Depending on your age, a new online marketing campaign by GM Certified may remind you of MTV's "Punk'd" or the old "Candid Camera" TV show.
The General Motors brand of certified used vehicles is rolling out an interactive consumer Web site, www.usedcarambush.com. The site displays hidden-camera practical jokes to suggest the pitfalls of buying a used car or truck from a private seller.
At the same time, the "ambush" video vignettes promote the benefits of buying a GM-certified used vehicle.
Automakers have widely certified used cars and trucks since the mid-1990s. But many consumers still don't understand the value of certification, said Mark Mathews, GM's director of used-vehicle activities.
"We know there is an educational gap that needs to be closed," Mathews told Automotive News.
The six ambush videos were shot in Las Vegas last March. They feature an actor who poses as a used-vehicle buyer while a nearby van secretly records the transaction.
The "buyer" tries to persuade real private sellers to provide services that GM Certified routinely offers. For example, the seller of a used Chevrolet Silverado is dumbfounded when the buyer offers a $7,200 down payment and tries to negotiate financing.
Another seller puts his father on the phone when the buyer demands details about trade-in policies and warranty terms. The irritated father tells his son: "Adam, take me off the speaker. I need to talk to you."
All sellers were informed afterward of the intended use of the footage and were paid $500 each. Only one seller refused to allow GM Certified to show his video encounter.
Mathews said GM Certified will not advertise the ambush Web site. He said the site will be more effective if it is "viral" — if consumers find it themselves or are referred to it by friends. GM Certified will add new videos this year, Mathews said.
"We expect 'Ambush' will engage prospects to spend more time with our brand than any competitor," he said.
Last month, GM Certified sold 35,799 used cars and trucks, down 4.2 percent from July 2007. In the first seven months of 2008, the brand sold 261,165 certified vehicles, down 5.9 percent from the year-ago period.
GM Certified sells used Buick, Chevrolet, GMC and Pontiac vehicles. Other GM brands — Cadillac, Hummer, Saturn and Saab — run their own certified programs.
Overall, the industry sold 145,413 certified vehicles in July, 1.6 percent more than in July 2007.Through July 2008, the industry sold 1,030,184 certified cars and trucks, up 2.7 percent from the year-ago period.