It was one of the most surprising automotive marketing campaigns of 1998. 'Loyalty First' encouraged repeat purchases by General Motors' customers by offering discount coupons ranging from $500 to $1,000 on new GM vehicles.
The program hit the market last April so suddenly and quickly that Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler jumped in with similar incentives within two weeks.
Initially, Loyalty First proved successful, raising GM's market share 1.3 percentage points until a strike crippled production in June.
It also showcased the capabilities of Campbell-Ewald Communications, the marketing arm of Campbell-Ewald Advertising in Warren, Mich., which created the program under tough time constraints.
The concept was hatched last March when Phil Guarascio, GM's vice president of advertising, came to the agency looking for a way to sell more cars in a way that didn't look like a fire sale. At about the same time, R.L. Polk named GM as the auto company with the most repeat buyers.
Less than a month
Campbell-Ewald suggested combining the Polk announcement with some sort of thank-you to GM customers, but it had less than a month to determine what the offer would be and how to communicate it. Tracie Reihm, executive vice president and managing director at C-E Communications, recalls: 'We wanted to get out there before the competition got ear of it.'
Within three days, the C-E team decided to deliver personalized letters to each qualified GM customer: the original owners of any 1986 through 1998 GM vehicle, except Saturn.
First corporate effort
It would be a unique program for GM in two ways. First, it would be the first time every GM division would work together to support a corporate marketing effort. Second, never before had a GM sales promotion letter gone out over the signature of the president of North American Operations - at the time, Rick Wagoner.
Attaching Wagoner's name to the promotion made the project especially stressful, Reihm says. Since each letter was personalized and may have contained confidential information that the consumer had given to GMAC, the agency had to be careful to put the right letters in the right envelopes. 'We couldn't let the president get complaint calls,' she notes. 'We wanted 100 percent accuracy.'
The agency contracted with eight different printing shops to compose the letters. A team of 30 people worked around the clock to ensure each letter and certificate got into the right hands. Reihm says there were no complaints.
More important for GM and Campbell-Ewald, they beat Ford and Chrysler to market. The Loyalty First program began April 10 and ended June 30. Ford responded with a similar program April 23, and Chrysler jumped in with one on April 24.