Buick Ties with March Madness and Non-Profits to Crystallize its New Positioning of Luxury

The “new” General Motors has gotten around to Buick advertising – finally – and is hoping Americans, starting tonight, get a clearer impression of the brand’s positioning as approachable luxury. And Buick will lean heavily on March Madness, the annual tournament that stirs up ten of millions of college basketball fans. Buick’s sibling, Pontiac, had been a long-time March Madness partner, but Pontiac is gone now.
Buick is a leading auto sponsor of the NCAA’s March Madness tourney. The first  TV commercial with Buick’s new positioning breaks during tonight’s broadcast, also available on truTV.com. Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett in Troy, Michigan, is national creative agency of record for Buick and handled. Actor Kevin Bacon is the new narrator for the brand’s ads. There’s no tag line; Buick says it doesn’t need one. Having no tag is probably a good thing considering all the silly ones it used starting in 2001. Remember “It’s All Good?” Probably not.
Yes, it’s certainly time for Buick to start tooting its own horn and making some relevant noise after dallying around most of the past decade with branded-engineered models and a revolving door of ad campaigns and ad tags. Buick’s newer, sleeker-looking models in recent years are a huge leap for the brand and attracting tons of positive ink from auto enthusiast mags. Problem is not enough people know .
Ads in recent months haven’t been very impressive, but GM had been busy developing new messaging for its volume Chevrolet brand and longtime lux brand, Cadillac. GM’s fourth vehicle brand, GMC, is in the best shape in terms of knowing what the brand stands for and able to communicate that message.
As part of Buick’s “approachable luxury” positioning, it has joined a corporate partnership with the NCAA, Turner Sports and CBS Sports to focus on the accomplishments of former student athletes who are now giving back to society and their communities. The auto brand and the NCAA will tell inspirational stories of these athletes in a new series dubbed the Buick Human Highlight Reel. Several :90 video stories of individual former athletes went live last night on ncaa.com/buick, where visitors are asked to submit other former NCAA athletes making a difference.


Turner is the producer, although some online stories are from Buick’s digital agency Digitas. Online user-generated ad community Zooppa will also contribute to the 50-to-60 stories Buick expects to eventually have on the site, the brand’s ad director, Craig Bierley, told me.
Buick is also the exclusive title sponsor of a 30-minute TV show of select Human Highlight Reel stories that will air prior to the televised Final Four semi-final games April 2. The year-long initiative will extend into other NCAA sports, including football this fall, as well as the lacrosse championship and women’s soccer.
Buick is teaming with the the non-profit Samaritan’s Feet, founded by former U of North Dakota basketball player Emmanuel Ohonme, who attended today’s press conference at a downtown Detroit YMCA. Ohonme said Wisconsin missionaries gave him his first pair of shoes when he was 9 years old in his native Nigeria, which helped him dream of bigger and better things that eventually led him to this country. The NCAA has been a supporter of his non-profit and already helped donate shoes to more than 3 million youngsters in 40 countries. He is one of the featured video stories on the NCAA’s Human Highlight microsite with Buick.
Buick started giving away the first of 150 pairs of shoes and socks to needy Detroit kids today at the Y after the press conference.

Ohonme and GM's Chris Perry (foreground) Give Detroit Kids New Shoes

During the long Final Four weekend in Houston, Buick, the NCAA and National Association of Basketball Coaches have partnered to donate 2,011 pairs of shoes and socks during the long Final Four weekend in Houston.
The GM brand will make a major splash in social media for the Human Highlight Reel with NCAA-sponsored apps on Facebook, Foursquare YouTube and Twitter.
Buick’s-NCAA Facebook app will let college round-ball fans post their team via a “March Madness badge” on their profile. The app will keep track of each team’s fan base.
Buick expects to generate a billion consumer impressions over the three weeks of the Final Four tourney, said Tony DiSalle, who became VP of the brand’s US marketing on Feb. 1.
Having two luxury car brands is going to be a tricky balancing act for GM, as it would for any automaker.
But DiSalle, Bierley and Chris Perry, VP of all GM’s marketing in this country, are all singing from the same song sheet when it comes to how the automaker plans to differentiate the two brands. They each told me that Buick owners have long been an inclusive bunch and like to be part of the community rather than above it. They’re referring to the good old ’50s, when Buicks were very popular purchases for doctors and lawyers. Still, the brand’s peak year was 1984, when Buick sold 941,611 cars in the U.S.
Meantime, the GM guys say Cadillac owners are more individualistic and more entrepreneurial.
Sounds good and probably looks even better on paper. Now let’s see how it plays out in real life.

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