Retail: Pontiac gets its mojo back – Jim Scott, ad manager, Pontiac, Buick and GMC

Ever since Jim Scott took the reins as the ad manager for Pontiac, Buick and GMC in 2000, he's been itching to do something dramatic to help Pontiac get its mojo back.

Ever since Jim Scott took the reins as the ad manager for Pontiac, Buick and GMC in 2000, he’s been itching to do something dramatic to help Pontiac get its mojo back.

The brand was becoming dated. So, a year and a half ago he undertook a complete, made-in-Canada rebranding of Pontiac – right down to the models. ‘We’ve virtually revamped the product line,’ says Scott, 47.

The brand’s new image, which centres on being more emotionally appealing, officially launched this fall, coinciding with the unveiling of the sexy new two-door sports car, the Solstice. ‘Its sole reason for being is as an image vehicle,’ explains Scott. ‘We can put it up on the platform as what the brand is.’

When Scott found out this year’s Pontiac lineup from Oshawa, Ont.-based GM Canada included Canadian-only models like the Pursuit and the Wave, due to this country’s propensity for smaller cars, he saw an opportunity to implement his vision of how to reposition Pontiac as an aspirational brand, versus the practical brand research indicated people viewed it as. ‘It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, to do this all right here in Canada,’ he says.

Before setting the huge task in motion, Scott commissioned an extensive research project with Toronto-based firm BC3. ‘He’s undertaken some of the most extensive research [GM Canada] has ever seen,’ notes boss Jennifer Dawkins, GM Canada’s director of advertising and communications. ‘He works really hard to base all of his initiatives on a solid strategic approach that’s backed up with research and strong insights…. That’s one of his great strengths.’

And that’s the key to Scott’s success at selling his ideas internally. After 22 years with GM – he joined the company right out of university – he’s had a chance to build trust and figure out how to pitch properly.

In this case, research encompassed all provinces and territories, and even included anthropological work. It reinforced the notion that there are two main types of drivers: those who see vehicles as transportation, and those who are emotionally attached to driving because it gives them a rush.

The new Pontiac campaign is going after the latter group, and uses the word ‘feel’ in all of the communications. The Solstice is ‘Feel Free,’ the Pursuit ‘Feel Energized,’ the G6 ‘Feel Alive’ and the Wave ‘Feel Playful.’ All marketing communications convey the associated feeling. ‘He’s a real stickler for integration,’ notes Dawkins.

But, she adds, Scott is ‘not afraid to take risks,’ in an industry not necessarily associated with groundbreaking work. ‘He’s done a lot of innovative sponsorships that are well targeted,’ she adds, pointing to examples like a deal with online music downloading service PureTracks surrounding the launch of last year’s younger-skewing Pontiac Wave; a test-drive initiative that videotaped owners of competitive vehicles trying out the Pontiac G6 for footage to send to dealers to get them pumped about the new model; and, most notably, the ambitious Pontiac Ice Maze (a MacLaren idea) at the Toronto Auto Show last February – an expensive undertaking that landed Pontiac in the Guinness Book of World Records, not to mention tons of free press. Eighty-two media outlets covered it, and almost 20,000 people passed through during its 10 day span.

Scott oversees three major brands, yet he’s essentially a one-man show at GM. So, he relies heavily on MacLaren and spends at least one day a week at its office, checking in with all of his teams. ‘We bring him in from day one – a scribble, a sketch, an idea that pops into our head,’ explains Sean Davison, CD at MacLaren and lead creative on the Pontiac account. ‘He might as well be just one of our coworkers – it’s great.’

It looks like the close collaboration is working. Numbers on the rebranding outcome won’t be in until January, but early indicators look positive. In September, four of the top 30-selling cars in Canada were Pontiacs. And, Pontiac sales are up by 16.4% this calendar year to date. Plus, Scott says when the new TV spot, featuring a Solstice that disintegrates and turns into flying birds, was screened at the national dealer’s convention in fall, the room burst into applause. ‘That doesn’t happen often,’ he says. ‘Our dealers have a strong voice…anecdotally, they’re all on board. That’s huge.’

Next up on Scott’s to-do list is to change the way people think about the older-skewing Buick. ‘In Canada, people think of quality, comfort – ‘Someday, I’m probably going to buy one.” This spring, Scott’s new focus will be to convince people to buy the Buick now, beginning with a younger-skewing campaign surrounding the launch of the Buick Lucerne sedan. Scott is confident that with a little image rejigging, the Buick can win a place in the hearts of baby boomers.


Favourite TV show of all time:

Miami Vice. Back in the day it was so cool – I was living the life, in the

go-go ’80s. I even bought myself a go-fast boat.

Last ad that inspired you to make a purchase:

The Apple iPod campaign. It oozes cool. We have four of them in the family now.

Greatest strength:

Recognizing that I don’t have the strength to do everything myself. Surrounding myself with good people. Good people make the difference..