- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

Beginning this week, Pontiac will send a lucky winner off on a weeklong adventure in a Pontiac and film the trip for commercials. The person will then pass the keys on to someone else.
The "Pass It On" campaign's 30-second debut spots feature young people describing what they would do for a week with the Grand Am or Grand Prix. Follow-up ads, which will air subsequently on ABC's "Monday Night Football' and CBS's "SurvivorAfrica," feature people receiving the keys. (They also receive a daily stipend for expenses.) Future ads will then chronicle the activities of these people as they are filmed by a crew and by a camera mounted inside the car. "Think of it as reality TV meets marketing," said Lynn Myers, Pontiac-GMC general manager.
In addition to television, radio and print advertisements, the Internet will play a major role in the campaign. Future contestants can sign up online. The adventures of those who receive the keys will be chronicled in journals on the Web.
"'Pass It On' is built around the idea of Pontiac excitement and of real people experiencing Pontiac," said Miss Myers. "We're changing the rules with this marketing campaign, because we are broadcasting real excitement, rather than scripting it."
Indeed, the "Pass It On" campaign is a far cry from previous automotive marketing. At a Women's Automotive Association event in Detroit on the eve of the campaign's debut, Miss Myers previewed the fast-paced, MTV-style 30-second spots. She contrasted them with a seemingly endless two-minute advertisement for a 1959 Pontiac, in which Ray Bolger, the Wizard of Oz's tin man, led a group of oddly dressed singers and dancers prancing around the car.
The two ads demonstrate how radically times have changed and how quickly marketing is changing. Miss Myers, one of the auto industry's highest-ranking women, noted that when she started her marketing career with GM's Oldsmobile division in 1973, the auto industry was driven by five truck and 11 car nameplates, marketed by GM, Ford and Chrysler. They controlled 85 percent of the U.S. market. Japanese and European automakers played minor roles. Cars accounted for 74 percent of all sales.
Today, more than a dozen major manufacturers with more than 300 models compete in the U.S. marketplace. Domestic share has fallen to 65 percent, and trucks account for half of all sales. In the truck segment alone, eight manufacturers sell 22 different pickup trucks, nine sell 28 different vans and 14 sell 53 different sport utilities.
In terms of media, only four television channels and 4,500 magazine titles existed; local radio stations averaged 18 in a market. Mass media today include 200 television channels, 18,000 magazine titles and an average of 44 local radio stations. In addition, nearly 20 million Internet Web sites and 2,400 Internet-accessible radio stations exist.
"Unlike audiences watching Ray Bolger sing about the 1959 Pontiac, today's consumers can choose to get only the information they want, when they want it and how they want it. For automotive marketers, the opportunities are greater, but it's a double-edged sword," added Miss Myers. It is estimated the average person is bombarded with 13,000 messages daily.
Miss Myers contended that an automotive marketer has to hit what she calls "corridors of interest," as consumers are more apt to listen to messages that focus on their passions and interests. A marketer also must use a multichannel approach that uses traditional TV, print and radio, as well as Internet, event sponsorship, cause marketing and promotional partnerships.
Pontiac will use all of that as the "Pass It On" campaign will become the centerpiece to debut its new Vibe early in 2002. Aimed at buyers in their 20s, the Vibe combines the cargo space and available all-wheel drive of a sport utility vehicle with the handling of a roomy sports car.
Already Pontiac is using the Internet and music to create early interest. Vibe was an official sponsor of the 2001 Warped Tour, a road show of young bands and extreme sports. And fans as well as visitors to Pontiac's Web site are encouraged to suggest color names for the Vibe.
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