1st of 2 news stories at this section:

Automotive News / May 12, 2003

MARKETING: Buick ad director: 'Welcome to the next act'

As Buick turns 100 on May 19, it draws from a rich past to effectively chart its future.

With a history that includes 35 million Buicks built in the 20th century, the car company started by William Durant is "in brand mode," says agency Executive Creative Director David Moore. "We're trying to rebuild what the brand means these days."

Moore should know, as he oversees a staff of 45 at Buick's agency of record, McCann Erickson in Troy, Mich., a unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies.

It is the Buick group under Moore, and led by creative directors Tom Parr and Michael Joiner, that is trying to move the brand forward on the agency side by using the long-deceased historical figure of Harley Earl and golfer Tiger Woods as brand spokesmen.

This is supported on the company side with better future product that will be targeted toward people between the ages of 45 and 59.

"Welcome to the next act," says Randall Tallerico, Buick's advertising director. "This new campaign blends style and humor and draws upon inherent strengths of the Buick brand."

Making strides

If you have a little gray in your hair, you may recall that once upon a time the marque was known as "the doctor's car." You also may recall a tag line of "Wouldn't you really rather own a Buick?"

In reality, recent product could only have been called bland. The demographic of the buyer was one foot in the grave, and agency personnel had their work cut out for them.

Salvation arrived in the form of a crossover vehicle, the Rendezvous, in June 2001 and Buick's $30 million spokesman Woods in December 1999.

The initial campaign with Woods and the Rendezvous used a presumptive conclusion in the corporate tag line, "It's all good." The message failed to resonate in print or TV, but Woods and the Rendezvous were a hit, casting a halo over the Buick line and lowering the age demographic of the customer, which was about 62 at the time Rendezvous went on sale.

Overall, Buick sales were up 6.5 percent from 2001 to 2002 at 432,017 units. Rendezvous sales almost doubled over the same period from 31,754 to 61,468.

Through the first four months of 2003, Rendezvous sales continued to climb, up 12.3 percent over the year-ago period.

These statistics bolster Buick's claim of traction in both penetrating a lower age demographic while achieving sales success due to Woods' presence in print ads and TV commercials for the Rendezvous.

"Buick is reaching the 45- to 59-year-old buyer base and has the most loyal buyers in the industry," spokesman John Wray says.

"Rendezvous has successfully brought a new customer to Buick showrooms, averaging 15 years younger than the Buick sedan customer."

Enter Earl

Both Buick and McCann have been criticized in the press for raising Earl from the dead. Earl was hired in 1927 to supervise the newly created Art and Colour Section at General Motors and founded the GM Design and Styling Department that same year. By the time he retired in 1958, it had grown from a staff of 50 to 1,100.

Through a contract agreement with Earl's grandson, Richard, photos of the designer are being used to represent the Buick line in print with the ghostly likeness of Earl being played in TV commercials by veteran character actor John Diehl. The tag line is "The Spirit of American Style."

Buick introduced the Harvey Earl campaign in September along with a face-lifted version of the flagship Park Avenue Ultra, including a particular design cue on that vehicle that tips its hat to Earl's creative legacy: three portholes along the front of each quarter panel. "The Spirit of American Style" campaign opened with a barrage of print and TV, even using Earl and Woods in two of the TV spots.

"The initial work was meant to be a stake in the ground, not so much where the cars are today but where they are going," Moore says. "Everything we are creating from now on is meant to position Buick as a premium, refined and styled automobile. The vision of Buick is the American Lexus."

To that end, Buick and McCann have embarked on a program that goes beyond just better vehicles with beautiful interiors. They are upgrading sales materials, sponsoring more golf tournaments and other events such as the Triple Crown of horse racing and the Emmy awards.

"The overall ad direction is meant to force a meaningful consideration of Buick from the consumer, provide a sense of momentum for future product and elevate the premium stature of the brand," Buick's Tallerico says.

A household name

The ads are fashioned to use Earl as an ongoing, identifiable, corporate spokesperson in the genre of the Maytag Man.

The photography and layout of a 12-page print insert is designed to educate the viewer about Buick, Earl and the connection between the past and the present. The TV spots take the position that we already may know who Earl is as he talks to us in a well-tailored suit and his signature Fedora hat.

Diehl looks the part. As Earl, Diehl comments that he "has come back to build you a great car." He is pictured in everything from a raceway to what is presented as Woods' garage filled with Buicks.

In the commercial with the garage, Woods makes an appearance at the end in an odd moment looking for Earl's ghostly voice.

While Buick car sales were down less than 1 percent from 2001 to 2002, they have slumped 12.2 percent for the first four months of 2003, compared with the year-ago period, which has caused some critics to argue that the use of Earl and Woods may not be working.

"Buick's biggest challenge is moving past the baggage of the brand," says Dan Gorrell, vice president and auto industry specialist at Strategic Vision, a marketing firm in San Diego. "A pretty face will bring people to the brand, but the vehicle line has to sustain that interest. Buick and McCann must understand that it's the product that will lead the way, and the benefits of the new product need to be addressed in the advertising.

"My research shows that baby boomers show a preference for Japanese products because that is what they have become accustomed to. The brand has to be made relevant to a younger demographic."

Change coming

Buick is poised to introduce a product each year for the next five years starting with the Rainier, a GMC Envoy SUV derivative powered by a V-8 engine and using a patented noise reduction system in the interior. The Rainier will reach showrooms in the fall.

The future also includes a new and stylish Regal and a more powerful and luxurious Rendezvous Ultra, plus a slew of products embodying the style and performance demonstrated in the Centieme crossover concept vehicle.

Additionally, Buick, along with the rest of GM, has embarked on customer relationship marketing initiative.

In the case of Buick, that means a cross-section of more visible and particularly elegant presentations supporting sponsored events such as golf.

In 2002, The Buick Scramble, a series of regional golf tournaments nationwide, drew 100,000 participants. The promotion is being repeated this year.

Buick also is addressing the basics such as upgraded marketing materials to match its new image and even a redesigned Web site.

A 2002 J.D. Power and Associates survey of consumers using automotive Web sites showed Buick's site was ranked No. 11, up from 21st in 2001.

That site received a 43 percent increase in hits the day after the Buick-sponsored Emmy awards in September.

"We're selling the division, not the car lines," Moore says. "All the needles are moving in the right direction for us. Everything will be driven by the core idea that the spirit is back."


2nd of 2 news stories at this section:

Automotive News / May 12, 2003

MARKETING: Harley Earl TV ad brings fame to veteran actor

Character actor John Diehl, 52, is best known for a cross-section of roles that range from goofy to deranged to menacing.

Diehl played Cruiser in the movie Stripes, Detective Larry Zito in Miami Vice, G. Gordon Liddy in Oliver Stone's Nixon, and character roles in Jurassic Park III and Pearl Harbor. He plays Assistant Chief Ben Gilroy on the award-winning FX TV show The Shield.

Between movie roles, he acts on stage and has had many TV show guest spots.

Diehl remains the face of someone with whom you are familiar but do not know.

David Moore, executive creative director at McCann Erickson-Detroit, was not familiar with Diehl. McCann was not looking for a particularly known face in mid-2002 to portray the late GM designer Harley Earl in a Buick commercial.

The agency was embarking on a massive talent search in the United States and London when Diehl walked into an open casting call in New York City last May, while taking a break from acting in an off-Broadway play.

"It was one of those examples of being in the right place at the right time," Diehl says. "I had never acted in a commercial. But I had the right haircut and have always looked good in a fedora. I got a callback to read for (director) Tony Scott and got the job."

The ads were shot in July in Florida and Los Angeles.

To prepare, Diehl discussed Earl with the designer's grandson, Richard; met with people at Buick; pored over articles; and drew upon his early experiences as a sculptor and painter. This helped Diehl understand the creative mind of the man behind tail fins.

Diehl says the exposure of the ads has caused him to be more recognizable than ever as he drives around Southern California in a new Park Avenue Ultra.

"I'm a lot happier doing Harley Earl than Larry Zito," he says. "I guess after all these years, I'm an overnight success."