Buick uses social media marketing to target younger audiences

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From partnerships with social media influencers to sponsorships of HBO aftershows, Buick is trying to disband its legacy old-cars-for-old-people reputation by catering to a younger, affluent audience in platforms that already appeal to them.

“The whole world’s changing around technology and media and how people entertain themselves,” said Phil Brook, vice president of Buick and GMC marketing. “We have to think differently, act differently to attract customers.”

The 116-year-old brand has long tried to attract a younger customer base. Today, it’s taking unique measures to do so, tapping the platforms where one of its target demographics already spends time. It recently began advertising on Pinterest, working with HBO’s “Big Little Lies” and partnering with Instagram influencers who own Buicks. And, it has sponsored TheSkimm, a popular daily news roundup for millennial women. The broader campaign began in 2014, and since then, consumers’ opinion of Buick has risen 56 percent and consideration has grown 50 percent, both all-time highs, according to Buick.

“A big challenge that we face from a communications perspective is all around brand perception,” said Kate Hrabovsky, Buick’s advertising and media operations manager.

“Our job is to disrupt that legacy thinking and cause people to question what they know about Buick,” she said. “Demonstrating the modern and progressive brand that we are today is really the goal behind everything we do.”

The brand has developed the change with employees who fit the demographic and pyschographic of its core audience. Engineers, designers and advertising and marketing professionals 25 to 35 years old have been part of Buick’s unconventional strategies.

Many are young parents or young, single professionals and think about Buick’s engineering and marketing, for example, in terms of their own lifestyles.

With social media, along with services such as HBO and streaming providers that don’t have traditional commercials, “automakers need to be really clever about reaching who they need to reach. Automakers are getting better about understanding how to do that,” said Stephanie Brinley, IHS Markit’s principal automotive analyst.

Some dealers who weren’t privy to Buick’s efforts are seeing them pay off.

Paul Jordan, former general sales manager at LaFontaine Buick-GMC in Highland Township, Mich., said he wasn’t aware of Buick’s unique partnerships and sponsorships, but the age range of his customers has expanded in the past two years. (Jordan is now general manager at a LaFontaine Buick-GMC store in Lansing, Mich.)

The Highland store’s Buick customers used to be 48 or older. Now, it has a Buick customer base that stretches from college students to retirees.

The customers are all on the Internet, he said. “They might see your television campaigns. They might hear your radio campaigns. But they’re all on the Internet — every single one of them. Even the older generation is on the Internet.”

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