The Hummer, which can climb the steepest hills, also has developed a talent for climbing into other companies' ads and promotions. Brands from Mountain Dew to Panasonic are using the Hummer's rugged image to boost their products.
PepsiCo.'s Mountain Dew, for instance, owns more than a dozen Hummers for a taste-test tour started by the brand a few years ago.
'Hummer is a hip, very edgy vehicle and helps us make our presence known,' said Jon Harris, a Mountain Dew spokesman in Purchase, N.Y.
The best part for AM General Corp., the Hummer's manufacturer, is that the exposure is free.
Lee Woodward, manager of marketing communications at AM General, works with a limited ad budget for the low-volume vehicle, whose original version was designed for the U.S. Army. Annual ad spending for the civilian model introduced in 1992 has hovered around $1 million - all on print ads created by Pyro in Dallas.
The Hummer's appeal explains why General Motors two weeks ago agreed to buy the brand and its marketing rights. GM also agreed to work on new products for the Hummer.
AM General doesn't pay other marketers to participate in their promotions or ads. Woodward also doesn't provide Hummers free to other marketers to use. They buy, lease or rent them.
'I don't have to give them away,' Woodward explained. 'Savvy marketers know what a powerful icon Hummer is. It sets the standards for getting to the top and going where no one else can go.'
That is why ad man Ted Speck picked the vehicle for his client, CIBC World Markets, an investment, merchant and corporate bank in Toronto.
'Hummer symbolizes the can-do, hardworking people at CIBC,' said Speck, senior partner and copywriter at Brouillard Communications in New York. The Hummer has been used in CIBC's TV commercials and print ads since late 1997. The vehicle will appear in new ads due in September.
The Hummer currently is driving promotional tours for VP Records, a reggae label. Icon Lifestyle Marketing in New York recommended the all-terrain vehicle to VP, whose tour is visiting concerts and fairs along the East Coast through September, touting its 20th anniversary. Icon doesn't name the Hummer in press releases, instead calling the logo-covered vehicle an RUV or Reggae Utility Vehicle.
Icon first used a Hummer for client Hugo Boss. A group of women, dubbed the Fragrance Police, handed out cologne samples on a tour during the last six months of 1998. 'People are pretty mesmerized' by the vehicle, said Icon's Francesca Miller, an account executive.
Woodward said marketers started calling AM General in earnest asking about co-marketing deals 21/2 years ago.
Panasonic Personal Computer Co. was among the early birds. 'We used Hummer to personify the ruggedness' of Panasonic's Toughbook notebook computer, said Tom Murcott, senior partner at Renegade Marketing Group in New York.
Renegade rented Hummers for information-technology trade shows in 1996 and 1997 and drove the front wheel over the computer to show its durability. The demo got national TV coverage from 'Good Morning America' at Comdex, the huge annual trade show in Las Vegas. The vehicle also appeared in print ads.
Woodward admitted that not all of the Hummer's appearances match its target audience of affluent households. The average Hummer owner is 43 years old.
All of the Hummer's appearances have the potential to build brand consideration, but the brand's starting sticker price of $69,152 limits sales, said Jim Hall, a vice president at AutoPacific Inc., an auto marketing consulting company in Southfield, Mich. He said that while promotional tours geared to younger people aren't generating future sales of the Hummer, they are 'sustaining the brand because of the exposure.'
AM General in South Bend, Ind., has sold between 800 and 1,000 nongovernment Hummers in each of the past four years. The money-losing company expects to close the sale of the Hummer brand rights and distribution to GM in three months.