Birth of a GTO Sweepstakes
Jim Wangers combined a Top 40 radio campaign with a shoe company and the GTO, and turned it into a very successful Goat promotion. Here is how it was done. CRP.
High Performance Pontiac: Why was the Thom McAn promotion conceived?
Jim Wangers: It was during a period when GM, our parent corporation, was clamping down on all of its Divisions, and particularly Pontiac, for aggressive communications advertising, mostly in the arena of performance. GM did not want to see any magazine or newspaper ads with flying dust or sand, cars going around corners, or cars accelerating. GM didn't want to hear any screaming engines or screeching tires on radio or TV commercials. The executives said, "Absolutely no action involved with your advertising. If you're going to show one of your performance cars, show it in a pretty setting, but standing still. We don't want to hear any of that aggressive advertising that connotes performance." This direction would not help the GTO's image, so other marketing avenues were explored.
HPP: How did the advertising agency develop a method to get Pontiac's message out without directly violating GM's rules?
JW: In those days, one of the most significant things that reached the young people was Top 40 radio, which was based on the list of the sales of popular records as published in Billboard magazine. It was in the early days of rock and there were several radio stations that played Top 40 tunes. I was looking for advertisers who were most often represented on those kinds of radio stations because that was the market that we were looking to reach with our GTO.
HPP: Why did you suggest the GTO sweepstakes contest with Thom McAn?
JW: The Thom McAn shoe was a brand owned by the Melville Shoe Company. At that time, it was the Reebok or the Nike of the young male shoe market and was the number one advertiser on those Top 40 radio stations. So, with their promotion people, we worked out a really beautiful tie-in promotion where they brought into the market a shoe that was designed to appeal to young males.
How much rpm are we from the nearest Thom McAns? A hood tach was included, but not listed,
HPP: Did you like the GTO shoe?
JW: Actually, I thought it was just a dreadful-looking shoe, and it didn't sell as well as they had hoped it would. It was an Italian-style with a semi-high heel, which was in vogue at that time. The shoe had the GTO emblem imprinted on the inside on the sole. It had a quasi-tire tread on the outside of the sole, indicating a tire that gave you a better grip when you were running around. It also had a beveled heel that was supposed to give you better action on the accelerator pedal. Those were all the hokey things that were built into the characterization of this GTO shoe.
HPP: How did the Thom McAn GTO giveaway contest work?
JW: There were 50 cars, so each one was given away in a different state. The contest ran from late Spring, 1966, all through the summer and into the fall. All you had to do was either go into a Thom McAn shoe store or a Pontiac dealership to enter the contest. It was purely a sweepstakes.
HPP: Tell us about the '66 GTO "uniform" cars.
JW: We used a "uniform" car as part of the promotion. It was a '66 GTO hardtop in gold, not Tiger Gold, just one of our production golds, with a black vinyl top, a 389 Tri-Power, four-speed manual, and Safe-T-Track. It had Rally I wheels with redline tires, a gauge package, and an AM radio. It did not have power windows or power seats, but it had power steering and power brakes. That was the Thom McAn "uniform" car. We built about 200 of those to be displayed out in front of the 200 freestanding stores of the 1,500 Thom McAn had. The remaining stores were in shopping centers so you couldn't put a car right out in front. These were not giveaway cars.
HPP: Why weren't '66 GTOs awarded since they were featured as displays for the sweepstakes?
JW: The contest ran longer than the model season allowed. Consequently, we took the retail value of the '66 Thom McAn GTO "uniform" car plus tax, freight and license, which was included in the payoff, and each winner was awarded a certificate of credit for that amount. In other words, it was what that '66 GTO retailed for in their state and locale. They could then take that certificate to the Pontiac dealer of their choice and apply it to the purchase price of any new 1967 model.
Every second contest Thom McAn GTO was identically equipped with a 400 H.O. 360 hp engine
HPP: How else did you promote the Thom McAn GTO?
JW: We also had Model Products Corporation (MPC) make models of that exact same "uniform" car with the black vinyl top. Over 10,000 of them were distributed through our Pontiac dealers and the Thom McAn stores. Many of them were used as giveaways at the Thom McAn stores when people came in and bought a pair of shoes or expressed some significant interest other than just entering the contest.
HPP: Was Thom McAn pleased with the success of the Thom McAn GTO shoe and the contest that co-promoted the Pontiac GTO?
JW: Though Melville and Thom McAn didn't sell as many of the shoe that they called GTO as they wanted to, they did bring a ton of traffic into their stores to enter the contest and attributed the sale of many of their other shoe styles to that increased traffic. So they were very satisfied with the performance of the contest.
HPP: Was the Thom McAn GTO advertising campaign successful as far as Pontiac was concerned?
JW: Yes. Thom McAn put together, with our cooperation, some of the most incredible advertising that we could have ever possibly wanted. Their ads were full of screaming engines and screeching tires and cars roaring through the gears. That was the whole theme of their advertising, which was designed to promote the shoe, and it was exactly what we were looking for. The reason that I know it was so successful from my point of view is that we were constantly being "attacked" by the GM officials who were complaining that we were violating their rules. They'd say, "I thought we told you that you couldn't run those screaming engines and screeching tires and all that performance advertising." And we consistently told them that those were not our commercials, that they were the Thom McAn shoe commercials and we really had no control over the type of creative advertising Thom McAn was doing. So all in all, the program was very successful, both for Thom McAn and for Pontiac, because it got our message across. It built more of the positive kind of performance, youthful-oriented image for our car called the GTO, which is exactly what we intended it to be. It worked out incredibly well for us.
The very first year the Rochester Q-jet was used on the GTO was in 1967. Pontiac wanted to
Morrokide bucket seats, a four pod gauge cluster and a Hurst four-speed shifter make this