GM Lets Californians Find Their Style Online

General Motors Corp. is using online marketing with support from billboards to generate sales in California, the nation's largest car market.

A new campaign for GM's Western region uses the Web site at to match the personality of prospects with the 65 models in the automaker's portfolio. McCann-Erickson San Francisco and sibling Zentropy Partners, Los Angeles, are handling the effort.

“The Asians have a pretty good hold on the California market — they've established themselves here,” Steve Woolford, worldwide managing director of Zentropy, said of imports like Toyota and Honda. “They've physical location here, a pretty good dealer network and the market itself is more predisposed to imports than any other car because of the ethnicities.”

California is a big prize for GM. According to auto consultancy R.L. Polk & Co., Southfield, MI, an estimated 1.9 million vehicles were registered last year in California, or 11.4 percent of the 16.7 million nationwide.

A deeper look at that data reveals a worrying trend for GM. Last year, GM registered 400,330 vehicles, a 20 percent market share, in California. Toyota was close behind, with 354,037 and an 18 percent share. Ford Motor Co. was neck-and-neck with Toyota, with 353,242 vehicles registered and an almost 18 percent share.

Mirroring auto sales trends, California accounted for 8.6 percent of all GM vehicles registered nationwide in 2003. Its nationwide registration last year was 4.66 million or a 28 percent market share. Ford was next with a 20 percent share and 3.35 million vehicles. DaimlerChrysler was third, with 2.1 million vehicles registered and a 13 percent share.

Worried about going out of fashion, GM's campaign theme is appropriately themed “Find Your Style.” It's based on the idea that Californians have different tastes and styles. No matter what that style is, GM has a vehicle for the consumer. The effort particularly targets Californians who have never considered a GM car.

At, visitors select the head and body parts they think represent them from 27 choices along with a creative headline from listed options. After submitting the personality, an algorithm created by Zentropy chooses the appropriate GM car for the visitors. No questions are asked at this stage to profile.

The site has three other features. “Style Starts Within” shows the interiors of GM cars in interactive ways, letting visitors roll over spots that highlight product attributes.

With “Concentrate on Style,” visitors play a game modeled on the “Concentration” game. Once they find the right pieces, they are shown the different body styles available on the site at, designed for people in the market to buy a car.

Finally, Zentropy devised a “Build Your Billboard” sweepstakes that integrates with the offline leg of the campaign. Visitors are asked to submit a creative headline for a chance to have this billboard posted in their hometown in California.

GM's outdoor campaign has begun, with an oversized bookend billboard on a tall building on Hollywood's Sunset Strip.

The billboard shows Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Shaquille O'Neal on the right side of the building. He is looking to the left side where the billboard has the headline “Hardwood” over a GM Hummer on a solid wood floor. Below that is another headline, “Hollywood,” over a GM Escalade SUV on a red carpet.

Six billboard executions will run in key locations in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Like the online effort, they compare the GM range of vehicles to differing California lifestyle attributes, from entertainment choices to skiing styles.

To ensure that word gets out, GM's ad for is featured on heat rings around Starbucks cups in select outlets in California.

The online effort, however, is expected to do the major driving. For consumers who previously had not considered GM, links to the site at Those considering a GM car can link to the site at, and those ready to buy are directed to

GM introduced 14 new models and six nameplates for this year, so it is keen that Californians are aware of the new products. Also, for the first time, GM aims to get people not just to consider a particular car when shopping, but a family of vehicles.

“In California, cars are a badge,” Woolford said. “You are what you drive. It's a direct reflection of your personality. What we've done here is allowed people to pick your style.”

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