The Intrigue is so important to Oldsmobile that the division will spend $80 million to advertise the new sedan beginning July 4.
For comparison, the figure rivals the $100 million that Ford reportedly spent to launch the new Taurus, a car with sales of more than three times the 120,000 that Oldsmobile hopes for the Intrigue.
Why the lavish spending? The Intrigue is Oldsmobile's best opportunity so far to revive the division's sales and brand image.
Oldsmobile, whose sales have dropped about 200,000 in the 1990s, aims to reinvent itself as General Motors' import fighter.
The Intrigue brand team, aware of the urgency to succeed, used some of its hefty ad budget to hire Tony Scott, director of Top Gun and other movies, to film the commercials.
This Friday a 60-second commercial by Scott will begin running in movie theaters. The ad will be shown on more than 5,000 screens within two weeks. Scott's commercials also will run on national and regional TV.
In addition to a heavy media buy of popular sitcoms and glossy magazines, Oldsmobile will use some good old-fashioned gimmickry. Intrigues, minus their engines and transmissions, will be mounted on billboards in various markets.
Oldsmobile already has given its regional dealer groups a TV commercial produced by its national ad agency, Chicago-based Leo Burnett USA.
And at the end of July, Oldsmobile's national media campaign kicks in.
About 5,000 Intrigues have been shipped; dealers can sell them as they get them. The car starts at $21,250; a fully loaded Intrigue is $26,450. Both prices include a $550 destination charge.
The Intrigue is aimed at people who have the Honda Accord, Nissan Maxima or Toyota Camry at the top of their shopping list.
For the January through May period, according to the Automotive News Data Center, each of those three Japanese vehicles had sales of over 125,000 units. Oldsmobile's best seller was the Achieva, with 26,539 sales during the same period.
Oldsmobile has a huge challenge trying to pry owners out of their imports and into the Intrigue.
The division hopes that standard equipment such as air conditioning, antilock brakes, and power steering, seat, windows and door locks will help. The tag line 'A Sophisticated Twist on a Sport Sedan' is aimed at import buyers.
But according to Paul Ballew, chief economist and senior director of automotive analysis at J.D. Power and Associates, many customers lump Oldsmobile's models with other GM cars, such the Pontiac Bonneville and Grand Prix, the Buick Century and even the Cadillac Catera. Differentiating Oldsmobile from the rest of GM's products, Ballew said, may be tougher for Oldsmobile than attracting import buyers.
Ballew also thinks the Intrigue's sales target of 120,000 annually is too high. He said about 90,000 a year is more realistic.
Initially, Oldsmobile will not emphasize the stronghold of import buyers - the Pacific Northwest down through Southern California, across the Southwest, the Southeast and up the Atlantic coast to Washington - a geographical semi-circle known as the smile market.
WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR
The Intrigue's brand team does not want to repeat a mistake made by the Aurora's brand team, which emphasized the smile, said Don DeVeaux, the Intrigue's assistant brand manager of marketing.
To its chagrin, the Aurora team found early demand higher for Oldsmobile's flagship in older industrial cities such as Chicago and Cleveland.
'With the Intrigue, we've skewed the distribution to concentrate on major (import) markets but also markets where Oldsmobile has done well,' DeVeaux said.
General Motors often has been criticized for front loading its launches - spending a lot of money when a vehicle initially goes on sale, then abandoning it after a few short months.
Not this time, said DeVeaux. GM marketing chief 'Ron Zarrella has been very vocal with us, in our reviews, that we don't do the spike and then drop off to nothing,' DeVeaux said.
The Intrigue's launch spending will be carried over into 1998.
'Probably in the latter half of next year,' DeVeaux said, 'we'll be going more aggressively after the smile markets.'