Sunday, September 02, 2007

Portholes Remain Potholes at BUICK

Favorite Ad Blog Agency Spy has an open call for client horror stories, so I just left this post in a basket by their front door. If you have a few horror stories leave them in my comment box too. Feel free to name names and places. Like Dale Carnegie says, "if you've lived through it, you've earned the right to talk about it."

Was working with Buick and McCann-Erickson on the Buick Regal. It’s principal competitors were/are the Ford Taurus, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry - to better or worse extents these vehicles offer the bread and butter auto segment a nice synthesis of conservatism and sportiness. Their appeal is obvious and proven by their sales. I had the bright idea of debadging a black Regal and showing it at the auto show in Germany. I made an agreement with Porshe to test the vehicle as a German entry by Porshe into the mid sized US car market. People FLIPPED. European owners of Audi, BMW, Mercedes; Japanese owners of Acura, Lexus, Infiniti couldn’t wait to get their hands on one. People were writing us advance checks we had to decline at the show. With blacked out windows the car was a sleek runway and runaway success. Paula Travenia was head of Buick Communications at the time. Maria Shoemaker was in charge of strategy. Where the Regal only sold 40,000 units per year (including units going to rental fleets) versus rivals Toyota, Camry and Taurus sold 1.2 million each - quantification for the debadged Porshe-impersonating Regal revealed a domestic market of 800,000 units! And this was top flight top two box intent to purchase of 97%! All people wanted was for us to name the car MUNICH - and please use italics. We were stunned. Upon returning to the states McCann unleashed the entirely forgettable “Regal. Its a fine line between sport and sedan.” ad series with a Pierce Brosnan type driver. No consumer ever asked for one of these. And the character or “brand character” as GM calls it on their positioning statements was totally out of synch - unbelievable. The campaign died as did the Regal soon thereafter. Did the refs or players get payed to throw the game? We’ll never know. But it sure does seem strange that car marketers don’t know how to sell cars, once again proving that portholes remain potholes at Buick. Oh well, at least more of their ads are forgotten than remembered. That'sablessing - for now at least - until they again figure out how to connect and relate with consumers. You'd figure that after 50 years of selling vehicles they'd know what motivates people about their products. Guess not. Darn brand heritage styling queues keep getting in the way too. They like 'em, but we don't.

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