DETROIT - Oldsmobile is wrestling with an unusual dilemma. It is under a death sentence, but it still must generate excitement for a new vehicle, the redesigned 2002 Bravada.
The biggest problem: Consumers are wary of buying a brand scheduled to be killed.
Soon after GM's Dec. 12 decision to kill the brand, Oldsmobile started touting a five-year or 60,000-mile warranty, dubbed the GM Protection Plan.
'We found the extended protection plan helps people consider the product and forget any concerns they have,' said Jim Vurpillat, Bravada brand manager.
That message also is the backbone of the sport-utility's marketing, though dealers say it cannot erase consumers' concerns.
'The biggest hurdle we have is trust,' said Edward DeFelice Jr., a single-point Oldsmobile dealer. 'We hear concerns from people about who is going to be around to service it. The smarter ones are saying, `What about resale?' '
So DeFelice, of DeFelice Oldsmobile Inc. in Point Pleasant, N.J., reassures customers that any GM dealer will service their vehicle after Oldsmobile is gone, and that the Bravada will have strong resale value because of the popularity of sport-utilities. 'Being that the quality is there, some are looking at it as a collector's item,' he said.
Chasing Grand Cherokee
Oldsmobile's advertising agency, Leo Burnett USA in Chicago, created one 30-second TV commercial for the sport-utility's March 15 launch on CBS' broadcast of the NCAA basketball tournament.
In the Bravada spot, a voiceover by Maurice LaMarche introduces the sport-utility as 'a new beast on the road,' as wild horses run alongside it. Music by Verdi plays in the background. The new 270-hp, aluminum inline six-cylinder engine is 'more powerful than Jeep Grand Cherokee,' says LaMarche, who is known for several cartoon voices, including The Brain of 'Pinky and the Brain.' He also mentions the warranty: 'Built by Oldsmobile, backed by General Motors.'
The agency also created print advertising for the $10 million launch campaign, a figure estimated by Advertising Age. The mostly TV push is getting the heaviest play on cable TV. Along with the Bravada spot, Oldsmobile has been running two buyer testimonial commercials for all models.
'Eventually, we will go out and shoot people who bought the 2002 Bravada for additional testimonials,' said Randall Tallerico, who joined GM as Oldsmobile's advertising director in October.
Bravada prices start at $32,235, including destination charges, for the two-wheel-drive version.
Before the announcement of Oldsmobile's phaseout, GM planned to produce at least 30,000 units of the 2002 Bravada this year. GM sold 31,194 Bravadas in the United States last year. The 2002 plan hasn't changed, said Oldsmobile spokesman Gus Buenz, though GM has the flexibility to shift production to the GMC Envoy or Chevrolet TrailBlazer, which share the Bravada's platform.
Dropping `triple zero'
This Bravada launch is not what Oldsmobile had envisioned before Dec. 12. 'This would have been the relaunch of the rocket division,' Tallerico said, 'because with the Bravada, the centennial line of Oldsmobile is complete.'
Because of high incentives, Oldsmobile's U.S. sales fell only 1.5 percent for the first two months of this year compared with the same period last year. Oldsmobile will drop its national 'triple zero' incentive on April 15.
The program, which started Oct. 2, offers 'zero money down, zero payment, zero interest.' Oldsmobile will continue to run other incentives, nationally and regionally.
Dealers say the program will be dropped because they didn't sell enough cars under it.
Oldsmobile's next planned advertising will surround the Indianapolis 500 on May 27, where the Bravada will be first sport-utility pace vehicle for the race.
Said Buenz: 'We'll be doing some things at the track and doing some regional advertising.'
Advertising Age contributed to this report