Next month, a Chevrolet sign will go up in New York's Times Square. It will join two other billboards that General Motors leases there, making GM the largest advertiser at the famous "bow tie" intersection.
The Chevy sign will be on the One Times Square office tower, site of the iconic New Year's Eve ball drop. Industry insiders estimate GM will pay $300,000 a month to rent the space.
Last summer, GM erected a Pontiac ad on Two Times Square, opposite the ball drop. Since 2004, it has promoted GMC with a billboard on the east side of Seventh Avenue.
GM increasingly has used Times Square's New Year's Eve celebration to hype its marketing programs. A blue-chip advertiser buying a presence in Times Square is not unusual, analysts say. But maintaining three expensive long-term signs is more problematic, they argue, especially given GM's financial problems.
"If I ran Chevy marketing, that would be one of the last things I'd consider," says John Bulcroft, an automotive consultant who led marketing for Audi of America Inc. in the 1970s.
Bulcroft says it would make more sense for Chevrolet to buy a high-visibility billboard in Los Angeles, where it is trying to increase sales.
William Hopkins, a marketing consultant who worked on major automotive accounts at several ad agencies, said GM could be buying up the Times Square space to deny other car companies a presence there.
But, he says: "When funds are tight, you're better off in places you want to be, rather than keeping your competitors out."
Times Square attracts 40 million tourists each year. It appears regularly on TV shows and postcards, and in movies, magazines, newspapers and coffee-table books.
The area is home to such powerful financial institutions as Lehman Bros., Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan Chase and Nasdaq. It also is the headquarters of the Reuters news agency, ABC News and MTV.
The Times Square billboards for Pontiac, GMC and Chevrolet reflect GM's marketing strategy of focusing on individual brands rather than corporate campaigns. GM has said it is shifting advertising dollars from broadcast and print outlets to other media.
GM is among a handful of legacy marketers that have had a presence in Times Square since the 1930s. Sherwood Outdoor, the company that sells ad space on One and Two Times Square, says there will not be another opening on either tower until 2012.