From whitewall tires to manual transmissions: Buick’s new marketing strategy

You’re cruising downtown Columbia in your 2004 Mustang GT with the windows down and the sunroof open. You’ve got black racing stripes from bumper to bumper, and you’re trying to make sure that everyone within three blocks is able hear your 12” Sony Xplods thumping to Drake’s latest album. Let’s face it; you think you’re the hottest thing on the street. As you approach the nearest stoplight, an aggressive looking sports sedan pulls alongside you. You didn’t recognize the car at first, but after further inspection you noticed the familiar Buick tri-shield on the car’s steering wheel. “Whew! For a second there it looked like an Audi or BMW,” you thought. “Good thing it’s just a Buick.” In an attempt to win a few points with your new girlfriend in the passenger’s seat, you give the Mustang a few revs to show the Buick in the next lane that you mean business. As the light turns green, you drop the clutch and mash your foot to the floor. The Stang’s 4.6L V8 roars to life and makes its presence well known thanks to your custom Flowmaster exhaust. You look in the rearview mirror expecting to find your fallen opponent wallowing in your smoke, but find yourself in total dismay as the Buick is right beside you and starting to pull away. You’ve got your foot pressing so hard on the pedal that it feels like it’s about to go through the floor, and all 260 horses are being pushed to their very limit. Sadly, it’s no use, and you keep falling farther and farther behind until the only thing you can see is the sleek rear spoiler and dual exhaust outlets of the sharply-designed Buick. As you pull up to the next light in complete embarrassment, your girl gets out of the car and leaves without speaking a word. Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, she marches directly over to the pearlescent white sport sedan and hops into the passenger seat. As you struggle to make reality of the humiliating situation that just occurred, you can’t help but wonder what kind of demon was sleeping under the hood of the car. One thing is for sure, it isn’t your Grandma’s Buick. It’s the 6-speed, turbocharged Buick Regal GS.

Now in its third year, the sporty Regal GS is such a bold statement by Buick that I often wonder if it was the right move for a company struggling to find its identity. Throughout history, Buick has always been famous for luxury and comfort, not turbocharged engines and manual transmissions. It’s no secret that Buick is one of the best selling cars among the elderly, with the average age of the Buick buyer well over sixty years old. The new Regal is an obvious attempt by Buick to reach out to the younger crowd and to show the world that they’re much more than an old ladies car. However, I can’t help but ask if the Regal GS will be enough to change Buick’s long-standing image.

RegalGS

After examining a few advertisements from the past twenty-one years, it’s very clear that Buick has completely changed not only their cars, but also their marketing strategy. Buick is pushing the Regal GS with advertisements that highlight speed, performance and precise handling instead of the usual excellent fuel economy and plush, luxurious comfort. The new ads are obviously more geared toward the younger generation, but I found it interesting that even the photographs were as well. In this particular ad, the driver of the car appears to be a man between the ages of 25-35. He is parked comfortably beside the ocean, and his apparent spouse — who appears to be of similar age — is leaving the Regal to take a stroll along the shore. This photograph really caught my attention because it’s very unlike Buick to market its cars this way. Deliberately including younger couples in their ads is definitely a good marketing strategy if they are serious about reaching out to the younger crowd, which seems all but apparent with the sporty Regal GS.

ParkAve

For comparison standards, I decided to examine older Buick advertisements and see how they were being presented. It didn’t take long to find the all-too-familiar “Grandma Special.” With whitewall tires, tacky chrome strips, and plush, pillowed-seats, what more could Grandma and Grandpa need for their daily visit to the retirement center? If the pictures weren’t already enough to turn you off, then the obnoxious title, “Great American Beauty” was sure to bring a laugh. The only thing “great” about this car was its obnoxious length and size. No one in their right mind under the age of 60 would give this car a second look. It’s also interesting to note the features of this Park Avenue Buick chose to describe in the ad. To quote Motor Trend: “Buick engineers have come up with one of the quietest, tightest, and smoothest operating luxury sedans we’ve ever driven.” They chose to market the Park Avenue’s smooth handling and comfortable, quiet interior — features that are more geared toward the older generations.

This Park Avenue ad clearly shows how Buick’s target audience has completely changed with the 2014 Regal GS. Whitewalls and plush bench seats no longer grace the cover of company brochures and advertisements. They have been replaced with low-profile 20” summer-performance tires mounted on polished-aluminum wheels and firm, supportive bucket seats designed to hug drivers while cornering on twisty roads.

Only time will tell if the Regal GS was a step in the right direction for the future of Buick. With an increasingly crowded sport sedan class that includes Lexus, Infiniti, BMW and Audi, will the turbocharged Regal be enough to pose a serious threat to the competition? Or will Buick struggle to overcome its “grandma” image and be forced to change their current marketing strategy of sport and performance back to comfort and luxury. One thing is for sure: It’s a big risk by Buick executives to go out of their comfort zone and make this bold of a statement. I’m sure I speak for other enthusiasts who yearn for another 1970 Buick GSX or 1987 Buick GNX — let’s hope the Regal GS is just an appetizer for what’s to come for the brand going forward.

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