DETROIT - It was a simple message that blanketed almost every TV screen in the country in late September: Buy any GM car or truck in stock and pay no financing charges.
Almost immediately, an industry shellshocked from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks got in gear again.
GM's "Keep America Rolling" program did what marketing campaigns are supposed to do: It was easy to understand, and everybody was talking about it. The campaign produced results and generated mostly good feelings about the world's No. 1 automaker, and the competition had to take notice.
October sales of 1.7 million light vehicles set a single-month record. And GM, which had been behaving more like a corporal, once again was beating its chest and standing tall like the general it used to be.
"We learned (from 0 percent) that it's good to be a leader, a first mover," said John Middlebrook, GM's top marketing executive.
As a result of the "Keep America Rolling" campaign, Middlebrook, GM's vice president for vehicle brand marketing and corporate advertising, has been named the Automotive News marketer of the year. The award will be presented Wednesday, Jan. 16, at the Automotive News World Congress in Dearborn, Mich.
Although the program was a team effort, GM spokeswoman Julie Hamp said Middlebrook was responsible for implementing the plan, which included media buys and how it would be presented to the public.
The veteran marketer says consumers always have been enamored by the big deal.
"We shouldn't have been over-surprised, because the previous all-time record in September 1986 was "The Big One," we called it - 1.9 (percent) financing by General Motors across all its products," he said. "It drove the market into somewhat of a frenzy at that point."
And Middlebrook, at 60, is feeling energized.
"I'm not in retirement mode; I really like what's happening now because we've got momentum back in the market," he said.
"My energy level's up a couple of notches." c
Staff Reporter Dave Guilford contributed to this report