Buick Bets on NCAA

Maker plans to highlight athletes who reach out to community.

by on Mar.15, 2011

Buick Vice President Tony DiSalle announces the launch of the Buick Human Highlight Reel - a collection of inspiring stories about athletes' efforts in their communities.

Speeches and Powerpoint presentations are the stuff automotive news conferences are normally made of.  So it came as a bit of a surprise to find some of General Motors’ top marketing officials washing the feet of some young schoolkids and then helping the children pick out new shoes.

But it was all part of an event designed to reveal the Buick brand’s new “Human Highlight Reel,” a project that will be part of the new tie-in between the GM luxury marque and the NCAA.

The maker has signed on as the core automotive sponsor of the college sports association, but the goal is to sidestep the usual clichés that mark sports tie-ins, explains Craig Bierley, Buick’s marketing director.

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“Rather than the typical play-of-the-week highlight,” he explained to TheDetroitBureau.com, “We want to tell the story of NCAA athletes that have gone on to do good things in the community.”

Those include Avery Jukes, who was a college basketball star, in 2010, and who went on to create a charitable foundation operating in both the U.S. and his native Uganda.

Then there’s Emmanuel “Manny” Ohonme, a former University of North Dakota player who’s Samaritan’s Feet charity hopes to provide 10 million children with shoes.  The news conference was followed by a program to provide shoes to 150 needy Detroit youngsters.

Buick’s focus on non-traditional marketing reflects the need to sidestep traditional automotive messaging.  The GM brand is in the process of reinventing itself and that requires some breakthrough steps because, “The public’s perception of the Buick brand is out of whack with reality,” said Chris Perry, GM’s North American marketing director.

Buick barely survived the automaker’s 2009 bankruptcy, senior company officials admitting they might have abandoned the brand if it weren’t so successful in China – where it is now that booming market’s top-selling nameplate.

Since then, the maker has begun rolling out an assortment of products, such as the Enclave SUV, LaCrosse sedan and, later this year, the compact Verano.  Within two years, the line-up will double to eight models compared with just three Buicks at the time of GM’s Chapter 11 filing.

Significantly, sales have been booming.  The numbers soared by 73% last month making Buick the second best-selling brand in the high-line segment so far this year, well ahead of traditional luxury leader Lexus, and just 800 units behind BMW.

Buick hopes the NCAA tie-in will help improve not only awareness of the brand but give it an image of being more youthful and hip.  The maker plans to launch a critical new 60-second “anthem,” or brand-positioning, commercial during the much-watched Final Four finale of the college basketball season.

“It’ll be our flag planting, showing what we represent as a brand,” explained Bierley.

It will also aim to differentiate Buick from its in-house rival, GM’s top-line Cadillac brand.  Where Caddy is being positioned as “visceral and emotional,” with its distinctive “Art & Science” design language, Buick aims to be “warm, more inviting and inclusive,” the executive suggested.

The multi-year NCAA partnership also includes a scholarship program that will grow to $19 million annually over the next four years.

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2 Responses to “Buick Bets on NCAA”

  1. gmveteran says:

    Gee, it would be nice if you guys would proofread your stories and check the facts before posting them. First, in the 10th paragraph of the Buick NCAA story, it should read Buick instead of Lexus when talking about the second best selling brand to BMW. And once and for all, Buick is NOT the best selling nameplate in China. You reporters just keep mindlessly repeating this without checking the facts. Last time I looked, Wuling was the best selling nameplate, (GM is a partner with them). Their microvan is very popular because it is a work vehicle that can also haul the family when needed. I believe VW is also still far outselling Buick as a brand in China. I am not even sure Buick is in the top five brands in terms of sales. I believe it is the best selling GM brand in China, however, outselling Chevrolet, Cadillac and GMC. I like the Detroit Bureau stories, but they all need a much better critical eye for facts, typos and readability before being allowed to jump onto the net. C’mon guys, you can do better!

    • Paul A. Eisenstein says:

      Fair points. We did catch and correct the Buick typo.


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