It was the ”product placement to end all product placements,” the Washington Post declared. It epitomized “a marketing era that morphs advertising, public relations, event marketing and product placement into one confusing jumble of information,” sniffed the Detroit Free Press.
Yes, we’re talking about Oprah Winfrey’s season premiere in which she gave a free Pontiac sedan to 276 carefully selected car-deprived audience members. Call it what you want — a stunt, a good deed, a talk show disguised as an infomercial. Whatever. It worked.
GM wanted to make a big splash with its new Pontiac G6, particularly with female car buyers. Oprah wanted a high-profile show. Together they made front-page news in USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, both Detroit papers, and the New York Daily News (the headline: “Oprah Win Free,” naturally). And gobs of TV news. Not to mention the talk show itself.
For a mere $7.8 million — the cost of 276 fully-loaded sedans — GM bought the G6 the sort of publicity that’s hard to put a price on (start here, though: a 30-second ad on Oprah typically runs $75,000). But will Oprah make this car a bestseller as she’s done for so many books? I think it’s safe to engrave her name on that salesperson-of-the-month plaque.