Buick wants to get a lift from Tessa Virtue

The automaker is striking a softer tone with the Olympic champ as it continues to target women and shift to social.

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Olympic champ Tessa Virtue is looking to get more young Canadian women to see themselves in a Buick.

The automakers latest campaign, “Worlds Collide” focuses on the brand’s latest Encore GX model, each highlighting its Amazon Alexa integration as Virtue goes about her day-to-day tasks in Toronto.

The campaign, led by agency partner Momentum, is taking a two-pronged approach. The first, being shared through Buick Canada’s channels, is focused on features and benefits, calling out things like the heads up display and the hands-free liftgate. The other, which is being shared by Virtue, is a bit more informal and behind the scenes to hit more of a personal note, with the figure skater talking about how the Encore GX fits into her busy life and helps make things a bit easier.

Michael MacPhee, brand director for Buick at GM Canada, says that had the automaker been in a more traditional market without a global pandemic, it likely would’ve focused more strongly on functional attributes. But in the current environment, it felt the approach would not have resonated with an audience seeking more of an entertainment-type feel, and integrated more of Virtue’s personality into how it spoke about the features of the Encore.

“We took a softer approach, I would say,” MacPhee says.

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With respect to its own brand messaging, MacPhee says Buick has gone from a fairly traditional approach to one that’s recently been more based on influencer content, which tends to be more engaging. The shift away from broadcast and into the social space will continue, he says, given that its target audience spends way more time on its phone and tends not to be as aware of the Buick brand or its new models.

Buick has not typically been seen as a “youthful” brand, or one that caters to women. But MacPhee says the Encore in particular is the top female-focused model GM sells, and one of the most female-focused brands in automotive as a whole. To continue that momentum, it is continuing an ambassador-based influencer strategy that has delivered Buick great success over the last three years, bolstered with someone like Virtue.

Virtue has long stood for the empowerment of women in sport in the eyes of Canadians, but with her recent move to Toronto to work on her MBA following her retirement from skating last fall, McPhee says it also allows her to stand for the empowerment of women in business, embodying a busy lifestyle and ambitions many within its target can relate to. He adds that consumers have a more critical eye on influencer partnerships these days, and Virtue allows Buick to touch on those things in a more authentic way.

McPhee says the automaker sees a unique white space between a small SUV and a compact one that’s really taking off with younger consumers, specifically with models that offer Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and, increasingly, Alexa integration.

“The segment is hotly contested and highly competitive and customers are looking for that new feature that stands out,” MacPhee says. The competition, he says, either does not have this technology or does not highlight it in its messaging.

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Early this month, GM Canada reported that its Q3 sales were down 10.5%, reflecting ongoing struggles in an automotive sector grappling with the fact that consumers are hesitant to enter dealerships or commit to major purchases. But the automaker reports that new crossover deliveries are beginning to once again pick up their sales momentum during the quarter, led by volume increases for the Encore GX.