlike any it had done before, calling the Catera ‘‘The Caddy that Zigs.’’ The campaign—which included a variety of television and print advertisements—used humor and clever copy to communicate to car buyers that the Catera was a whole new kind of Cadillac. The campaign even used a quirky red cartoon duck as a prominent symbol, another move that broke with the more staid marketing usually associated with Cadillac.
The campaign received harsh criticism from media and auto-industry critics. Surveys also showed the public had a mixed reaction to the campaign (especially the duck). But Cadillac executives were pleased with the sales figures for Catera’s first year, and they reported that the campaign overall had made a positive impression on the public’s traditional perceptions of the car maker.
Since its early days Cadillac was a company that specialized in luxury cars. Eventually car buyers identified the Cadillac name as synonymous with American luxury cars (‘‘Cadillac’’ even appears in some dictionaries with the definition ‘‘luxurious’’). Marketing campaigns emphasized the car maker’s tradition and quality and were aimed at an older, wealthy, male demographic. But the emergence of luxury cars from foreign manufacturers made a dent in Cadillac’s market share. Competitors like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Lexus gradually eroded Cadillac’s long-time dominance of the luxury field: from 1990 to 1996 Cadillac’s share of the luxury-car market plunged dramatically from 22.2 percent to 14.8 percent.
One of the reasons for the drop was that other car makers were building the popular entry-lux vehicles. Traditional luxury vehicles controlled 52 percent of the overall luxury market in 1991 but only 34 percent four years later. During the same time period, the market for entry-lux cars grew from 25 to 39 percent.
The typical buyer of a Cadillac automobile was male, in his late 50s or 60s, affluent, and usually but not always college-educated. David Nottoli, Cadillac’s Catera brand manager for 1997, said the Catera campaign sought a different market. ‘‘We were looking at the 45–50 age bracket,’’ he said. In addition to this narrow market, Cadillac wanted to expand on its traditional customer base by pursuing more female customers. The car maker was hoping 50 percent of Catera customers would be women. In addition, Cadillac hoped to draw an audience that was almost 100 percent college-educated. Nottoli added that non-General Motors customers were also targeted by the Catera campaign.
According to the Catera Brand Book for Cadillac dealers, ‘‘The target buyer for this car is young enough to be the son (or, just as likely, daughter) of people currently driving DeVilles [a larger, older Cadillac model]. Their definition of luxury bears no resemblance to their parents’ generation. For them . . . BMWs, Volvos, and Infinitis say more than Cadillacs and Lincolns. When it comes to luxury, Cadillac is status quo. And these buyers don’t want status quo.’’
By 1997 Cadillac was increasingly concerned about its decreasing market share as well as the growing popularity of entry-lux autos. The buyers in this new market tended to be younger, more performance-conscious, and more open to automobiles built overseas such as Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. Cadillac executives’ attention was especially drawn to the cases of two competitors’ vehicles launched in the 1990s: The Lexus ES 300, which sold 39,367 units in its first year (1992); and the Mercedes-Benz C class, which sold 23,793 units in its launch year (1994). Cadillac’s Nottoli noted that these cars were introduced with essentially the same marketing strategies traditionally used for upscale automobiles. Television and print ads were geared for an affluent audience, with dignified shots of cars rolling along country roads or displayed in luxurious settings. Cadillac knew it had to pursue a different style of marketing campaign for its Catera, as it wanted to make a major impact in the competitive entry-lux market.
To launch its ambitious Catera campaign Cadillac worked closely with its national advertising agency, the Bloomfield, Michigan, office of the international firm D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (DMB&B). The car maker spent an estimated $40 million on the campaign. According to Nottoli, Cadillac knew most car buyers saw the company as the manufacturer of serious, luxury automobiles. To challenge this perception, Cadillac wanted to emphasize a lighter side in the Catera campaign. ‘‘We tried to focus on fun,’’ he said.
They started with the campaign’s slogan, ‘‘The Caddy that Zigs.’’ Although auto enthusiasts and Cadillac owners had long called the cars by the ‘‘Caddy’’ abbreviation, the company had never used the shortened term in any advertisement before the Catera. This simple break with tradition was an important one for Cadillac, as the company wanted to emphasize that the Catera was different from any car the maker had produced before. When Cadillac and DMB&B faced the issue of which symbol or spokesperson to use for the campaign, they turned to the family crest of the founder of Cadillac (the crest is on each automobile made by the company). That crest featured six ducks—actually mythical birds called merlettes that are similar to ducks. In the crest all six ducks face left. Cadillac officials decided to play off the crest—a symbol rooted in years of family and company tradition—for its Catera ‘‘spokesperson.’’ Cadillac and DMB&B creative teams decided to turn one of the ducks in the crest to the right. The idea was that the duck ‘‘zigged’’ away from Cadillac tradition, just like the Catera. Thus the slogan ‘‘The Caddy that Zigs’’ was born. The use of a cartoon duck—red, no less—was meant to emphasize fun and irreverence, Nottoli said. Cadillac knew the use of a cartoon animal to promote a luxury car was not without its risks, but the company also knew it had to take chances to reach its younger target market. ‘‘The goal of the duck was to show how luxury and fun could come together,’’ Nottoli said. ‘‘It was representative of a whole attitude.’’
The 1997 Catera campaign got off the ground in January with a spot in a prime advertising location: the Super Bowl. The Catera spot, featuring the red duck and model Cindy Crawford, generated quite a bit of attention—not all positive—for the car maker. Several more television spots followed, all emphasizing the duck and a younger, irreverent attitude. One full-page magazine advertisement played on this attitude with a paean to ‘‘duck logic’’: ‘‘Ducks think differently than you and me. They would never forget a birthday. They have never sponsored a negative political ad. They avoid talk shows like the plague. They dance in the rain and take great pains not to walk around the puddles.’’ Ads later in the year noted the performance features of the car. One 30-second television spot was set on a curving, mountain road. The Catera drove along with two competing entrylux cars following. The voiceover announced, ‘‘You follow the leader. You follow the pack. Then you get a Catera. Suddenly, you don’t follow anything.’’ The background music was upbeat techno-pop, and the spot closed with the ‘‘Caddy that Zigs’’ slogan and the duck. In a unique promotional move, Cadillac displayed Cateras at an Atlanta mall for five weeks in January and February 1997. Cadillac-trained specialists were on hand to answer questions about the cars, and special kiosks were set up for curious shoppers. The idea was to expose the Catera to the public in an environment not traditionally associated with automobiles, with the goal of interesting consumers who might not normally consider buying a Cadillac in test driving a Catera. Figures showed about 70,000 people visited the mall display. Other innovative direct marketing techniques were employed. One Cadillac dealer took Cateras to golf and tennis tournaments, events populated by affluent, younger car buyers. The same dealer also used Cateras to taxi people to and from National Symphony Orchestra performances. In another unique move, a six-page foldout ad, which ran in fashion magazines, tied the Catera’s styling to the work of trendy fashion designers.
There were strong, divergent views on how successful the 1997 Catera campaign was. For Nottoli, the campaign was a winner for bottom-line reasons: the Catera sold well in its launch year. ‘‘In the end you judge the outcome based on results,’’ Nottoli said. Those results included the sale of 25,411 Cateras in the vehicle’s first year, surpassing Cadillac’s sales goal of 25,000. But Nottoli remarked that sales figures were not the only measure of success for the Catera campaign. He noted that the age of the typical Catera buyer—a factor that had been a crucial part of the marketing strategy—was lower than that of other Cadillac buyers. While Cadillac and industry experts differed on what the median Caterabuyer age was (while Cadillac claimed the median age was 52 years old, 13 years younger than the median age for traditional Cadillac buyers, auto industry observers claimed the age was closer to 58), Nottoli said the undeniable fact was that the car was bought by younger consumers.
The gender makeup of Catera buyers was also promising, Nottoli said. About 51 percent of Catera buyers were male, which was right on target for Cadillac’s goal of having an equal number of female and male buyers. This gender equity was much different from the typical Cadillac customer base, and Nottoli said the Catera marketing campaign played a big part in drawing female customers.
In addition, Nottoli said the Catera was successful as a ‘‘conquest vehicle,’’ an auto industry term for a car that brings in buyers who had previously not purchased a vehicle from that brand. In the case of the Catera, the campaign helped draw non-General Motors buyers into the Cadillac showrooms, another of the campaign’s key goals.
While Nottoli considered the 1997 Catera campaign a success, he acknowledged problems, most notably the red duck. While Cadillac originally adopted the duck as a spokes-symbol to emphasize fun and irreverence, the cartoon character soon began receiving too much attention. ‘‘We couldn’t get people off the duck,’’ Nottoli said. ‘‘People took it too far. They had a love-hate relationship with the duck.’’
Criticism of the Catera campaign was consistent and strong. From the beginning of the campaign, viewers were critical of the use of the duck. They also questioned whether the target market would accept a Cadillac. USA Today’s fourth annual survey of advertising agency creative directors reported it as one of the worst campaigns of 1997, writing, ‘‘More than a third of the panelists name Catera as their first choice for 1997’s worst ad. Cadillac wants to attract younger viewers to its $30,000 car, but ad executives say it was a mistake to link a luxury brand in a commercial with a wise-cracking cartoon duck.’’ In addition, USA Today’s Ad Track survey reported that only 9 percent of consumers surveyed liked the Catera duck (below the 22 percent average) and only 11 percent found the ad campaign very effective (compared to a 25 percent average).
Cadillac dealers were also critical of the campaign, complaining that the Catera campaign focused too much on fun and not enough on the car’s features. ‘‘We don’t need a quack as our spokesman,’’ Jacques J. Moore, president of a Cadillac dealership, told the Washington Post. ‘‘The Catera is a heck of a good car, an excellent car. We need an advertising campaign that sticks to the merits of the car, that emphasizes the quality of the Cadillac name.’’
Nottoli responded by saying that Cadillac was aware of the campaign’s weaknesses. He added that his one regret was the campaign was a little too ‘‘silly’’ and not sophisticated enough. But, he added, ‘‘We took a risk. I’m glad we did.’’
Nottoli said focus groups conducted by Cadillac showed solid awareness of the Catera, but that awareness did not necessarily bring buyers to the point where they bought the car. He added that many focus group participants did not consider the Catera a Cadillac; they considered it to be a different car altogether. Cadillac owners also did not consider the Catera a ‘‘real’’ Cadillac, but rather a ‘‘little Cadillac,’’ he said.
Nottoli said this was part of the ‘‘Cadillac baggage’’ the Catera marketing campaign fought to overcome. Cadillac’s traditional image as a maker of big luxury cars for older people played a big part in the acceptance of the ‘‘Caddy that Zigs’’ message. ‘‘We didn’t start with a clean slate,’’ Nottoli said. ‘‘The Cadillac baggage hurt us.’’ In 1998 Catera advertising downplayed the duck and emphasized the car’s performance features. The duck only appeared at the end of ads as an icon. Catera sales for 1998 were up considerably over sales in 1997, and the age of Catera buyers continued to decrease, Nottoli said, demonstrating the effectiveness of the ‘‘Caddy that Zigs’’ campaign.