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Ad whiz faces new creative challenges

Gary Topolewski knows a thing or two about automotive advertising. After a start at W.B. Doner in Southfield, Mich., as a copywriter, he joined J. Walter Thompson in Detroit where he wrote Ford Division ads.

In 1989, he moved to Campbell Mithun Esty (now FCB) where he won creative awards, including a Cannes Grand Prix for Jeep brand advertising.

In 2000, Topolewski went to TBWA/Chiat Day in Los Angeles as executive creative director where he worked on accounts including Nissan North America’s Infiniti Division.

Topolewski spoke to Special Correspondent Laura Clark Geist about the creative challenges at DMB&B.

Where did you get the idea for the Pontiac brand campaign, which uses reality TV themes?

One of the successes of reality TV is that people respond to the idea that this is really going on. The core of this idea is “Are we going to create another us-vs.-them television or advertising campaign? Is our music hotter than your music? Do our cars turn the corners faster than your models?

People have been inundated with that kind of automobile advertising. We wanted to do a no-bull kind of campaign — here are people experiencing our cars. It’s not scripted. The people are real.

Did you go this route because you believe younger people are more skeptical of traditional auto advertising?

Young people are especially skeptical. They’re guarded in a way that they’re thinking, “What are they going to sell me now?” A slick marketing campaign almost can backlash if it’s not done correctly.

Automakers have been marketing heavily to youth. Was that a concern as you released this campaign?

That’s what people naturally gravitate to — even people who are in the higher demographic age range but don’t want to think of themselves as old. Most people long for their youth. But what we needed to do was capture those people in a different way.

Does GM need to take its advertising messages to the next level as far as offering some compelling creative?

Absolutely. But I think that’s true across the board. The bar is much higher in terms of communicating with people. People are skeptical of advertising messages. People are more intelligent in terms of what they want to watch and what they’ll respond to.

Where does the new Cadillac campaign stand?

We’re developing the communications right now. It will not be launched until the first quarter of next year.

In what direction is that campaign going?

Cadillac will have a campaign that it can own and that no one else will be able to do. There’s a new lineup of Cadillacs coming out, so it will focus on the new products.

How has CJ Fraleigh (GM’s executive director of corporate advertising and marketing) helped with the Cadillac and Pontiac campaigns? The Mountain Dew campaign at Pepsico gave him a lot of experience with youth.

He has been integrally involved. That’s one thing that has been nice about the team. There are different people that add different dimensions.

The mood in the country has been somber since Sept 11. Is your Pontiac campaign — which shows young people having fun while traveling in their Pontiacs — a bit too lighthearted?

Frankly, this campaign is about freedom and the American people. (Traveling by car) is what we do as a people. Pontiac is an American product.

What are your creative goals with the Pontiac and Cadillac brands?

I’d be thrilled if we could get people to feel good about what a Pontiac is and feel good and focused about Cadillac — and get people to talk about these brands.

Do you think people feel good about these brands right now?

I think they could be feeling better.
You can reach Laura Clark Geist at autonews@crain.com

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