Truth Or Consequences: Buick Prepares For The Slings And Arrows Of Social Media

June 22, 2010

Here's a sentence you might not have expected: Buick is planning a major social media offensive for the 2011 Regal sedan.

Sales of the revamped Regal began last month, and in July, Buick will start marketing the sedan in earnest. Shortly after the traditional onslaught of print, broadcast, and outdoor advertising rolls out, the brand will launch a promotional website called "Buick's Moment of Truth". That site will host video reviews of the Buick posted by everyday consumers, and in an interesting move, John Schwegman, head of marketing for Buick-GMC, insists that the company won't filter out negative chatter: the site is intended to be a "warts and all" look at the Regal. Schwegman says that idea has gone over very well in pre-launch testing: "It came across as a very positive thing to be that open and that transparent in an age that people are mad at bailouts, people are mad at big corporate America." And as a bailout baby itself, Buick should know a little something about that.

Some critics think Buick may be opening itself up to serious criticism, much like Honda did when it launched the curiously designed Accord Crosstour on Facebook. But there's a key difference between this campaign and the Crosstour launch, or even Ford's Fiesta Movement. While the comments section of the "Moment of Truth" website may be open to anyone, it appears that reviews will be posted by Buick buyers -- people who have already shelled out cold, hard cash for a Regal and are probably predisposed to like it. That would seem to limit the possibility for damning video commentary.

All things considered, we like Buick's plan. The very notion of a "moment of truth" evokes a feeling of do-or-die, and we don't normally associate such high-stakes maneuvers from Buick. Whether or not the brand can live up to such a feisty tone is another matter, but for now, color us intrigued.

We also think it's a great match for Buick's target market, which in this case consists of late 30somethings. Buick has had a great deal of trouble making itself seem youthful: the average age of buyers was recently pegged at 65, which was actually an improvement from the previous high of 72. The Regal is designed and accessorized to appeal to much younger, more style-conscious consumers, so meeting those buyers on their own turf -- namely, the social media playground -- makes a lot of sense.

And we should point out that in doing so, Buick isn't turning its back on its historical demographic. Study after study has shown that individuals 55 and older constitute one of the fastest growing online cohorts. As computing becomes simpler and more intuitive thanks to tablet computers and mobile devices, we expect to see that trend continue, and we hope to see those folks engaging in Buick's site, too.

We'll let you know when the "Moment of Truth" website goes live next month.

[AutoWeek]

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