GM extends ‘May the Best Car Win’ campaign as Bob Lutz takes to track

October 30, 2009

GM extends ‘May the Best Car Win’ campaign as Bob Lutz takes to track

Race part of effort to get back on track

BY TIM HIGGINS
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Before Bob Lutz even took to the racetrack on Thursday, General Motors was claiming victory.

It didn’t matter that Lutz, driving a Cadillac CTS-V, would come in seventh place against bloggers, journalists, consumers and their GM and non-GM rides at the Monticello, N.Y., track.

The point, GM officials said, already was made: GM, while bloodied by bankruptcy, is back in the game.

"We just wanted to say to people that we have confidence that our products are as good as anything that’s out there and we’re willing to prove it and prove it in a fun way," said Jay Spenchian, GM executive director of the marketing strategy support group.

The pre-race publicity tore up some Internet blogs. Jalopnik.com, for example, led the charge in accepting a challenge to race that was made by Lutz, GM’s vice chairman of marketing.

As part of the May the Best Car Win campaign, GM began offering a 60-day, money-back guarantee as a sales incentive. Citing the program’s success, GM extended the incentive on Wednesday until Jan. 4.

GM calls challenge a win

While GM sales are down 36.3% through September, the automaker expects a sales gain in October, compared with the same month a year ago, and it’s calling the new campaign launched under Lutz a success.

Since launching the guarantee, GM said it has sold more than 142,000 vehicles.

Of those sales, only 449 people selected the guarantee as a sales incentive, Susan Docherty, GM vice president of U.S. sales, said. Most shoppers opted instead for the $500 rebate over the 60-day return offer. Four people have returned vehicles under the program while 49 people are in the process of exchanging their vehicles, she said.

The automaker also is moving forward with the next phase of the campaign with a print ad blitz that highlights the differences between its products and those of competitors.

TV commercials already are airing that compare the redesigned Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Malibu with Lexus and Toyota models, respectively.

Some say GM ads are not new

Meanwhile, some marketing professionals question the campaign.

In an essay published last week in Automotive News, Mike Jackson, a former GM vice president of marketing, said GM is wasting efforts with at least five ad campaigns in the past six months.

"In the first three to six months, they had to be talking or speaking or engaging consumers in totally new and different ways," Jackson told the Free Press. "Their post-bankruptcy marketing communications and their pre-bankruptcy marketing communications, just look at it, it’s one and the same. There’s nothing different there. Time is running out because, at some point in time, the new GM is going to be the old GM."

Closing perception gap

GM says it is working to close the perception gap between its quality products and consumer perceptions.

Spenchian pointed to research that shows the new campaign is resonating well with consumers.

On the racetrack Thursday, a Cadillac CTS-V, driven by various drivers, also placed first, second and third. Lutz seemed content with his standing. He said: "I was seventh, which was age appropriate since I’m 77."

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