Buick, whose customers have an average age in the mid-50s, is investing heavily in national Internet promotions to attract 30-something Web surfers who drive competitive makes.
Last month, Buick announced what it calls the first factory automotive rebate over the Internet with a $500 cash allowance on the Regal through the www.gmbuypower.com Web site. In addition, Buick is running a 'Click and Win' sweepstakes promotion from March 18 to May 1 that asks consumers to print a game piece from the Web site (www.buick.com).
It also is co-sponsoring 'The Regal Women's Show' with America Online. The show is an online chat show featuring women celebrities.
ON THE FRONTIER
'We want to be known as a pioneer in Internet marketing within General Motors and in the industry,' said Tom Jump, 35, Buick advertising and promotions manager.
'We pushed for these kinds of promotions, and the corporation supported us. It's a risk, but by the sheer use of the Internet we wanted people to look at Buick in a different way. It was the kind of risk we are willing to take,' said Jump, who said the Click and Win promotion is Buick's largest Internet expenditure. He refused to disclose the investment.
Jump said that in the first five days of the sweepstakes, which lets consumers get a game piece on the Internet, through a toll-free telephone number or in a magazine insert, more than 200,000 people requested pieces on the Internet. Internet responses are outpacing phone responses by 2 to 1.
'The response has been overwhelming,' said John Wray, a spokesman for Buick.
Each game piece has one of four phrases on it: 'real car,' 'real power,' 'real comfort' or 'real style.' The customer takes the game piece to a Buick dealership and a display there shows which phrase receives which prize. If the customer is not a winner, he or she can take a test drive at the dealership and enter a second-chance drawing for a new Buick.
Up to 45 consumers holding game pieces with the words 'real car' will win the 1999 Buick of their choice. Up to 100 consumers with game pieces reading 'real power' receive laptop Gateway computers; up to 100 consumers with the words 'real comfort' receive free Internet service for a year from Gateway; and consumers with 'real style' on their game piece do not win a prize.
The promotion is supported by a broad TV and print campaign that advertises the Web site. Buick purchased network and national cable spots, as well as print ads in People, Time, Newsweek and Entertainment Weekly.
Magazine ads and some newspaper inserts include a game piece. In addition, Buick is distributing game pieces through a toll free number, (877) WIN-A-CAR.
REACTION IS MIXED
The reaction from dealers on the e-coupon and Click and Win program has been mixed. Some dealers are seeing an uptick in traffic and sales, while others see it as a niche promotion with little value.
'We've seen three people through our doors (with the sweepstakes promotion),' Mark Fogliano, general manager of Spitzer Buick-Mitsubishi in Parma, Ohio, said 31/2 weeks after the program began.
'The Internet is fine, but it's another maintenance item. There are too many incentives. I'd like to see Buick stay on the same plane and market it to everyone, not a select group of people.'
Fogliano said he has sold one car through the GM BuyPower e-coupon - but it was one of his salespeople who made the buyer aware of the rebate.
Gregory Gershman, general sales manager at Goldstein Buick in Albany, N.Y., said he has sold six cars as a direct result of Click and Win. He said he would like Buick to do more Internet promotions.
'I think it's bringing in a good audience, and it's not a lot of expense,' said Gershman, who added that some of the cost of the Click and Win program is covered by Buick's dealer advertising fund. Gershman said he has sold two cars as a result of the GM BuyPower coupon. Wray said about half of the people who download the e-coupon end up purchasing a Regal.
Jodi Bailey, president of Corporate Project Resources Inc. in North Barrington, Ill., which designs Internet marketing programs for Fortune 1000 companies including automakers and their suppliers, said Buick's Internet effort is ahead of the industry in tying its Web site to local retailers.
'Most of corporate America is still in the strategy phase and has not jumped into their execution,' said Bailey. 'If Buick can use the Internet as another medium, not necessarily a brand-new (sales) channel, and leverage their existing distribution system (dealers), it's a huge win-win for everyone.'
It remains to be seen if automakers will jump into Internet promotions on a large scale, she said.
'That's the trillion-dollar question,' said Bailey. 'There's a big place for direct mail and a big place for traditional advertising. Right now everyone is trying to judge the acceptance level (of the Internet) and assess when it will ramp up to a degree to make the paradigm shift.'