As auto companies scurried to safeguard their information systems from potential Y2K disaster in early December, Oldsmobile already was experiencing a good deal of technical difficulty.
It wasn't one of those pesky PCs giving Oldsmobile trouble. It was a NASA space probe that failed to communicate with 20,000 people who gathered at an Oldsmobile-sponsored space conference in Pasadena, Calif.
Planetfest 99 was the latest in a series of space exploration conferences put on by the Planetary Society of Pasadena. The focal point of the conference was supposed to be the moment when the $165 million Polar Lander, sent by NASA to retrieve photos and scientific data, would touch down on Mars' surface and send audio and video to Pasadena, where conference attendees were gathered around a huge screen.
But when the time came for the big moment, there was only a blank screen; the Mars Lander was nowhere to be found. Other than NASA, those who had the most reason to be frustrated were sponsors of the event, such as Oldsmobile, which spent from $10,000 to $100,000 to associate their names with the conference.
Yet the NASA failure didn't ruin Oldsmobile's marketing hopes. Olds used the event to show off three futuristic concept vehicles to an audience that included many children, and people interested in high-tech electronics.
Two of Olds' marketing objectives are to be known as a carmaker with innovative ideas, and to make a connection with youngsters well before they receive their driver's licenses.