General Motors Corp. has begun an aggressive advertising campaign to remind consumers that using the GM MasterCard for routine purchases today could help you buy a new car tomorrow.

The ad campaign is the largest by the nation's No. 1 automaker since the 1992 launch of the GM MasterCard, which is issued by Household Bank.

"If you're going to buy the blouse, don't forget the Blazer," says one ad. Another says, "If you're taking a vacation, don't forget the Riviera."

The phrases are repeated in television spots, each featuring one or more of seven GM cars. The ads, developed by McCann-Erickson Detroit, promote card use for the desired end result - the purchase of a GM vehicle with rebate points.

"This is the first time GM is tying cars and the card into the same ad," said Michael Auriemma, president of Auriemma Consulting Group Westbury, N.Y. "Now that there's enough awareness of the card, and understanding of what it is and how it works, they can focus on selling cars."

GM would not disclose the budget of the campaign, which will also include print ads and direct mail targeting current and prospective cardholders with special offers.

Select customer mailings will include a summer sweepstakes, pushing card use between May 15 and July 31, to win a GM car. The print ads will run throughout the year, while the television spots will be aired all this month, and then for another month later in the year.

"What ultimately matters is that people who hold the GM card use it to earn rebates to buy a GM car or truck," said Bill Anderson, director of U.S. consumer marketing for GM Card Operations. "If we fail to deliver on the automotive side of this then we've failed."

Mr. Auriemma said the planned media blitz reconfirms the Detroit auto giant's commitment to the card program. "The question has always been 'Is GM getting incremental sales or are they lowering the price of admission,"' he said. "This proves that the program makes sense for GM and they're getting the results they want."

Mr. Anderson said the program has been "wildly successful," surpassing all expectations. Twelve million consumers carry the card and 450,000 have redeemed their earnings to buy or lease a GM vehicle.

While Mr. Anderson said the card program is "robust" with members spending "multiples of the industry average," he noted some confusion among "prospects."

The new ads, targeting both existing and prospective cardholders, are designed to "distinguish us from other products out there," Mr. Anderson said. "We're committing ourselves to one thing that will always make us different, the purchase of a GM vehicle."

He said using the GM card is "a heck of a lot better value than paying with cash, check, or anther credit card." But he added, "We do compete with all these payment forms, so we need to communicate to customers that our form is better."

Don Berman, president, Card Holder Management Services, a consulting and third party card servicing company in Plainview, N.Y., said, "Anything GM does in terms of advertising is to benefit the car business as opposed to the card business."

Observers said GM's card strategy has expanded from marketing partners with products directly related to cars and the road, such as gasoline, long distance calling, and lodging, to the everyday purchase -a fact illustrated by the recent partnership with Melville Corp., owner of several retail chains, including Marshalls department stores, Kay Bee toy stores, and CVS drug stores.

"Our focus is creating additional value in everyday spending situations," Mr. Anderson said.

He added that a letter recently mailed to consumers with inactive accounts urged them to use the card in order to avoid a $20 fee.

"We want to make our card file as productive as possible in order to sell cars and trucks; that's where we will succeed or fail as a product," said Mr. Anderson.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.