ST. LOUIS – General Motors Corp. will employ Tiger Woods to hype its OnStar electronic concierge service, deviating slightly from the golf great’s longtime association with the Buick brand, a senior executive reveals.

Celebrity endorsements belong “on the periphery” of the auto maker’s marketing strategy, because successful campaigns emphasize product first and foremost, Mark LaNeve, vice president-North American sales, service and marketing, says here at a media event introducing the new Buick Enclave cross/utility vehicle.

“We can’t put Tiger at the core,” he says, while at the same time conceding “the most recognizable face on the planet” will use the Enclave to deliver GM’s OnStar message.

Woods, who has parlayed his wholesome image into a 5-year GM deal worth an estimated $40 million, also will be featured in other GM campaigns, LaNeve says.

His remarks come as the National Football League, a key source of celebrity endorsers for auto makers, is rocked by scandals of the kind that could ruin ad campaigns.

Just as the NFL is scrambling to convene a committee to deal with off-field behavior, flashy Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick is implicated in a dog-fighting investigation – the latest in a string of recent criminal probes involving NFL players.

LaNeve admits celebrity endorsements present some risk, but says GM practices due diligence when selecting marketing partners.

The auto maker recently engaged former Notre Dame quarterback and promising NFL rookie Brady Quinn to endorse its Hummer brand. And GM has used Hall-of-Famer-turned-broadcaster Howie Long in regional ads, LaNeve says.

Stuart Fischoff, professor emeritus of psychology at California State University in Los Angeles, understands the desire companies have in associating themselves with a celebrity. He has studied the media and its role in presenting messages.

“It’s easier to relate to a company and feel something for it if you have (someone) that personifies it,” he says.

LaNeve says the most probable risk associated with celebrity endorsements is that a personality might overshadow a campaign’s message. “You’ve got to be really careful,” he says.

LaNeve has his own litmus test. He envisions a celebrity ad without the celebrity.

“If it still works, you probably shouldn’t use him,” he says.

Meanwhile, LaNeve says he has no immediate plans to replace Mike Jackson, who has tendered his resignation as GM’s vice president-North American marketing and advertising. Jackson is scheduled to leave the company June 15.

LaNeve says he will assume Jackson’s duties and expects no change in the auto maker’s marketing direction. “It was my strategy that (Jackson) executed,” he says.

He notes he was responsible for bringing GM together with Deutsch LA, the ad agency that created the dynamic, and controversial, Super Bowl ads that featured an animated robot banished from a GM plant for making a mistake while assembling a vehicle.

LaNeve says his decision to handle Jackson’s chores is consistent with his “lean and mean” management philosophy, noting that during his tenure at Cadillac, he eliminated an entire layer of positions consisting of five brand managers.

The current structure will see 11 executives reporting directly to LaNeve, begging the question: Is that too many?

“We’ll see,” he says.

If LaNeve’s golf skills are any indication of his business acumen, however, GM will be in good stead. The executive reveals he recently recorded a hole-in-one – his second – at an Ohio golf course.

emayne@wardsauto.com