Posted by: David Kiley on December 13, 2004
I wonder if Buick will ever be cool. The latest effort to do so is an ad campaign by McCann-Erickson’s Troy, Mich. office that uses an Aerosmith classic, “Dream On,” and some overly attractive models-cum- actors to pitch the LaCrosse sedan.
Buick is a truly hard-luck brand at General Motors. For more than three decades, it’s had nothing but a steady stream of designs that have been the automotive equivalent of a Sears-Roebuck suit, while its loyal customer base went from NCAA to AARP. It has also been subjected to some of the lamest ad campaigns in the history of the business. This new campaign, the third brand positioning for Buick in four years, I believe, could be the start of something correct. But it still shows a lack of well-considered creative risk taking key to making the newest model, the LaCrosse, stand out even a little bit in a category that includes juggernauts like Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, the Ford Five Hundred and Chrysler 300C.
Buick, whose average age buyer is over 60 years, has taken a few risks in the past few years. This “Dream Up” campaign replaces a weird and creepy series of ads featuring actor John Diehl, known to many as Hawaiian-shirt wearing detective Larry Zito in the 1980s' Miami Vice series, portraying the late (as in long dead) great GM designer Harley Earl. Before that, the ad slogan was “It’s All Good,” a line plucked out of the hip-hop lexicon. I could never imagine IceT giving up an Escalade for a Buick Century. But that's me. Going back to 1997, I can also recall an ad featuring talking cows. Can you bring charges of brand abuse against an advertiser?
Buick, undoubtedly seeing how Cadillac has successfully drawn on Led Zeppelin music to ground it’s brand with a new generation of 40-55-year old buyers, has turned to Aerosmith for the same treatment. As ad music goes, it works pretty well. I’ll suspend my knowledge that Aerosmith was shilling for Dodge as recently as 2003 because I know most people won’t remember. In one ad, a very chic model is wriggling and shimmying, in a dream sequence, to Aerosmith while the cars behind her keep changing colors. It was totally lost on me that the lady was changing her outfits to match the colors of the cars. But then again, I wear a white shirt most days to make it easier to coordinate my ties. This is a brand mood ad, but I’m not sure it works. The other ad shows a father of a young son apparently dreaming about racing his 240-horsepower LaCrosse. Question: If I actually dreamed of racing, would I picture myself in a LaCrosse? Any Buick? The music is the best part of the ad. A colleague and I both agree that the music stays in your head. That’s better than forgetting it all together.
Buick is starting to look like a very respectable brand. The LaCrosse, which I recently drove, is a solid and stylish alternative to a Honda Accord (who needs all that stubborn quality anyway?). But it pales against the bold design of the Chrysler 300C. The Rendezvous is a slightly gawky SUV, but is as handy as a minivan without feeling like I’m driving a bread-truck with a diaper smell. GM says the best of a new generation of Buicks is yet to come. That goes for the ads as well. But hold on to that music.