As a niche manufacturer, AM General Corp. has a limited ad budget, so it must market its Hummer sport-utilities intelligently.
The company will launch 2000-model advertising this month in an all-print campaign. The ads' main job is to direct prospects to the Web site, said Lee Woodward, AM General's manager of marketing communications.
'We can put so much more information on the Web site than in a print ad,' he said.
For emphasis, ad agency Pyro in Dallas used Hummer's Web site address in the ads' headlines. Pyro also redesigned the company's hummer.com site two weeks ago. The site was launched in 1997.
The original site had stagnant images. The redesigned site features music, environmental sounds and videos showing the Hummer's off-road abilities.
The 2000 model brochures also direct consumers to the Web site. The simple cover, for example, has a photo of a yellow, four-door, open-top Hummer driving through new snow, with the Web address www.hummer.com/.
Pyro developed an online contact management system for Hummer dealers. It will help the dealers get more sales leads and better manage prospects, said John Beitter, a principal at the ad agency. The dealers can use Pyro's online marketing programs, which are e-mails for prospects who provide e-mail addresses.
Several times a year, prospects and enthusiasts will be directed via e-mails to a Web site that will feature topics such as Hummer's performance in an off-road endurance race.
About half of Hummer owners used the Internet during the buying process, Beitter said. He expects use to grow substantially as a result of the effort.
The campaign will continue through the 2000 model year. Print ads will appear in 15 magazines, including Fortune, Forbes FYI, Skiing, Field & Stream, Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado.
'Unfortunately our ad budget is dwarfed by other brands, so we have to make sure our marketing is very tightly integrated,' Beitter said.
He said the ad budget for the new model year is higher than for the 1999 model year, but he declined to give specifics. AM General traditionally has spent less than $1 million in measured media annually.
BRAND'S FUTURE UNKNOWN
The ad effort comes at a time of uncertainty for the Hummer brand.
On July 1, General Motors announced plans to buy the rights to the brand and marketing. AM General would continue to make and distribute the vehicle. At the time, GM said it expected the deal to be completed in three months, but has not released details.
'Any announcements will be made by GM, not us,' Woodward said.
GM is 'walking a tightrope' because the carmaker could dilute the Hummer brand, said Jim Hall, vice president of industry analysis at AutoPacific Inc.'s Southfield, Mich., office. 'The Hummer brand could go anywhere, but there's not a lot of latitude due to its uniqueness and rareness,' he said. Hummer is an off-road vehicle, not a mass-market sport-utility, Hall said.
Hummer sales in the United States, excluding those sold to the military, have ranged from 781 to nearly 1,000 units annually since 1995, according to vehicle registration data from Polk Co. in Detroit.
Jim Lynch, owner of Lynch Hummer in Wentzville, Mo., said he expects his dealership to sell a record 180 new and used Hummers this year. 'I really love the Hummer,' he said. 'I'd be happy if GM didn't change it.'