Chevy's CD Incentive Yields Test Drives

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A direct mail campaign aimed at generating test drives of General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet TrailBlazer seems to have struck a chord with lovers of contemporary Christian music, the fastest-growing musical genre nationwide.


About 90,000 recipients in Atlanta, Lexington, KY, and Winston-Salem, NC, were asked to visit their local Chevy dealer for a test drive with an offer of a free custom compact disc of gospel songs and readings as an incentive.


"Dealers were initially sent enough CDs to fulfill a 2 percent response rate on the number of names in their area," said Sarah Beth Hallada, Chevrolet promotions director at General Motors R*Works, the Atlanta agency on the account. "Since the piece dropped, we've had many dealerships from each market call and request an additional shipment of CDs due to the number of test drives coming into the dealership."


The mail pieces went out Oct. 16 to consumers who bought Christian books or music in the past 12 months. The list also includes subscribers to Contemporary Christian Music magazine.


An oversized postcard asked them to test-drive the 2003 Chevy at a local dealer. Test-drive participants take home a five-track collectible CD, available only at participating Chevy dealers.


"We're talking with people who we know have an established affinity with this genre of music," Hallada said.


To underscore that, Chevrolet has become the title sponsor of the "Come Together and Worship Tour." The 16-concert tour runs Nov. 1-23. States include Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan.


The tour features performances by Third Day, Grammy-nominated Gospel Music Association Group of the Year; Max Lucado, a Texas pastor-author with 23 million books in print; and Michael W. Smith, Grammy-winning Gospel Music Association Artist of the Year.


Chevy will be included as the presenting sponsor in radio and newspaper ads for all 16 stops. The brand's logo will appear on tour posters as well.


The Chevy affiliation attracted some unwanted attention. Newspapers in Detroit and New York said Chevrolet, GM's largest division, was mixing religion with commerce. A criticism was that Lucado would preach on stage between performances. Christian literature would be distributed as well.


But GM R*Works said Chevy's sponsorship is justified. The TrailBlazer's demographics match those of gospel-music fans: families and adults ages 35 to 54 with disposable income.


Chevy sponsors a range of national, regional and local events and activities to reach a broad swath of consumers. Such marketing aims to reflect the diversity of the United States. Hallada called Chevy's involvement in Christian music an extension of its sponsorships of other musical events in rock 'n' roll, jazz and country.


"We're careful in selecting events and activities, but we also understand that almost any activity risks offending someone," she said. "We closely monitor customer responses and respond appropriately to any concerns."


It also helps that Chevy is on the side of a musical genre with the wind at its back. According to Nielsen SoundScan's sales figures through June 30, country and gospel are the only two music formats whose sales are up for the first half of this year. Gospel increased 18.2 percent and country 0.7 percent. Sales of all other genres were down.


Record sales last year of contemporary Christian music were $800 million. An ongoing tour of Third Day is said to be outselling mainstream artists like Enrique Iglesias, Bush, B.B. King and Alicia Keys.


"The demographics are right in line with Chevrolet's," Hallada said, "and the psychographics of family values, positive and uplifting."


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