Pontiac May Ignite Trend to 'Google' Offline Ads

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Given the amount of media attention garnered by the recent Pontiac G6 Sedan television ad, which encourages consumers to go to Google to search for Pontiac, agencies expect to see more offline ads pushing search.

"This is going to be increasingly popular going forward," said Peter Hershberg, managing partner at Reprise Media, New York. "More and more marketers are realizing that search is the integration point between online and offline channels."

Because online consumers increasingly search for a company's name rather than type the firm's URL into their browsers, Pontiac probably is getting more traffic to its Web site by sending visitors to Google than by referring customers to go to its site, said Fredrick Marckini, CEO/founder of iProspect, Watertown, MA.

"'Google Pontiac' is the lazy man's way of saying, 'Type in www.pontiac.com,'" Marckini said.

The ad is not a flash in the pan for Pontiac, but rather an "effective long-term strategy" for the company, said Jim Hopson, communications manager at Pontiac. Consumers are going online to search for cars first, deciding the product they want, then going to a dealership, he said. Pontiac chose Google over other search engines because its name has become synonymous with Internet searches.

However, search marketers said Mazda one-upped Pontiac by buying the "Pontiac" and "Pontiac Solstice" keywords so consumers would get a "Miata vs. Pontiac Solstice" sponsored link offering a side-by-side comparison of the two vehicles.

"Pontiac is paying to drive people online," Hershberg said. "Mazda is capturing a lot of those users by directly featuring a comparison."

Most marketers buying on another company's keywords don't synchronize that with the other company's major TV ad campaign, so Mazda's effort was "quite clever," said Kevin Lee, chairman of Did-it.com, New York.

But Mazda bought competitive Pontiac keywords long before the Pontiac-Google ad ran, Hopson countered.

"We don't feel like there's been an impact," he said. "We're encouraging comparison. We consider that flattering."

Mazda has run the "comparison" ad in Google under "Pontiac Solstice" for six months, but it is not a regular, long-term strategy. The company buys search ads on competitors' terms only when relevant, said Don Romano, vice president of marketing at Mazda USA, Irvine, CA.

"In this case, it was only because Solstice and Miata were hitting the market at the same time," he said.

Mazda began the advertising when Pontiac geared up Solstice's pre-launch push last fall with commercials airing during NBC's "The Apprentice."

Search advertisers have always bought competitors' keywords, but it's becoming more popular as marketers grow more sophisticated with search, Hershberg said.

Though it's a great strategy to leverage another company's momentum, Lee said, search advertisers should shore up their own campaigns first.

"The money spent on buying other brands needs to be combined with defense buying of your own brand," he said.

Christine Blank covers online marketing and advertising, including e-mail marketing and paid search, for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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