Pontiac's introduction of its Solstice roadster on the TV show "The Apprentice" will prove a better marketing device than last year's G6 giveaway on Oprah Winfrey's talk show, analysts predict.
But delays in getting the car to dealerships could diminish the promotion's benefits.
Pontiac planned to launch the two-seat Solstice in midsummer. A GM spokes-man now concedes the cars won't arrive in quantity in showrooms until early autumn. Industry sources cite fit problems at GM's Wilmington, Del., assembly plant, which is building the Solstice.
A GM source says Pontiac spent as much as $4 million to promote the Solstice during the April 14 episode of "The Apprentice," an NBC reality series. Pontiac marketing director Mark-Hans Richer would not confirm that figure.
Tycoon Donald Trump assigned the show's contestants to produce a marketing brochure for the Solstice, which was featured prominently throughout the hour-long episode. The winner of this season's "Apprentice" competition will get a Solstice.
Pontiac also aired two 60-second commercials for the car during the episode.
Pontiac advertising manager Dino Bernacchi says consumer response to the Solstice's appearance on the show, measured by things such as increased visits to Pontiac's Web site, has been "spectacular."
Pontiac's previous efforts at TV product placement have had limited success. Pontiac gave away nine vehicles, most notably the Aztek sport wagon, on the CBS reality series "Survivor." But those appearances did not boost sales.
In September, Pontiac spent $8 million to give away 276 G6 sedans to the studio audience on an episode of Winfrey's show. While that stunt boosted public awareness of the car, critics say it did not create sustained sales.
The Solstice's star turn on "The Apprentice" gave Pontiac a marketing boost.
Contestants Chris and Bren (right, flanking series regular George Ross) lost a competition to design a Solstice marketing brochure.
"They're going to use this introduction to ignite Pontiac," Sanfilippo says. "It got people intimately involved in the product."
Doug Scott, an analyst with NOP World Automotive in Southfield, Mich., calls the Solstice integration "a better placement than the Oprah show."
"The Solstice is obviously aimed at a younger and sporty demographic," Scott says.
" 'The Apprentice' does pretty well" with such viewers, he adds.
Pontiac's Richer says of the cost of product placement: "Even though the out-of-pocket seems very high, if you use these kinds of marketing tools well, the benefits can be very good."
On the day of the "Apprentice" episode that featured the Solstice, Pontiac attracted about 532,000 visitors to its Web site, www.pontiac.com, Bernacchi says. On a typical Thursday, the site attracts about 38,000 visitors. "The Apprentice" airs Thursday nights.
The show's promotion enabled 1,000 Web visitors to get a Solstice order number. Those 1,000 Solstices were requested in 41 minutes, Bernacchi says.
Those buyers could go to a Pontiac dealership starting the day after the show to put a deposit on the car. The first 1,000 Solstices that Pontiac builds will have special identification badges, Richer says.
More than 36,000 other Web site visitors have expressed interest in the Solstice, Bernacchi adds.
Pontiac spokesman Jim Hopson would not offer an annual sales projection for the car. The Solstice will have a base price of $19,995, including a $575 destination charge.
"Most people are willing to wait for a hot car as long as we are honest and communicate with them," Hopson says. "The worst thing we can do is give them a (delivery) date and then not get it to them on that date."
Bernacchi says Pontiac plans a special Solstice promotion on June 21, the summer solstice. He would not provide details.
Solstice commercials will resume this summer, along with a print campaign, Bernacchi says. Meanwhile, the Solstice is appearing in a divisional ad campaign for Pontiac.
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