Pontiac ads step GM in right direction

If the latest brand advertising for Pontiac is any indication, General Motors is tossing out the vanilla.

The Pontiac campaign that started Oct. 8 is a take on reality TV, and it's like nothing we've seen from the automotive industry. The brand's expanded tag line, "Pontiac excitement. Pass it on," refers not only to word of mouth, but literally to passing on keys for a Grand Am and a Grand Prix. With no scripts, the ads follow real groups of friends who win car keys for a week, then pass them on to other winners.

When CJ Fraleigh came to GM in January as executive director of corporate advertising and marketing, he pledged to spice up advertising beyond the success of Chevy trucks. This campaign for GM's youngest-appealing brand is the first public view of Fraleigh's leadership. It's a step in the right direction.

The multimedia campaign itself is the brainchild of Gary Topolewski, whom D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles snagged in May as chief creative officer. D'Arcy, in Troy, Mich., handles the Pontiac and Cadillac accounts. Topolewski is best known for his work on Jeep while at what is now Foote, Cone & Belding.

Adam Cohen, known for his work on MTV's "Road Rules," produced Pontiac's new TV spots. The TV, print and outdoor components of the campaign drive consumers to Pontiac.com to tell what they'd do with a Grand Am or a Grand Prix for a week.

Annette Lloyd, Pontiac's director of advertising and sales promotion, said the most current results indicate that in the first 10 days of the campaign, 30,000 people registered to participate in future "Pass it on" commercials. The site is updated about twice a week and soon will host longer versions of Cohen's video, up to three minutes each.

The Grand Am and the Grand Prix are old products, but the contemporary advertising can help you forget that for 30 seconds. Every two weeks indefinitely, we'll get to see new groups of friends from various parts of the United States driving one and experiencing life. Winners drive for one week, but ad rotation is every two weeks.

Painfully missing from that experience is the Aztek. Lynn Myers, general manager of Pontiac-GMC Division, decided not to waste her money and instead promote the Aztek and other Pontiac vehicles only regionally starting next year. The Vibe sport wagon due early next year, however, will get a national push.

The "Pass it on" campaign sticks out from the auto pack. It's relevant to Pontiac's young target. It's memorable.

I can't wait to see what D'Arcy has in store for the Cadillac brand, which will break in the first quarter.

Staff Reporter Julie Cantwell can be reached at or (313) 446-0374

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