Picture someone walking up to you on the street and offering you the keys to a new car for one week. You can take the car anywhere you want and take whomever you want - the person will pay your salary for a week. What is your reaction going to be?
Welcome to what may become the latest trend in advertising. "Think of it as reality television meets marketing," says Lynn Myers, Pontiac-GMC general manager. Ms. Myers company, Pontiac-GMC, a division of, this week is launching what may be the first reality-based marketing campaign for the automotive industry.
The campaign, "Pontiac excitement. Pass it on," will include television spots involving three segments. The ads are unscripted and use everyday people going about their normal business.
The first segment shows real people responding to the question, "What would you do if we gave you the keys to Pontiac for a week?" The responses range from going to Las Vegas to skydiving naked to mud wrestling. What these activities have to do with driving a Pontiac - who knows? "It's all about creating excitement," Annette Lloyd, Pontiac's advertising and promotion director, explains.
For the second series of spots, Pontiac actually gives the keys to a new Grand Am or Grand Prix for one week to selected individuals and films their reactions.
The third segment will show highlights of the individuals interacting with their Pontiacs for the week. Pontiac's web site will have expanded versions of the highlights.
The participants were selected through an interview process conducted on the streets and in the malls of America. And none of them currently drive Pontiacs. In fact, one gentleman drives a Dodge Viper.
Two small cameras inside the vehicle will capture the participants’ emotions and reactions while driving the Pontiac. A camera crew in a van will follow the drivers on their “Pontiac adventures.” Gary Topolewski, executive creative director for D’Arcy Detroit, the ad agency that developed the concept, says, “The concept replaces the voice of the manufacturer with the advocacy of the consumer.”
"When we describe Pontiac as 'driving excitement,' the skepticism radar goes up for young buyers," Ms. Lloyd observes when explaining the rationale behind the new marketing concept. "Many of them respond with, 'If you have to say you're exciting, then you probably aren't.' So instead of showing people our version of excitement, we decided to encourage them to create their own excitement."
The television ads will have high exposure, appearing during the Emmys on October 7, Monday Football and the season debut of "Survivor Africa," along with regular prime time and cable programming.
Print ads will incorporate a "driver scrapbook" style, featuring highlights of drivers' experiences. They will appear in Time, Newsweek, People, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN The Magazine.
All of the print and TV ads will prominently display Pontiac’s web site address and will invite the public to go to the site and answer the question, “What would you do if Pontiac pass a car on to you for a week?”
A retail phase for dealer ads begins on October 22 and will run throughout the rest of the year. “We showed the concept to our dealer council and they broke out in applause,” says Ms. Myers. “They can’t wait to start the regional retail phase of the campaign.”