February 7, 2007 1:12 PM PST

Can GM's Pontiac become cyber-groovy?

Can GM's Pontiac become cyber-groovy? news analysis Pontiac wants to be the car brand of choice for the Web-savvy crowd.

The General Motors division on Wednesday launched a cobranded interactive site with Yahoo and a profile for the G5 sports car on MySpace, and just days ago officially opened an island and dealership in the virtual world Second Life.

The company isn't the first to take its branding to the Web, but its aggressive, three-pronged approach is certainly unusual and there's no guarantee it will work. Skeptics quickly point out that Pontiac is no BMW or Apple, which have long had a following among the online set.

"Clearly there are VW people and BMW people. The number of people who think of themselves as Pontiac people are far fewer," said Barry Parr, an analyst at JupiterReseach. "Pontiac is a brand that's got some problems."

Given GM's declining market share, the company appears to see the Internet as a vehicle for attracting younger drivers and changing the Pontiac brand image, said analysts.

"Clearly, we are looking to sell vehicles and also improve our brand, and do it to certain people we haven't been able to reach in the past," said Mark-Hans Richer, director of marketing at Pontiac.

screenshots Pontiac campaign

Pontiac has a recent history of somewhat audacious public relations marketing. In 2004, the company gave away its then-newly launched G6 sports sedan to an entire audience of the The Oprah Winfrey Show, while Winfrey gave hundreds of the cars away to needy drivers. "The Oprah giveaway may have generated a lot of buzz for Pontiac, but it hasn't generated a lot of bucks for Pontiac," marketing expert John Moore wrote on his Brand Autopsy blog.

Then there was the national Pontiac television ad a year ago that urged viewers to "just Google Pontiac"--and showed hands typing "Pontiac" into the search engine of Yahoo's chief rival.

Pontiac approached Yahoo with the idea for a cobranded site, dubbed Pontiac Underground, said Richer. The site aggregates Pontiac-related photos from Flickr, Yahoo's photo-sharing site, film clips from Yahoo Video, links from Yahoo's Delicious bookmark site and questions and answers from Yahoo Answers, all of which feature user-contributed content. People can swap road stories about their classic Firebird, for example, and share buying tips via Yahoo Groups and Pontiac car clubs from around the Web that are listed on the site. Visitors can also find out about offline happenings and list events.

The site hosts the official blog for Pontiac, called "Inside Track," and will give the company a way to directly communicate with its customers. "The idea is to have this be open, unrestricted content about the brand," said Jennifer Dulski, vice president and general manager of Yahoo Autos. "Both the positive and the negative will be available."

"Clearly there are VW people and BMW people. The number of people who think of themselves as Pontiac people are far fewer."
--Barry Parr, JupiterReseach analyst

At the moment, there's no advertising on the site. "We see this more as a community entity, not something that is advertising per se," Richer said. "Maybe down the line, if the community is okay with that, we might explore advertising as a possibility."

"I think it's as much about building or maintaining relationships that can yield advertising dollars across Yahoo" as it is about giving consumers a place to congregate, said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. "This is an area where Yahoo has been under pressure from the MySpaces of the world and even from Google, which is trying to get into the brand advertising budget. This is an area Yahoo aggressively needs to defend."

CONTINUED: An active fan base…
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12 comments

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Dam streight Pontiac is Groovy. P in Pontiac is for Pioneer
The Pontiac and Chevrolet Division has always been a Pioneer in the automobile industry. My God look at their race history, their developments, and oh yes let's not forget those super fine rides. The GTO's Firebirds, Camaros, and The Vet. Their history will be ever recorded in some of the hottest sounds of the 60's like 409 and Little GTO.

Myself I've owned a dozen Pontiacs, and a dozen Chevys. My favorite was a 1964 Pontiac Catalina 2+2 which came stock with a 421 with Tri Power Carbs. Bet you young folks never heard of that.
Posted by the1kingarthur (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Pontiac is a damanged brand
I'm probably not a youngster anymore, but you're right, we've never heard of that.

All we know of Pontiac is uninspired poorly engineered cars that are not exciting.

If Pontiac wants to get back in the game, it needs to have compelling cars at reasonable prices. I can't stand Scions, but they're really popular with the kids these days.

It would require GM to do a better job of differentiating its brands, too. If Pontiac is supposed to be the performance/exciting brand, why is the Camaro and Corvette Chevrolet brands? And why is Pontiac making mini-vans?

Sorry, but Pontiac needs more than a website to make it hip. If it's gonna go after kids, it needs edgy inexpensive "cool" rides.

But edgy inexpensive cool rides are not the same as exciting/performance automobiles, so it continues to have a confusing brand image, unless GM decides to just kind of start over with Pontiac.

They'd be better off doing what Toyota did and starting a whole new brand. Like Geo was supposed to be. My wife still misses her Geo Metro. My college roommate still misses his Geo Traker. Both will admit, though, that they weren't the most high quality construction. But at that time in their lives, they were "cool" to them. They were inexpensive enough that they were affordable to them on their own at that point in their lives.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Link Flag
therein lies the problem
The fact that supporters of Pontiac can only associate the brand
with good products manufactured in teh '60's says it all for me.
As someone wanting to buy a new car I really don't care what
Pontiacs, Chevys, Camaros etc. were like in the 60's. Everytime I
get into a new american car I can't help but notice all of the little
things that seem to be better build, designed etc. in the cabin in
my 17 year old accord dx. That's a real shame. I know some
measures of build quality have improved in american cars over
the last decade - but really, if the little things in the car are
falling apart all over the place in short order I don't care if the
engine is still going I'm still going to feel ripped off. Complete
quality and attention to detail is still sadly missing.
Posted by g5Halo (1 comment )
Link Flag
We have a 1986 Pontiac 6000 4cyl. with 95,000 miles in super condition except for the headliner which needs to be stapled.
I have seen the new 2009 G6 and G8 pontiacs with 6 and 8 cyl engines. I appears that the size and graciousness of the Pontiac has returned.
We own a 2006 Chevy Impala SS with the small block 5.3 V8 with 20,000 . A great car!! I have had a Cady Eldo ETC for 10 years until the Northstar at 138,00 finally gave up.
Nice to talk to you,
Marvin
Posted by marvsnet (1 comment )
Link Flag
From an AUDI people
I'm sick and tired of articles on the exploits of the failed US auto industry. Why don't these companies just die already and go away forever?

The US has no clue what a real car is. But they're finding out, and that's why the foreigners are taking over.

Their marketing guy is German? Good luck. They seem to have the marketing skills of popeye the sailor. Everyone knows German cars are the best, but they can't seem to get that message across. Cost also factors.

Who the hell are they selling to on myspace? They're pimpleheads who dream of the day when they'll be blinging in a BMW or Mercedes. Not a US made piece of junk. And since when do parents take car buying advice from their kids? Unless their kids are 30 yr old mechanics who have a grasp on the market and OWN their own car. Which none of the slack jawed losers on myspace are.

And it seems every time I read the paper, someone has died at the pillow padded wheel of a poorly made american clunker. GM, FORD, innovation? Bull. Are you in a parallel universe? Everything they got or will have came from Germany. They, and the Japanese just reverse engineered it and rebadged it. Like stability control, which has been available in Europe for YEARS.

I can honestly say I would rather drive the lowliest VW than the most expensive US car, or anything remotely related to being US built.

Remember children, American cars take lives. German cars save them.
Posted by blurble (79 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You're simply clueless
"Everything they got or will have came from Germany. They, and
the Japanese just reverse engineered it and rebadged it."

Ever heard of a turbocharger? How bout vtec?
Posted by tedk7 (66 comments )
Link Flag
From an Audi People
This slack-jawed loser bought his first NEW car in 1986. It was a Pontiac 6000 LE. It was the perfect car for a family of 4. It was well made, and ran perfectly for over 11 years, until I traded it in for a Pontiac Bonneville. I never had an accident caused by my American car.

So because I spent my life in nursing, which never paid a lot of money back in the day, I would be careful my friend, because the next time you crash your simple little Audi on the I-95 and land in the hospital, I might be the one you ask for a bedpan, and I don't think there is one large enough to accomodate you.
Posted by Doigger (4 comments )
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Re From an AUDI people
In your statement "I can honestly say I would rather drive the lowliest VW than the most expensive US car, or anything remotely related to being US built." I'd like to enlighten you to the millions of lives lost to the introduction and production of the Great German VW. Your ignorance of history shows because if you any knowledge of history you would have known that VW was the creation of Ferdinand Porsche and Adolf Hitler, and manufactured by slave labor. I would rather walk 100 miles than even ride in a VW. Sometimes it is better to make a moral choice than an engineering choice. One other note if you haven't heard. The nickname of the Pontiac GTO is " The Mustang Killer " More horse power, better traction, better take off 0 to 60, better handling, less expensive, better gas milage and on and on and on. Don't believe me. LOOK UP THE SPECS.
Posted by the1kingarthur (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Safety above all
I know exactly who started the company. And having lived in Germany, I can testify to my claims.

I don't give a care in the the world about "where's your loyalty to the American brand". America makes inferior vehicles (so much for their highly touted safety regulations), and I will always buy the product that will save me or my familys life if I am ever involved in a car accident.

My car has 8 airbags, and it had them 8 years before any car in the US, including the korean brands who are so quick to point out now that they offer 6 airbags.

It's not as if Hitler himself was working on the assembly line. And even if he was, I'd still buy it because it's superior at every level and speed.

Pontiacs(American cars) are what people settle for, not what they inspire to own.
Posted by blurble (79 comments )
Link Flag
Before Insulting Pontiac You Better Read About Mickey Thompson
Mickey Thompson and Pontiac. One of racings greatest partnerships. Most of you don't even know who Mickey Thompson was. And I am not going to waste my time trying to teach you. And even if I did. You wouldn't listen.

I could tell you of Pontiac winning 49 out of 50 races in one season, or the advanced engineering, or how the American People sold out American Auto makers, but what good would it do? Why oh why in the name of God is todays American youth so stupid when it comes to history? Where is the American Pride? Where is the American patriotism?

As horrible and tragic 9 11 was. It woke America up, brought people together, and renewed the American Spirit, and now a few years later it seems everyone has forgotten, and just don't care.

What's 9 11 have to do with this story, and Pontiac? One word " America "!

Pontiac has made mistakes like EVERY auto company. Sometimes a company looses focus, or caves into false marketing demands, but over all they earned their respect, and have a great history, and a bright future.
Posted by the1kingarthur (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So this new cobranded site...
Is it supposed to make the car not suck?

Didn't know web sites could do that, must be a chevy first!

If GM focused on quality cars instead of John Cougar Mellencamp songs, they might actually get increased market share.

Dated marketing = diluted market share.
Posted by Lite Rocker (42 comments )
Reply Link Flag
American cars
American cars, with some notable exceptions, are substandard. Even the Koreans, who used to be synonymous with crap cars have a better rep and value then most American cars.

It doesn't matter if Pontiac made awesome cars 40 years ago. That is ancient history! It doesn't matter if people think we should buy American.

When you buy an American car, odds are that it was assembled in a different country. So how is it an American car anyway? Because the executives that fired all those blue collar American workers are also American? If I am going to support American workers it is certainly not going to be executives. Meanwhile many foreign makes are assembling the cars in the U.S., hiring American workers and paying them good wages. Not that any American has any obligation whatsoever to buying American made products anyway.

It doesn't matter how or where they advertise. They make crap cars, and no snake oil salesman can change that fact.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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