Profile: GM

Recently, at the Canadian International Auto Show, Jim Scott, the advertising manager of General Motors' Pontiac, Buick and GMC lines, was overheard lamenting the fact that the automotive giant often doesn't get the props it deserves for innovative marketing.

Recently, at the Canadian International Auto Show, Jim Scott, the advertising manager of General Motors’ Pontiac, Buick and GMC lines, was overheard lamenting the fact that the automotive giant often doesn’t get the props it deserves for innovative marketing.

He may be right. But that’s bound to change given its recent string of non-traditional campaigns, including its ice maze at the auto show, a 9,000 sq. ft. chilly labyrinth shaped to resemble Pontiac’s ever-familiar dart logo. ‘Instead of using communication dollars to go out there and put TV commercials on air, we’re looking for different ways to influence people’s buying decisions,’ says Scott.

Over the years, the Canadian arm of the U.S. company, based in Oshawa, Ont., has made significant strides to secure and grow its tenuous hold of just under 30% market share. Extensive ad spend is one strategy: Last year the company was number three in Canada up from number five the year previous.

But with increased competition from foreign automakers, GM has been forced to become quite savvy in the way it reaches, keeps and grows its consumer base.

The ice maze is one example. Over 13,100 people made their way through it on the first weekend alone, a number Scott describes as ‘mind-blowing.’ And of course, GM used the opportunity to build its database, having people answer queries about their car preferences in a questionnaire while entering a contest to win a Pontiac car.

The launch of the small, economical Pontiac Wave last fall is another example of GM’s non-traditional outreach. Targeting young people, the campaign used transit shelters and wild postings on construction sites that threw to a Web site where youth could download free music from puretracks.com.

Once on the Web site, consumers entered their information and received up to four free tracks of punk, pop or house music and entered to win the car. Scott says the program set new benchmarks and the automaker received tens of thousands of entries. ‘Usually the product plays the central focus, but we were trying to speak to young people in different ways so this was our way in,’ he says.

As for the Internet, it’s almost old hat. ‘The Internet is not new anymore, ‘ he says. ‘It’s how we do business.’ Scott says that it, and all its offshoots (blogging, SMS, etc.) will continue to make up part of GM’s marketing mix – depending, certainly, on whom the product targets.

Richard Cooper, executive director, Canada of J.D. Powers and Associates, says it’s all part of the company’s continued – and smart – efforts to move the message behind its Chevrolet, Pontiac and Buick lines of cars from one of price to one of brand image. ‘There’s a more consistent and contemporary look to their advertising and I think they need that badly because if the only reason you buy a Chevrolet or Pontiac is the price, then that doesn’t do very much for long-term brand equity.’